Friday, July 1, 2022
By: David May, Rector
I’m not sure of the exact date but sometime in the spring of 2018 I received a letter from our dear brother in Christ, Allen. Allen. Oh my gosh, such a beautiful, complex, full-of-life, simultaneously a sinner and redeemed (as Martin Luther would say), larger-than-life, perplexing, sometimes challenging with his dogged persistence, with as big a heart as it is possible to have kind of man. Allen. God bless him. I’m going to miss him very much.
Anyway, I was still living on the Northern Neck but we were beginning to make plans to move up here to join in the ministry of this parish. Allen’s letter came maybe three days after it was announced that I’d be coming to St. Mary’s; maybe two days, actually. I remember taking his letter out of the mailbox and being impressed by its…heft. The envelope was bursting at the seams. When I opened it, I discovered that his letter was written on fifteen pages of good, proper sturdy stationary. Fifteen pages! Hand-written, of course. I can’t tell you all of what he wrote because there were places where (forgive me, Allen) his handwriting was utterly illegible. (As a side note, I told Allen thank you for the kindness of his letter when I finally met him in the flesh, but I did say that there were a few places in the letter where I couldn’t make out the sense of what he’d written. He let me know that there was nothing wrong with his handwriting. Maybe my inability to read what he had written was more a deficiency on my part. I told him that my sins were many and ever before me but an inability to read was not one of them. And we went back and forth like that for a while. Which I just loved. And so did he. And there was lots of laughter from us both. If you can believe it, that first conversation with Allen was one of those signs I received from our gracious God when I first got here that let me know that maybe I was in the right place after all.)
What I could read and what I can remember of his letter was full of enthusiasm and encouragement and hope for St. Mary’s going forward. In some ways, his letter read like an official proclamation – very formal in its language and expression. But mostly it was a hearty, sincere welcome with the pledge to do everything he could to be of support. And in that he was unfailingly true to his word.
In many ways, that letter was perfectly emblematic of Allen as a person. Like the letter, so much good, so much sincere, heartfelt, spirit. So much that came from him from the right place for the right reasons. And also like the letter, places that were illegible, unreadable, perplexing, and that you can’t make sense of. Which, I suppose, dear people, describes the paradoxical experience of faith in God for such as us (we creatures of his hand) walking between heaven and earth. In short, God has made us to bear his image in the world. And sometimes we do, we really do. Maybe more often than we know. But sometimes we don’t. At all. Really – not at all! Sometimes it’s more like the opposite of bearing God’s image that we experience about ourselves. And when that happens you can lose heart.
I am sure, Allen experienced this same paradox. And here’s what I saw him do about that. What I chiefly want to remember and thank God for with a whole heart is an old-fashioned sounding theological virtue that Allen possessed. It’s something called, ‘the perseverance of the saints’. Which means, you keep going, supported by the faithfulness of God, when you bear the image of God well and when you don’t at all, you keep going. ‘The perseverance of the saints’ means you don’t lose heart. There is faith enough, and hope enough, and love enough; there’s enough oil in your lamp and the wick is trimmed enough to bear a little light. Which is enough for God to work with with any of us.
Yes, I believe Allen had something of that old-fashioned sounding virtue of the ‘perseverance of the saints’ to keep going and to not lose heart, but hold onto faith’s hope that he might bear God’s image in the world, and hope for the grace that might make up for it when he didn’t.
As many letters as I received from Allen (and maybe you have to) and even though I sometimes couldn’t read at all what he’d written (and for which he was unapologetic), still, I wish there was one more to come. But there isn’t. His work is done. His baptism bestowed by grace with the coming of the Holy Spirit in this world in now complete in the risen life of Christ among the saints in heaven. Sealed as Christ own forever, our brother now lives in him and knows the Lord Christ fully even as he has always been fully know. The One who made him could always read clearly every line his life wrote – which is the mercy of God.
And so we thank you God, thank you for your servant Allen, who you made to keep faith in this world and not lose heart. And we rejoice in his nearer presence to you that he may go from strength to strength in the life of your perfect Kingdom! Amen.