Stepping on the Ice

16 Nov

When Margie Mayson, the minister of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Ithaca, died last week (Nov. 8, 2011), I was reminded of the death of another Methodist minister, Seth Garwood, the former pastor of Walker Methodist Church in Minneapolis.  While the circumstances of their deaths were completely different–Margie died of a blood clot to the brain, while Seth committed suicide–some of the feelings I’ve had in  regard to Margie’s death resemble those I had when Seth died.

The superficial similarities include the fact that both of them were baby boomers.  The Age of Aquarius defined us–we were the people who thought we could change everything.  We were also a generation for whom the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King,and John Lennon were seminal.  And we are starting to die now in increasing numbers.  When I went to my high school reunion this summer, the organizers said that 27 of the 546 students in my class had died and I knew a couple they had missed.  It’s hard not to feel that one has slipped a bit, when members of one’s own generation are dying.

But there’s something unique about the death of a minister.  Hearing that Margie died was like stepping on the ice in early winter and hearing the shudder of the not fully frozen water and the cracking of the fissures as they form.   Finding out about Seth’s death was more shocking, but there was also the sense of unreality that accompanies early death and the same awareness of the fragility of life and the sense that one is about to lose one’s footing.

Why did I have this reaction when I wasn’t a close friend of either of them?  I definitely admired them from the sidelines.  I think it has something to do with the way a minister functions in a community and the fact that both of them were thoughtful people who appeared to have a tie-in to the cosmos.

When I was attending Sunday school at St. Paul’s, we were told to think of the cross as though it were glass.  According to this way of thinking, Christ as he hangs on the cross functions as the Son of God and allows us to see our way clear to him.  For me, a minister functions in much the same way.   Protestants may not agree with the Catholic belief in the intercession of a priest, but I think many of us see a minister as a spiritual guide or medium and when a minister dies the way to truth can become that much more murky.

2 Responses to “Stepping on the Ice”

  1. November 19, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    This is a lovely piece. What a great use of ice as a metaphor but more importantly, you idea of how deaths can leave us all so lost. I met Margie once and heard her speak. She definitely left a spiritual impression on me, perhaps she was called to do work somewhere else. That is in essence how I try to understand sudden death.

    Well as the boomers would say, we must all: Rock On! Claire

    • I’m glad you liked it. I got a mixed reaction. I took out one line about the Catholic church that Doug disapproved of. Jeff tried to support me. Neither of them liked my paragraph on the fact that baby boomers are dying off. I don’t think you can expect everyone to like everything.

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