Sunday, February 15, 2009


The children gather noisily in the parish hall, waiting to make their surprise entrance into church. It is the second to last service for Father Hank and they have collected books to donate in his name to the Read to Grow program; he is unaware. He pops out from behind the Alter during the offertory hymn to see where the children are; he wants them up on the Alter for communion and he is reassured that they are coming.

In classic Trinity fashion, they are announced and make their way to the Alter, loose ends dragging everywhere. They are holding hand made cards and books, some yelling “Hi” to family members…”I’m up here, Mom!” A little girl bellows. They are not intimidated to approach the Alter, as I was in childhood; it is familiar territory to them. Hank gathers them close on Baptisms, Christmas Eve and here and there on a random or unknowingly meaningful Sundays to serve as Assistant Ministers.

As the group, ranging in age from one to thirteen, make their way toward him, he coaxes them all up beyond the Alter rail to stand with him in this Holy, Sacred space. “Come on up everyone, there’s plenty of room.” He smiles as they gather in number.

An announcement is made that the books have been collected by the children in his honor. “We know Father Hank loves books, even though most of the adults were hoping to give him live fish.” The parish applauds and chuckles. Each and every Christmas Eve when the children retell the story of the birth of Jesus, Hank preaches to them, as they sit gathered at his feet. On his first Christmas Eve with us, he talked about Jesus and his followers and how they had a secret code to say that they were Christians; the early Christian symbol of a fish. “I was wondering…. since it is Christmas and I want to give my friends a special gift, what I could give them to help them to remember Jesus” and of course, out came large cardboard boxes that contained Beta fish, complete with bowl and food; one for each and every child present.

We had three kids at the service.

We had two Beta fish at home already.

The following year it was Hermit Crabs, each in a small plastic aquarium with crab food and we worried that he would eventually work his way up to farm animals.

The children spread around the Alter like the smile on Hank’s face, some tugging on the linen and others rubbing fingers on the candelabra. “Father Hank…Hi!” A squirmy little girl said. “Hi” he beamed back. They continued to fill the corners as Hank flashed the sign language for “I love you” to them and they signed back; a symbol he taught them and used often. When he is sure he has everyone in place, he speaks to them. Deviating slightly from the liturgy, he explains to them about the last day Jesus had supper with his friends.

“We use this host, but Jesus took a loaf of bread and he broke it and told his friends that it was his body that would be broken for them. Now they didn’t really understand what he meant and we don’t really understand fully either. And then, because they had wine with supper, he took the cup of wine and told them this was his blood and again, they didn’t really understand.”

Hank paused, his small audience captivated. I kneel at the alter rail only a few feet away and wait for him to continue. He looks as if he is elsewhere and the pause lingers. I wonder if he has forgotten his place, thrown off-course by the little heads gathered by his knees or if he is caught up in emotion. With a visible shift, he returns, face flushed and looks out at the congregation. His eyes showing straight to his soul, he smiles and he says, “I just got a message from my good friend, Jesus. He said, ‘Now you’re catching on, Hank.’”

He continues with the story about how Jesus’ friends asked him how they should pray. “So he told his friends, well this prayer would be good.” The organ plays and voices lift the Lord’s prayer, little ones included. I struggle to sing passed the lump in my throat and Hank continues…

“…In unity, that means all together, in constancy, which is like steady as she goes, and most importantly… and this is what Jesus wants you to know most of all, in peace. And on the last day, bring us to your eternal kingdom, that’s Heaven; all this and so much more we ask in Jesus name.” He tells the children.

“These are the gifts of God for the people of God…that’s you,” he continues, as he holds up the bread. He stops and looks at them.

“Jesus loves you more than anything.” He says, as they nod. “I love you the whole world but Jesus, even more than that! He says, connecting with each of them.

He moves carefully around and between the little people “The body of your friend, Jesus.” He tells them. They depart one by one and I am in awe of lesson they are receiving. As a young child, I was taught that the Alter was taboo, forbidden, reserved for only Holy men; that the average person was not worthy to be so close to God in the sacredness of this Holy place.

