A Sermon Preached
The Burial of Patricia Roberts Pemble – June 21, 2014
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church – Wilmette, Illinois
In the not-quite two years since I arrived as rector of St. Augustine’s, many people have asked me what this church is like.
“Down to earth,” I said, after an usher and long-time member pulled my husband aside on our first Sunday here to tell him, “Don’t feel like you have to wear a suit to church.”
“Faithful,” I said, after one Friday morning Eucharist followed by a rich discussion over coffee.
“Good humored,” I added, after laughing out loud in the sacristy with a gathering of Altar Guild members.
“Deeply caring,” I told someone, after learning that the Good Samaritans had set up a rotation for meals and visits and lawn care, following a parishioner’s serious bicycle accident last summer.
“Committed,” I said, after the members of this parish managed to put on a self-catered meal of delicious food…for the whole parish and our bishop…at last fall’s Stewardship Dinner.
Down-to-earth. Faithful. Good-humored. Deeply caring. Committed. Those are all words I would use to describe our dear Patsy Pemble, as well.
On May 20th, I was in Royal Oak, Michigan, for a friend’s Celebration of New Ministry as Rector…the same day Patsy was admitted to Glenbrook Hospital for what would be the last time. I left the information about where I was on my outgoing phone message, so when Patsy called to tell me where she was, she found out about my trip. I went to visit her in the Intensive Care Unit as soon as I got home. In her characteristic manner, as I walked in the doorway of her room, she looked up and said, “So. You go to see a friend installed as rector, and come home to find me here. How’s that for a welcome home?!”
I could tell you about her wit, which you just heard about, and already likely know of…I could tell you about how she and Betty Jenkins started telling stories to Mary Jacobson and me about the real history of the women’s guild at St. Augustine’s. We laughed so hard and so loudly that I am still a little bit amazed that we didn’t get kicked out of Panera that day.
I could tell you about her committed and unsentimental generosity… about her donation to the church of the beautiful covering on our altar, lovingly vested at the beginning of this liturgy by her beloved friends and fellow members of the Altar Guild…
I could tell you about her faithfulness. Just a couple of days before Easter, after deciding we would begin our Easter Vigil service by lighting the Paschal Fire outside in the columbarium, I shared with a few people that we would start 15 minutes beforehand, by chanting the names of all who were buried there. Patsy was having trouble with her breathing then, as she had so often over the past months. She needed to lean against the lower wall as she waited, but she was there. And when we came to The Venerable Richard Pemble, she stood up. And she sang his name: “Blessed Dick,” she sang; “Pray with us,” we responded.
In his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us.”
Patsy didn’t mince words. She struggled with a number of serious health problems in these past years, dealt with hospitals and tests and surgeries and recoveries in her practical and honest manner. Through it all, she showed herself to be tenacious in her faith. She believed fiercely that the suffering she encountered was not the whole of it. She had a sense of, and a trust in, God’s glory still to be revealed.
What I will tell you is this: she shared ways that she had seen pieces of that revelation. She shared stories of those moments with her children and her grandchildren, with her friends, and here at the church she loved so deeply. She shared her faith and hope, with members of her Saturday morning Bible study, and by joining the conversation at our small group gatherings in Lent. She shared in service, helping to cook and serve meals when we hosted people who are homeless here at St. A’s. She shared in ministries of care, organizing our Good Samaritans to provide meals, or rides to the doctor, or other ways of supporting each other during times of need. She shared her trust in God’s glory by witnessing to it in practical and substantive and everyday ways.
That first day I saw her after coming back from Michigan and finding her in ICU, I left church in such a hurry that I wasn’t well-prepared for the visit. Toward the end of our time, I asked what else I could do for her. Even in the midst of her pain and trouble breathing, Patsy turned to me with a twinkle in her eye, and said, “Well, communion would be nice.” I brought it to her when I visited early the next day.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks in his letter. Patsy’s condition deteriorated quickly in the days that followed, to the point that Hank and Sara asked me to come pray Last Rites with her by that next Sunday. She mostly slept, while her daughter, Sara, and her granddaughter, Nicole, and I sang “Seek ye first,” to her…as Dick had sung the same hymn to her in another hospital room many years before. Her eyes stayed closed as we prayed the prayers of that Last Rite. But when it was time for Communion, I broke off the tiniest piece of a wafer, dipped it into the wine. She opened her eyes, received it, smiled…and closed her eyes again.
“Who will separate us?”
I am convinced, as I believe Patsy was when she chose these words to be shared with you all here today: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And so I give thanks. I give thanks for the life and witness of such a down-to-earth, faithful, good-humored, deeply caring, committed soul to help illustrate, help reflect back to us who we are, who we are called to be.
Godspeed, dear one.
We will chant you and Dick into our midst once more, together again at the Feast of the Resurrection.