If you know me, you know that I hate to dwell in the aura of a “busy person.” I think it is so important that we take time for one another and not give off the impression that we are “too busy” for someone, anyone, – and that is five times more critical in the sacred calling of a pastor (aka shepherd). Although these past few months tested my stamina pretty good… It was a time filled with sacred services, with Holy Week and Easter, but also with weddings, funerals, confirmation and a number of other events. At times I did not have enough time for some people. But we all have our limits and we need to accept them. With the distance of a few days and the benefit of some vacation time, let me reflect on some of the big things that have happened in our parish recently.
I think it was the week before Palm Sunday when Pastor Amy Smith emailed me rather casually that she was in Abington Hospital, being checked out for a brain tumor. Amy, who is a Methodist minister and joined us after she retired a couple of years ago; Amy, who has been traveling all over the place with her husband Tim; Amy, who has led Bible studies here and the occasional service; Amy who lives next door in the old “Park house” (as in Ellie Park). One day she experienced blurry vision while reading and the next day she was already on the operating table. Her cancer is bad, and it has radically changed her outlook on life, though not her sense of faith and hopefulness. I don’t want to speak for her here. But needless to say, it was a shocker. How precious life is… how present are the words of the psalmist: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90: 12) One week later, Pastor Ed Neiderhiser died within a matter of minutes after suffering a massive heart attack at the age of “only” 71. I am not going to lie to you: it was shocking and scary. It’s always different when it strikes in your own community, as opposed to the theoretical knowledge that illness or accident can come at any time.
The funeral services for Ed Neiderhiser brought a lot of people together because he was a people person. There were all the folks he had ministered to, there were musician friends, family members, neighbors, etc. Many of them came for the viewing on Sunday night; many more came on Monday morning for the viewing at church; and then we squeezed about 400 people into the church and the Narthex for services. There was brass, there were singers, there was jazz at the viewing; there was a New Orleans style processi0n to the St. Peter’s Cemetery and back. Someone asked: did Ed plan his own funeral? No, he didn’t. He had no plans to die on Wednesday April 17 or anytime soon for that matter. But we did our best “Ed impression,” and I like to think that he enjoyed it from a very special seat in the theater. May he be blessed forever in that blessed place!
On Saturday of Holy Week we celebrated our first ever Easter Vigil. I kept the liturgy on the shorter side because some Vigils go on forever, and I didn’t want to scare people off. It was a nice service and also nicely attended. It began with the traditional Easter Fire (in a fire pit in the Baptismal Garden) and the lighting and blessing of the Paschal Candle. The highlight was the baptism of Jaiden Myers who had first come to our church about a year ago with her grandmother and has since become involved in youth activities, services and confirmation. She has come a long way. She looked very happy that night in her white dress.
On the second Sunday of Easter our nine second year conformation students received their Affirmation of Baptism, as confirmation is called formally in our church. (It still call it confirmation.) These nine students had been attending our Wednesday night sessions for two years. I hope that they have acquired an appetite for God during their confirmation journey, something that is much more important to me than fleeting knowledge. I hope when they go out into the world and begin a life on their own that they will remember: there is more to this life than what the eye can see; there is truth deeper than the easy and goodie answers, the clichés we encounter at every corner. I hope that the seeds of faith will grow as they mature and make them very special, grounded and faith-filled people.
On May 5, we welcomed new members into our church. We led worship services at the Telford Lutheran Home, and on Sunday night, we had our second Jazz Vespers at St. Peter’s. The Jazz Vespers follow a totally different script. Some say there is no script at all, just a very lose structure that allows musicians to improvise and encourages the worship leader to be less dominant and more spontaneous. It is a new experience for me and one that I have embraced, and that I am still learning. The Jazz Vespers have been attended by 50-70 people. The Vespers on May 5 was a beautiful tribute to Ed who had been playing with these musicians on many occasions. Two Philadelphia area jazz singers rocked the house. Thy really gave glory to God with their voices.
I officiated at three weddings in those weeks, one at Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge, one at a place in Radnor and one at our church. Those were of course very happy occasions with smiling faces all around. And we said good bye to Ellie Park (another North Wales icon) in mid- April, she died at age 89; and before that in early April to Elfie Heine, who made it all the way to 95. I am sad I can’t hear her Berliner dialect anymore. She would bring it out for me upon request; otherwise she spoke English perfectly.
Things are now slowing down a little bit for the summer, although there is still lots of work to do in preparation for and execution of our second Puerto Rico Mission trip with about 30 volunteers. And my daughter is graduating and going to college this summer. And…
It has been a busy, sacred, sad and joyful time.
May God bless you!
Pastor Andreas Wagner