I hesitate to add any words here, as I would like to freeze time and not go forward, leaving Jim's photo up top, his sermons below, and forever be silent here. Soon I must take his clothing and vestments to the funeral home so he can be dressed and prayed over. I don't want to go ahead, but I must, and am so very thankful for all who have been with me, near and far, to help me, the children, Alison, John, and Greg, and Bonnie (Greg's mom and Jim's wife for many years), to get through what lies ahead. Please continue to keep us all in your prayers.
I cannot begin to name all the names I would like to thank now, but I must name a few: The Rev. Sarah Lewis, who will be dressing and praying over Jim today; Bishop Skip Adams, who anointed him and prayed over him Saturday at the hospital, was with the parish and me Sunday, and will be celebrating the Requiem Eucharist on Thursday; Jim's very good friends and colleagues, Fr. John Wingert, who will give the funeral homily and Fr. George Greene, who will be assisting along with Sarah Lewis; Fr. H. Alan Smith, who left the ordination service to be with Jim and me at the hospital during Jim's final hours; Mike Killian and Lisa Firsching, our wardens, the vestry, and Bruce Smith, our choirmaster and organist and pastor and friend to us all. As for the rest, I'd have to name every member of the parish, including the choir, and a whole host of friends and family, near and far. Please know I have felt your love and support and it has meant so much to me.
I also wanted to give special thanks to my online friends and church community, especially Fr. Jonathan Haggar, Fr. Terry Martin, and June Butler (Grandmere Mimi), among others, who alerted so many to our tragedy. Jonathan, I cannot begin to tell you how much Jim must have appreciated you closing down your site at OCICBW on the weekend in his memory. That was such an incredible honor and something that must have made him leap for joy on the slab - seriously! For a long time I used to just occasionally send him links to your posts, which he enjoyed, but later he came to read you more regularly, when he could find the time. Jim also had a quick wit, an earthy sense of humor, and a special love for bog standard folks, as he was also from a working class family and community (Racine, Wisconsin and Newcastle, U.K. may have much in common). He recognized you as a priest's priest - one who knows all that us lay people can never quite grasp about what being a priest means to you, your sense of humility and unworthiness unspoken, the dutifulness to God, all his people, and their needs, never mind the slings and arrows of life in the Church. And you made him laugh, as you have done for so many, about things that might otherwise make us cry. In fact, thanks to you, just the other day when Jim was talking about retirement (which he so rightly feared he'd never make), he smiled and said that maybe what he'd want to do is blog like you and Fr. Christian Troll (this from the man who resisted reading blogs for a long time and, I think, dared not look at my own, and mainly only read The Lead, which he loved and appreciated a great deal, for "real" news and commentary - thanks to you, Jim Naughton).
There was so much more I wanted to say now - musings in the middle of the night (as I am still not sleeping well at all) - but I don't remember them exactly now. Someday maybe I can pull them altogether. For now, let me just say briefly, that what I've learned so painfully and beautifully the last couple days is how glorious is the Church, the Body of Christ (which, forgive my heretical views includes Christians and non-Christians). In the past I have been often critical of the institutional church (which despite the lowercase "c" encompasses "ours" and lots of "theirs"). While we may have gotten past the Crusades and the Inquisition, Christian institutions still have much to answer for in the way of harm they have done, rather than good. But, as I once was more cognizant of when I first returned to church 20 years ago, after a time in the unchurched wilderness, the church's flaws stem from our humanity, and to criticize church or religion in general is to miss the point that it/they are the best we have and what makes us want to be our best, as close as we can to what God wills for us. Religious communities may be declining in numbers in the West, but they are essential.
Ah... descending into my usual wordiness and drifting into netherlands. I don't have the right words for this now, maybe I never will, but these last few days, no doubt the most painful of my entire life, have shown me Christ incarnate. I used to give Jim a hard time about not wanting to talk much about theology, doubt, belief, etc. with me, which I nevertheless understood because his ESFJ just did not communicate easily or well on such matters with my INTP, and, more practically, he needed time off from the pastor gig once he got home. But the core of his Anglo-Catholicism - incarnational theology (yes, with the smells and bells but without the misogyny and homophobia of some) - is what I've been seeing and feeling this week. All I can say is, thanks be to God.
Jim at Reagan's Baptism, Grace Church, Utica, 2009, courtesy of the proud grandfather, Chris Williams