This has been a sad few days. As we were leaving church Sunday morning, Bill checked his email and discovered that yet another friend had died. Jerry Singer was the pastor of our best ever church community. He was also a good friend.
Over the last several years I’ve lost my mother, my only two aunts, three cousins, three important mentors (now four) and several friends. While I understand that death is part of life and on one level am not afraid of it, I still finding it shocking. How can it be that this person who was so full of life is no longer there? Where did they go?
And maybe more important, what of them is left? What is their legacy? How might I help keep it alive and pass it on?
Living at BHFH, we’re focused on what it takes to build a strong and enjoyable community. I wish my fellow housies had had a chance to witness Jerry’s community building in action. He knew everyone in the parish by name. Whenever someone new showed up at Sunday Mass he greeted them before the service, asked their name and before Mass started introduced them to the community. Unlike many pastors, he shared power easily, often being guided by the congregation rather than imposing his own opinions.
Jerry lived by the motto, “Live simply so that others can simply live.” But he carried it beyond just living simply to a spacious generosity. He gave things away to people who needed them. More importantly, he gave himself. More than a year after we had moved away from Michigan to California, my father died. Because my father wasn’t a church-goer we were having a secular memorial for him at my brother’s home in Kentucky. Jerry knew, possibly much better than I did, how much I needed comfort. He packed up my best friend, Peggy, and drove her from Michigan to the memorial in Louisville. Then he said Mass for us in my father’s house.
Doctrine and regulations were never as important to Jerry as people. He would often find himself in conflict with official positions when he felt they were harmful to the people in his care. He had a temper, but I only saw it manifest around justice issues. He once confessed to me that he had come close to punching an archbishop who appeared unreasonably oppressive.
The late writer Henri Nouwen said that when we die we can send the Spirit to those we leave behind: “Isn’t ‘sending the Spirit’ the best expression for not leaving those you love alone but offering them a new bond, deeper than the bond that existed in life? Doesn’t ‘dying for others’ mean dying so that others can continue to live, strengthened by the Spirit of our love?”
I find that I’m taking in Jerry’s love in a deeper way now – appreciating what he gave and taught us. I am strengthened by his spirit. I am so grateful for his life and his friendship. I hope I can keep his legacy alive and pass it along.