On the passing of a friend
Sunday 16th June 2019 @ 10:50 am
This is an unusual blog post –but, as always I hope it will be honest.
I have too many friends of all ages who are ill.
And I have known too many family and friends of all ages pass through the veil of this life without comment from me … hence why this blog post is more unusual. I simply want to recall why I will always be indebted to an elderly friend who was laid to rest yesterday in the beautiful Co. Fermanagh.
Patricia Donald was a brilliant woman (I am linking to a newspaper article from last January which helps to explain the sort of person she was)
She meant what she said, and she lived what she meant.
A proper lady.
However, for me, it will always be about the first time I met her, some twenty years ago.
I was a young pup in the Irish Methodist youth office – traipsing around the country with a youth team, and running events to engage the imagination and faith of young people. Back then of course I knew everything. Didn’t we all?
I decided to run an overnight ‘Autumn Soul on the road’ event in Enniskillen.
It was a wild night. Really really great. My inner young adult remembers it as a special gathering with passion and inspiration, provocation and soul fire.
We stayed in the church that evening – that was part of the deal. We ran a special event on the Saturday night and then we all (as many who could) stayed over in the church premises to take part in the Sunday morning activities of Enniskillen Methodist. This may be hard for a reader to imagine, but in my youth ministry days I did tend to try and push the boat out into rockier water from time to time! I did cause my brilliant (and sadly, also dearly departed) boss at the time some heartache I am sure.
In those days one of my first learnings was the necessity to grow a thicker skin – and I have ever since recognised this as the saddest thing I have ever learned in ministry. To ‘have to grow a thicker skin’ as a first learning in the first months of being in ministry is a terrible indictment of just about everyone involved. Including me.
I only give this background because Enniskillen in many ways was the epitome of conservative compliant no–fuss faith. The Sunday service was sacrosanct as a bastion of tradition and repetition.
And there we were.
These youth blow–ins from the city.
With a band.
Arms in the air, passionate singing and praying, with even a little bit of dancing.
At one moment I turned from my position at the front of the church to scan the church and see how the regulars were enjoying the service.
To say they were not enjoying it was an understatement. Many of them looked horrified. Young adult men in suits looked at me as if I had three heads. Old women looked scornful. Young mothers looked scared as they held their children closer.
It was quite a service.
And then Patricia Donald – the local steward – gets up to give the announcements. This was perhaps just about the only thing we had suggested would happen ‘locally’ during the service.
Patricia gave the announcements and welcomed everyone. And then she stopped. And she looked at those of us gathered around the front of her church, leading the service and giving it ‘all’ over the previous 18 hours or so.
And she spoke:
‘When we in our Methodist tradition baptise a child, in the liturgy we share, we say, ‘In every generation God gives new sons and daughters to the church’
she looked at her church
she pointed at us
and she said “And here they are.”
It might have been the lack of sleep, but when she said that, my little Methodist world changed and a tear ran down my cheek.
There is nothing like validation and affirmation. Publicly. Thanks to Patricia, young people felt valued and young leaders sensed support. Affirmation is especially meaningful when it comes from the unexpected edges, and from a beautiful heart.
Barriers were broken for me that morning, my understanding of people and places were expanded, and I gained a friend – and fellow subversive. Our church nationally will miss Patricia terribly – her questions, her wisdom, her passion, her ability. And many of us will miss her enlivening presence. It was an honour to be in ministry, and to be ministered to by her.
She lives on. God rest her soul indeed.
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