Yesterday I officiated at a memorial service for a parishioner’s father. He lived in a tiny town in rural Iowa. A place no one could ever find on a map. I drove out, out, out in the country and came upon this small town. A Casey’s Gas station signified that I was in town. The homes were old. Some houses showed signs of life, others looked as if there may had been life in them, long ago.
The small, white Presbyterian Church, that joined with the Methodists that shares their space with another denomination, currently has 16 members and worships 10 on any given Sunday. The carpet was a rusty orange. Brown paneling held up the walls. The pastor’s office looked like it hadn’t been touched since 1942. Old pictures hung cock-eyed on the walls. Curriculum from the 60’s sat on the shelves. An unused desk with empty files and lists of elders from the past were left as signs that life had been there, long ago.
The waa-waa-waa of the organ started up, indicating it was time to process the family in to the sanctuary. I don’t believe they had ever seen a preacher woman in the pulpit before. The pulpit, the baptismal font and the cross on the wall, were all made by the elder who had died. He was a saint of the church. Ushering, working, saving, serving. The pulpit, font and cross, all signs of life and death and Word, that had been expressed there, long ago.
I approached the pulpit. The “Legion guys” as the funeral director called them, sat on the left side all in row. Their flags and rifles for the military rights sat in their laps. Their uniforms were a navy blue. The men all had facial hair and long side burns. I swear I thought I been taken in a time warp and I was back in the Civil War! They sat stoically, facing forward, no one looking my way as I spoke. One man, the largest one, was ghostly white. He had a cough that could wake the dead. He coughed, and coughed, and coughed, and coughed. I thought he was going to die before the funeral was over. When the service had ended I discovered that he was the one in charge of the military rights as he hobbled around putting the men with their flags and rifles in a row. I saw this large man. This veteran. Once strong and powerful, now over come with an illness that I fear is life threatening. I could not help but wonder what his life was like, long ago.
As I sat and ate my lunch of potato salad, ham sandwich and water a man approached me and told me he was a poet. He asked if he could recite a poem for me. I told him, “yes.” He then stood in this room of dark wood paneling and said,
….how beautiful can the morning be to exult a heart in joyous glee the morning is of brilliance with its wind fresh fragrance and the morning sounds that sing…from a morning of the seven does the sky touch the heaven, this is the sky the savior rides, our Father who art in Heaven.”
He made me cry. And thanked him for the poem.
As I left the little, white Presbyterian church, I noticed one of the rifles propped up against the front door.
I got in my car and drove through the Iowa farm land, still sleeping under strips of snow. In a short while the farmers will begin to til the dormant ground and life will resurrect from the earth once more.