I think back to a sermon long ago when Hank described Jesus’ relationship with children. Jesus asked that the children be brought to him and he welcomed them with open arms. This does not seem foreign to us, but as Hank put it, in His time ‘these were not your little Gap kids, all clean and cute.’ Children in those days were less than second class citizens and were unworthy and unimportant.

Hank has taught our children that each and every one of us is worthy in God’s eyes and Hank places himself no higher or spiritually greater than the sticky little fingers that tug on his robe.

To watch him today was to truly witness God’s Grace.


Farewells are never easy and this one harder than most. As Father Hank departs from his time with us to take him into retirement and to find out "What the heck God has in store for him next," we say farewell; Godspeed.

Three Things: Angels, Cell Phones and Hard Hats

I hold Sara’s furry little body in one hand. She is alive, but life is evaporating quickly and I rub her with one finger looking for some response. I put drop of water on her lips that rolls off and drips onto my hand along with Cadence’s tears. Hamsters are supposed to live two years and Sara is just a baby. It is time to leave for church and Sara makes her final exit, eliciting quiet sobs from Cadence. We place her in a check box and tuck her in with tissues, agreeing to a funeral service after church.

At the end of the service, Father Hank zigzags his recession from the alter, stopping to greet the smallest of parishioners along his path. His stop with Cadence lingers a moment as she speaks to him quietly about Sara. He speaks back to her, pats her back and then moves along. Later that evening after the funeral, I answered the telephone. “This is Father Hank and I was wondering if I could speak to my friend Cadence.” They chatted for quite a long time about Heaven and hamsters; Hank, whose life is enmeshed with so many, is never too busy for the needs of his parish, large and little.

Hank is always walking the walk; teaching by example. He is a vessel of divine interchange between God and his people. He reminds us regularly that we never know when we are entertaining angels unaware; witnesses to God’s grace daily as he uses people to do his work. Being with Hank is like entertaining an angel, but fully aware. I have never met a more humble servant to the Lord. Hank embodies absolute devotion; loyal to God’s truth and not to the restrictions of earthy policies.

For the last ten years, Hank has stood before us, Sunday after Sunday, breaking the rules designed by the church; radical in a peaceful, loving way. He stands before us, boldly breaking tradition with regulation and says that “Everyone… without exception…is invited to our Lord’s table.”

Having been raised a Roman Catholic, but an Episcopalian of ten years; I have adjusted to the group confession just before Communion. I have adjusted to the idea that all baptized Christians are eligible for Communion, even the very young. This was the biggest adjustment; children receiving communion without a formal right of passage at a designated age. At the age of three, Tyler asked one Sunday morning “Did Jesus say ‘take this all you grown-ups and eat it, this is my body given for you…’” That Sunday he received his first communion.

Hank reminds us regularly; Jesus did not say all of you Catholics or Episcopalians or even those of you without sin. He indeed said “Take this all of you…” and Hank takes him at his Word. Jesus outstretched a hand to the unclean, the sinners the lost and the exiled and said “Come, follow me.” I believe He speaks through Hank’s mouth on Sunday and every day.

Hank practices a unique method that combines divine communication and technology known to us fondly as: “Cell Phone Theology.” When faced with situations not clearly defined in the Pastor Play Book and even when they are and the plays don’t make sense, Hank engages in a prayerful state that uses that a high tech direct line to call Jesus for the absolute Word on WWJD. More often than not, the answer was clear all along.

Hanks sermons are laced with scripture and he speaks with bible ready in hand. On occasion, he uses other props and I am sure none of us will forget Hank preaching with his hard hat and life vest on. Our experience, he explains, is not to be a passive one, but one in which the Holy Spirit shakes things up and we need to be prepared for Him to move in and through our lives.

Father Hank describes our congregation as a beautiful New England pond; picturesque and placid on the surface but with a multitude of events happening beneath the surface; good and bad. He has taught us to be aware that the person to our left might be celebrating and the person to our right grieving; it is up to us to reach out to one another.

