UNY Memorial Service 2021 reminds mourners of the comfort of Jesus
On Friday, June 18, at the 2021 Upper New York (UNY) Annual Conference, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb, welcomed friends and family members to a Memorial Service that was held to recognize over 100 clergy and clergy spouses who have died since the 2019 Annual Conference (Click here to see the names of those celebrated). This service was held at Cicero United Methodist Church by invitation-only, and it was also livestreamed.
Since March 0f 2020, we, as a population, have faced so many losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after, we saw footage of George Floyd’s murder. And we witnessed the Jan. 6, 2021 United States Capitol riot. These are just a few of the reasons why the Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, UNY Director of Connectional Ministries and Executive Assistant to the Bishop, opened his Memorial Service message with, “It’s been a hell of a year!”
For those who faced the deaths of a loved one this past year, the sense of loss has been deeply compounded. Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding said, “Grieving under any circumstances is hard work, but this year, it has been so much harder.”
Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding referenced the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that states “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding wanted the attendees in this service who have lost loved ones to recognize that Jesus isn’t promising comfort in the future. Jesus is promising comfort now. Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding said, “Even tonight, because of Jesus, those who mourn, can experience the comfort he promises.”
Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding acknowledged that “Jesus is not offering us a painkiller…the comfort Jesus promises is not abstract or remote, but personal, like someone standing alongside us in the midst of our mourning, offering strength, encouragement, hope.”
Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding painted a picture of what this type of comfort looks like by sharing a personal anecdote about how a young man who comforted a widow in the receiving line at her husband’s funeral.
He said, “A few years ago, I witnessed this comfort delivered in about as direct away as you could imagine, at a receiving line at a funeral home. A grieving widow stood at the end of the line near her husband’s casket, her grown children next to her with their spouses.
People paid their respects, making their way up the line, as you do, sharing a word they hoped would be comforting.
A young man reached the widow but didn’t speak. He looked at her face, took her hand, and stood still.
The person with him gently tried to motion him on. ‘Other people want to greet your teacher, honey; we need to make room.’ But, instead of moving on, he took a place next to her in the line, still holding her hand.
The widow smiled at him and then at his companion. ‘That’s okay, he can stand with me. It would be a blessing,’ the widow said. And I could see she squeezed his hand all the more.
I learned later the widow was the young man’s special education teacher, but in that moment, he wasn’t her student; he was Christ for her. He was, as St. John Paul II said, an eighth sacrament, conveying the real presence of Jesus – the comfort and strength – to a grieving wife. He was Jesus in the receiving line.”
Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding concluded his message by reminding attendees that people in their lives can serve as the eighth sacrament, as a vessel chosen by Jesus to deliver comfort and hope as they mourn.