Recently from the pulpit, I traced sources of the church’s unity. I named our fragmented, individualistic era and how fragile and elusive it is to experience oneness as a people.
Deep unity is not about forcing a common teaching on everyone and creating uniformity. It is not about packing people into the pews, creating the buzz of success, and telling ourselves how wonderful we are. Deep unity begins at the baptismal font, I said. You know that moment. The child’s forehead is still wet and I walk him around the church, introducing him to a new family, not based on blood and DNA but the waters of baptism. We all promise to raise that child as our own because raising a child alone is too much.
I mention this not only because we gladly anticipate the baptism of Bennett Michael Blaszczak this Sunday. Ethan and Sarah Blaszczak will join our church on Sept. 13, Welcome Back Sunday. But I also mention this because I was recalling these promises we make before a packed sanctuary as I was memorializing Leo Cochrane last week.
Toward the end of our emotional farewell to Leo, I read Jesus’ final words to his friends, “I will not leave you desolate… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you….Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Then I looked at Kelsey and said that we would do our level best to help raise Quinn and Ryan, baptized during Dr. Don’s tenure here. That she is not alone. That we will walk alongside her and stand with her. I told Kelsey that if we fall down in these promises, she should hold our feet to the fire.
People, outsiders to any church, approached Kelsey after the memorial service and told her how fortunate she is to have a church like First Congregational. But guess what? We have to make good on these baptismal promises. These words are not window dressing or bland good will or spiritual ether. These promises need to get very specific.
Of course, Kelsey is still emerging from the shock of losing a full and vibrant Leo who was a Mr. Mom par excellance to Quinn and Ryan. One Sunday, Leo was smiling right there, trading jibes with Dr. Don. Then the next day he was gone from us, his life stolen from us like a thief in the night. We’re all recovering from the shock of how fragile life is.
In my formal pledge to Kelsey in front of over 300 people, my question for you is: will you back me up? Will you make good on these promises and get specific in how we lift up Kelsey, Quinn, and Ryan? The Cochranes already have a network of friends who have rushed in, and that is wonderful. But if you have ever sustained a significant loss, you know that after about six weeks, people generally go back to their own lives, self-interested creatures that we are. We’ll forget that Kelsey is still beginning her new life.
Kelsey has an informal network of FCC friends, Lauren Ryder coordinating our Church Friends (to help in eventualities like this) and our Care Circle all to rally around her. But we all need to make good on our promises. When you express condolences to Kelsey, don’t say: “call me if you need anything.” That’s vague, like, “let’s do lunch sometime.” When you hug Kelsey, offer specific help, like getting the oil changed, reorganizing her household, picking up a prescription. By offering specific help, you are sending her the message that you’re not merely glad-handing, but are serious about wanting to pitch in. My guess is that meals and child care could be especially helpful to Kelsey, who has a full-time job outside of the home and also serves on our Assoc. Pastor Search Cmte.
Can you feel how unifying this is? Can you sense how important it is to our authenticity? Can you get a glimmer of how much this would mean to you, if you were in her shoes?
Our faith was given us as God’s gift for a time like this. Faith in action is genuine faith.