B and I traveled to Syracuse yesterday to attend the last service and concert that daughter T will do with the Hendricks Chapel Choir. Although she is a student at ESF, not Syracuse U., she is able to participate in activities at SU.
On the ride up, I had told B that, at some point, I would probably dissolve in tears. Since Grandma died six weeks ago, I’ve barely teared up. I thought that I might be okay until we were with our daughters at the graveside service later this month, but I didn’t know.
On Saturday, we had attended the funeral of the mother of one of B’s co-workers. I had managed to get through the whole funeral, even though we were singing some of the familiar hymns that usually evoke tears.
I was not expecting the confluence of events on Sunday.
I expected some emotion as we witnessed the last in a very long string of academic choral events, stretching from E’s first concert as a kindergartener, going through both daughters’ elementary, middle and high schools, college, and finally T’s last service and concert as a master’s student.
Of course, there is still the fresh memory of Grandma’s death, ever-present below the surface.
What hit harder than I expected, though, was that this was the final ecumenical Christian service being held at Hendricks Chapel by Rev. Colleen, the last in an 85-year string of chaplains provided to the university by the United Methodist church.
Endings are sad.
This one, in particular, as a dynamic, young woman was being pulled away from a community that she loved and served and that loved her in return. The choir is having to search for a new musical mission, as their primary function for decades has been to provide music for this service every Sunday.
What was unexpected for me was that this dynamic called forth not only the obvious present losses but also many long-ago ones.
Hearing the pipe organ reminded me of how much I miss playing – or even hearing – a pipe organ on a regular basis. Nearly all the organs I hear in churches at home are electronic. I can no longer play due to orthopedic problems. I have generally made peace with that, but there are moments…
The ending of a church as we have known it also brought back two other similar losses.
First was the loss of chaplaincies and regularly held services at Smith College, my alma mater.
I had spent many, many hours in Helen Hills Hills chapel, practicing, service playing, rehearsing, singing, and accompanying. I was married there a few weeks after my commencement. When I returned to campus, I always visited the chapel and a tree planted beside it in memory of a member of my class who died in a plane accident our senior year.
I still go to visit, but it is so odd to see the chapel, which was modeled on New England Congregational churches, without its pews, replaced by clunky wooden chairs, stacked or arranged in circles or rows, depending on if the last event has been a concert or lecture or whatever. It feels empty in a way it never did when I was there alone but when it was being used for services of various traditions on a regular basis.
Second, was the loss of our home church eleven years ago. This was even more painful as T and I went through it together. T lost the only church she had ever known, where she was baptized and made her first communion, where she had sung in choir since she was in third grade and had rung handbells since sixth grade. I had been in liturgical service, both in liturgy planning and music ministry for many years. I had written music for the choir and congregation. I had accompanied E and T’s choirs, although, as my orthopedic problems worsened, I had been doing more conducting than playing.
All of these things just flooded over me and I cried – a lot.
It was comforting to have B beside me. I also was not crying alone; there were many, many tears being shed.
Rev. Colleen, while herself struggling with the forced loss of her ministry, led a beautiful “service of celebration, healing, and transition.” Despite her own tears and grief, she was able through a series of rituals to lead everyone to reflect upon and let go of what we needed to and to find joy to share. After communion, she also offered to anoint anyone who wished.
I was very grateful that she made this offer. As a Catholic, I follow the wishes of my church and do not receive communion in Protestant churches, even though they would welcome me. I don’t do it as a blind following of rules, but as a sign of personal penance and sorrow at the division among Christians.
But, anointing is a powerful, ancient practice in which I could participate.
Almost everyone came forward to be anointed, either on the forehead or hands.
What I really wanted to do was to ask Rev. Colleen after she anointed me if I could anoint her, but I decided not to ask. We had never even been introduced and I didn’t want to throw another unknown element into what was already an emotional situation.
But I do send my blessing to Rev. Colleen: May God, who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, hold you in love and strengthen you for service all the days of your life.