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Hallo again to all. St Andrew

Last night we learned the sad news of the death of a priest-friend.

First by email, then by text, then through social media posts and in messaging conversations, we pieced together the story. Our friend—who had been the picture of health in May—had taken ill while traveling. He died not very long after being admitted to hospital, having been visited urgently by another mutual friend with the prayers and sacraments of the Church just a few hours before, in a city where he did not live.

He had asked in Minneapolis two and a half short months ago if there was some time for us to chat alone. We both found it, and sat down over coffee near an elevator bank. What did he want to talk about in private? In the manner of the priest we have all met who is confident but not narrow, who is certain and happy, he spoke a bright paragraph of gratitude for a small project of work we had shared. It was a moment of unusual kindness during a crushing conference schedule, and the sort of thing a real pastor does early and often. His words are still their clear voice of confidence even if he will not speak them again.

The news of his death is still settling in, in part because we had lunch plans at the beginning of August. We had hoped to spend an afternoon of church-and-cemetery crawls, bracketed by meals, filled with comfortable conversations and silences. Now none of that will take place.

The news is still settling in, too, because the emails, the social media comments, the texts from persons who knew him, continue to arrive. His ministry was uncannily like that of John Keble: fixed to one diocese after ordination to the priesthood on the first day of 1974, and settled in the same parish for 41 years beginning in 1976. It was heaven and earth contained in little space.

During an ordained life of now-unusual local specificity, this person influenced for the better two generations of diocesan colleagues who remain in his mourning debt. And this is magnified and amplified well outside the small town where he was planted and bloomed—it extends throughout his particular national church, into ecumenical relationships, and also into interreligious ones.

What is to be learned from the focus of this life cut short, the grief of friends far and wide who looked forward to their next meeting with this person, the walks that won't be taken, and the mutual encouragement that won't be exchanged? Somehow, it is the very focus itself.

Focus is the Latin for hearth. Among the greatest of sins in Roman life is the losing of the focus—simply and precisely, just allowing the fire to go out. The Romans structured their sleep around this single necessity, going to bed in shifts and giving high, deep esteem to those who ensured that ashes never went entirely cold.

Rick tended the hearth of pastoral conversation in a way that was deliberate, careful, unassuming, transparent—and so kept up a direct communication suffused with kindness, prepared by listening, sincere in its delivery, honest in its concerns. In a time of digital distraction, this focus is a thing that startles us when we see it—because it is real and present and a good in its own right. This is the heart of pastoral connection, and it was his very great gift. Even in his absence, that gift will be an inspiration to continue the same practice as we can.

May his memory be for a blessing.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana


All of us at Anglicans Online

23 July 2017

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