By the Rev. Eric Long
As a pilot in the Navy and then for Fed Ex, my father was gone for large portions of my childhood. This was the price that came with Dad’s service to our country, and then his job. The longest separation started when I was nine years old. Dad was assigned to sea duty for two years on an aircraft carrier, and my family decided to remain in Memphis, TN, as that is where Dad’s future employment would be. Two years is a dreadfully long time for such absolute separation, and it stands out as a particularly sad time in my life. Yet what floods in right behind those lonely memories are the people of my church, mostly older, who rushed into that void and were there for me and my family in tangible, powerful ways. Although we had no blood relatives in Memphis, I grew up with countless surrogate aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even father-like figures. They filled my life through Calvary Church of the Nazarene. I still remember their names and continue to feel their love. I wonder at times what I would be without them, what different path my life would have taken without that church. I’m glad that is a version of myself I will never know.
One fall when my dad was at sea, our church was holding a Father-Son banquet of some sort. I will never forget the number of men who called me up to ask if I would come with them to that event. They cared enough about me that they stepped into that empty place and transformed what would otherwise have been a painful memory into one of the most powerful testimonies I have about the goodness of the Church for our lives.
This way of being there for one another is one of the most enduring gifts of life in Christian community. I don’t suppose we notice it so much, except at those times when we need it the most. Recognizing this has indelibly shaped my ministry. At St. John’s, this is the chief reason we have tried to introduce chances for our church to be together across generational lines at gatherings such as our Fellowship on the Fourth events. We have also endeavored to allow for community to be built with people in similar stages of life. Yet the one group the clergy have longed to see brought into being is one offering friendship and fellowship for parishioners of retirement age. This eluded us in the first stage of my ministry as we sought to rejuvenate waning children and youth programs, but we always circled back to it as a priority that had not been met. We worried over this potential hole in our community life through which someone might fall. Meeting this need has been regarded not only as the right thing to do, but, for me, as a way to give back.
It is, therefore, my great joy to announce that we now have this long-awaited group for our older members. The Fine Wines is a community of retirement age parishioners who will gather to share life with one another while having fun. If you have not heard about this group, or could not attend their first event on November 29th, please look at the full schedule of outings and events they have planned for the months ahead provided in this newsletter. What they have put together is fantastic.
Togetherness is the point of it all, and a great point it is. For what was taught to me as a child forever remains: we really do need each other. Indeed we do, and this is why God has given us to one another.
The Reverend Eric Long, Rector