Sunday I gave communion for the last time to a man who has been a faithful parishioner and true friend for most of my thirteen years as a priest at St. Andrews. He is off to Germany and the date of his last Sunday has long been on my mind, and his. When it was six months away we could deny it. No more.
Two weeks prior another couple left for Texas. And in the summer before them a couple families. And in between this one and that. Over the years, the losses pile up. Some have died. Others floated away. Some chose to go. Most simply stopped. Each one is a loss. Some losses run deep.
A priest does not have the privilege of loving one more than another, at least pastorally. All have equal claim to hospital visits and counseling hours. Each has a full share in preaching and teaching time. How much you give and how much you do mean that you are more vital to the parish mission, but it does not entitle you to special treatment. The priest must love each one the same.
But the priest, alas, is a man. If he serves all, he befriends some. There will always be those who specially touch the heart and whose status as parishioner is completed as friend. Such losses compound the process of letting go.
The last decade has been filled by more losses than I care to think about. Too many have gone, too few have come to take their place. It leads one to remind God, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Lord...but could you give a bit more and take a bit less?" Clearly, such a prayer may be preposterous and even disrespectful. But as E.T. once famously said as he left his friends, "Ouch!" God hears the cries of the brokenhearted and he no doubt is patient and understanding of our plight...
Each loss like this is a dress rehearsal for the big good bye. If we learn to love and leave well in the temporal, we can have reason to believe we can plunge into the eternal. Yet it is only human to be sad, and to wish that people who matter most were able to stay and not go. And every priest worried about his parish is going to wonder "who will fill the void these wonderful folks have left in their departure?"
There were some emotions on Sunday. Deep sadness and heavy loss. And in the face of it you say, "so be it" and move on. Working on the next Sunday school class or sermon, fielding the next request for aid or an hour to talk about some problems. It is the way of the priest and it is a life I have chosen, happily. Everyone has losses, everyone. It just reminds us that in the end, the only One who is always there, is our God. He and He alone abides. So we can be thankful for the friends we lost, thankful for the good times and memories. We can trust that all will be well. It is why we are saved by our faith and hope, even when our love brings pain...