Tonight we're attending what's being called a retirement picnic for one of my fellow lay ministers -- an "excellent woman," as they say, in her seventies who was a pillar of our congregation decades before going through the Lay Ministry Training Program. A little (okay...a lot) opinionated and stubborn and set in her ways...but an invaluable part of the church family; a lady who can terrify you if you fail on some point of church protocol, but who prays every single day for each of the names on our lengthy church prayer list, and who helped hold our faith community together during dark days in the late '80's and early '90's when its viability as a congregation was questionable on a week-to-week basis.
Shortly after being commissioned, this lady was diagnosed with MS. In the years that have ensued, she has faced down this foe with the same mixture of faith and cussedness that's earned her the rank of matriarch in our church. When her legs grew unsteady she (with much grumbling) began using a footed cane, then a wheeled walker, on her Sundays as assisting minister. When she was having a bad day and coudn't count on enough strength to make it through an entire service, she reluctantly allowed others on the team to help. Meanwhile, she defied her adult children at every turn when it came to driving or working in her yard. "They think they're the boss of me," she'd confide to a sympathetic listener. "I'm just going to do what I want to do." And that's the attitude she's had toward her illness in general.
This past month, though, on a weekend when FT and I were out of town, we heard that our matriarch had taken a bad spill while assisting during the service, and had decided that enough was enough; she was bowing out of the lay ministry team.
This is an added sadness in a year when a double share of life-threatening illnesses have been dealt to our little congregation and community and wider circle of church friends. It's made me, particularly in these perimenopausal days, start thinking more about my own mortality, and priorities, and it's made me more impatient with the petty issues that junk up the life of the Church. When I hear someone going on about The Troubles in the ELCA or the color of the Communion wine or some line item in a church council meeting, I want to shake them and say, "There are people in our congregation who are fighting for their lives every single day -- and you want me to care about this? Are you ******* serious? What is the matter with you?" Although I suspect the matter is the same nervous whistling in the dark that keeps us all distracted from what's real and immediate and painful and scary.
So, anyway, we're toting two Amish pies to the picnic tonight, where we will thank our friend for her service and wish her well in the newest iteration of her ministry to our church.