This past week I received a call from a parishioner to inform me of the death of one of the other parishioners. I have learned here in my almost three years as pastor that this is the way things usually go. I think there have only been two times when someone has been in the hospital that I knew about it before they got out. Anyway I digress.
The man who died was really not known to me. Now this is a problem for me since we only have 75 members of this church. You would think I would know them all, but this is a flaw in my pastoral ministry that I do not know them all. This is something that has been bothering me all week. How can I make this better. So the man who died has no family. His parents are both dead and several years ago his unmarried sister died. This man never married and there are no living relatives that can be found. However, some of his friends in the church have stepped forward and his church family has taken over for him. But before this happened it was a day of phone calls between the social worker at the hospital, myself, the police department, lawyers and the like trying to gain information on this man. He was a very quiet man who I would see at church and sometimes at coffee hour. However I learned many things about him as I looked for information.
He was a veteran of the United States Air Force and was one of the Air Traffic Controllers that lost their jobs in the early 80’s. He lived in a small apartment not far from the church and continued to work at a local optical manufacturing plant. His parents were born in Albania and there may be relatives living there, that will be the task for the coming week.
I started to think about how many others are there that are in similar situations but have no one, no church family, or other family, that would care for them and see that they get the appropriate burial. We have an obligation as Christians to care for those around us, and I would extend that to those that are not members of our individual churches.
No one knows if this man has a will or where it could be found. So the legal process takes over and an administrator has to be appointed to go through his belongings and search back through his life for clues. This detail has fallen to me as father of the church family. I do not mind and I am not complaining about it, but how could we let this happen? How could we let one of our own get away from us like this? How could I, as the father of the community, allow on of my own die and not even know he was sick. I have not done my job for this man, and I pray that he will forgive me for my short comings in this area.
In seminary we spend years learning scripture, chant, liturgy, and other such very important things. Then you get to the parish and you wish you had some courses in accounting, office management, legal matters, taxes, that’s another story for another day, and other day to day things like that. If we are lucky we get an assignment with someone who has been doing this for awhile and can guide us or that the one that we replace has left things in a relatively good state. Then there is the opposite side of things. I do not know what the answer is but we some how need to find a balance between the theoretical and the practical. Most of us will never take another class or continue our education beyond what we already have and that is fine, but we need to hone our practical and pastoral skills that you can only learn by doing.