How can you not be a supporter of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and yet support a family and their son, when he has announced his enlistment as a Marine Corps recruit? The congregational farewell we gave here at First Reformed to Tom Bernhofer on Jan 13th provided plenty of answers.
The tables in Fellowship Hall were literally bending during Coffee Hour from the weight of the food. There were hugs, tears and kisses, laughter and pride, but also the hints of uncertainty and doubt and pain. Pam and Ashley Gray surprised us with a beautiful solo during worship, a farewell gift of a special kind. The Senior Choir had a thoughtful anthem prepared, and John Coakley guided us on his clarinet through the new hymn Faith Begins by Letting Go â€“ a title that could not have been more appropriate for the occasion.
During Coffee Hour, many began signing up for weeks or days of prayers for Tom. For this, we used a book-type calendar of 2008 with plenty of blank space. It is on display in the glass box in the sanctuary, right next to the attendance book. Everybody is encouraged to write a prayer, a word of wisdom, or even a cooking recipe into it. We will send the excerpts of the content periodically by email to Tom.
The day also provided some special insight into who we are as the church, the Body of Christ here on Earth. I tried to express this in the sermon. Addressing Tom and his parents directly, I said:
â€œToday, this church and I share your fears and your hopes, your pride and your grief. We share the care and concern, and the turmoil of feeling. We appreciate your need as parents to let go and to let be. And we respect your desire, Tom, to go out there and to try yourself and to explore wherever God might lead you.
This is how I understand the Body of Christ: That we stand in for one another, that we take seriously our differing perspectives and that we carry each otherâ€™s emotions, just as Christ carried the cross for us all.
We heard the Apostle say in the beginning â€œthat God shows no partialityâ€ but that â€œanyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.â€ For us as the Body of Christ this means that we do not have to speak with one voice or even share the same philosophical or political conviction. Yet it means that we have to stand in for one another, and carry each other in our dreams and hopes and in our pain and doubt as well.â€
Tomâ€™s farewell gave us a new opportunity to express who we are: an open-minded and welcoming church, non-pretentious but compassionate, and certainly not exclusivist. I thank God for having found a church like this.