Sunday, February 15, 2009


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.


Deb Shucka said...

What a beautiful tribute to a man who clearly knows what service means.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Indeed, a holy, holy man. I heart Hank.