Father Hank preaches always in threes, beginning every Sermon with three points, seemingly unrelated and speaks poignantly, fluidly, pacing and pausing and feeling every word until he wraps the three together in a tight and powerful message. I believed that I have finally, after ten years, learned the three that he came to teach me.

I have learned to be open to angels and finally understand that some days they will surround me using the people in my path, and that at other times God will use me in a small but divine intervention in someone else’s life, as long as I remain open.

I have learned that doing what is right might mean stepping over the line; outside of the easy and the obvious. God’s answers to our questions are there for us when we learn how to communicate with Him.

I have learned that it is important to shake things up and to be prepared to

endure the bumps and sharp turns that may result. We are supposed to be actively partaking in this journey; not sideline observers.

And so as Father Hank prepares to move onward in his journey, I stand ready, hard hat on and cell phone in hand to mingle with angels and to practice the lessons that he has taught me over the last ten years. I am honored, grateful and blessed to have known Father Hank.

Friday, February 13, 2009


He had one pink silk rose, forty dollars and a plan. Of course he doesn’t have a car and forty dollars wasn’t enough. “I want to give her roses and tell her that I will love her until all of the roses die…but see, one won’t die because it is silk.” He explains.

He wrote her a beautiful song, recorded it and put it on her iPod and waits anxiously for sixth period to end so he can leave school. I drive him to the florist to locate roses that match the silk one and yes, swipe the debit card where he comes up short.

“You can take the car.” I tell him before he asks, knowing he wants to bring them to her before the end of the school day. He scribbles on the card, dabs on some cologne and grabs the keys. I hand him the bag with the giant chocolate kiss I bought for him for Valentines Day, knowing he would rather give it to her than eat it.

“Thanks Mom.” He smiles as he departs on his mission.

“Drive carefully.” I tell him.

A+ for romance, I think to myself.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


“You have a Facebook? Trevor sneers in that fourteen-year-old, you’ve got to be kidding tone laced with amusement. He sits at my computer prepared to sign into to the cyber social network.

“No.” I answered. “I just made an account to I could visit Jake’s memorial page. I don’t actually have a Facebook.” I answer, leaving the room.

“You have no profile!” he yells to me in the kitchen.

“Don't want one.” I yell back.

Facebook , like IM-ing and texting, is something that clearly draws the generational line. Even email seems to be for the elders and the telephone reserved for talking to girls. They much prefer to instant message and text message and now are writing on walls.

“You’re interested in men?” He asks.

“No!” I answer zipping back to my office. “Why would I be interested in men?”

“Okaay…” he says, “but if I check women everyone will think you’re gay. You have to pick one or the other.”

“No I don’t. I’m not interested in anything! Stop messing around with that.” I demand feeling panic surging.

“But your profile is blank and you have no friends.” He snickers.

“I have friends but we don’t make advertisements about ourselves or write on walls and… just leave it blank. I don’t want a….what did you do?” I shriek, seeing my picture beneath my name.

“I added the photo from your blog. Relax Mom. Do you want your birthday on here?” He does not seem to understand that grown-ups do not Facebook.

“Why would I want people reading about me? Identity thieves and…”

“Seriously Mom, no one can read this stuff unless you add them to your friend list. Besides, you can search for old friends from high school and stuff. I’ll show you, give me a name.” he says, fingers tapping the keys. I offer up the name of a college roommate that I haven't seen in more than twenty five years and in a click, there she is! Trevor explains that I can add her as a friend and she will get a message asking her to be my friend.

“No! Sign off. This is ridiculous.” I conjure up an image of a pathetic, lonely hermit with no real life, searching cyber space for play dates.

“Fine.” He signed off, “But you have no friends.” he mumbles.

One month later, I received an email that a friend on the west coast sent a request to add me to her “friend list” on her Facebook page. Soon thereafter, one from a mom here in town, and then another.

Grown-ups Facebooking!

The subject came up at a party last night and low and behold, nearly half of the people admitted to Facebook-ing.

This morning, my Facebook suggested some “new friends” for me, no doubt taking pity on my tiny friend list and vacant profile. You have no friends it echos the page maker. Maybe I should step back into my own generation...

Then again...maybe writing on walls will be liberating.