Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, June 23, 2014

Providing a Way Out

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

I gave a second benediction. I think it is the only time I have given a second benediction at a graveside, but the first one didn’t work. I held my hand really high. I wanted it to look more like a sign of danger than one of peace. I wanted it to say, “Don’t mess with this old bald white-bearded preacher.”

The young man whose body lay in the coffin had come to worship for the first and only time at the church where I was serving an interim. That’s the one where the bishop removed the pastor for being a sexual predator. Like most predators, though, he had covered his tracks well and made the congregation emotionally dependent on him. When the bishop came to explain, the people threw hymn books at him and chanted, “We want our preacher.” The District Superintendent called me and said, “We think this would be a good place for you to do your thing before we appoint another pastor on a regular basis.” {I told a bit more about this in the Christ In Winter for 7-16-13.}

It was about the fourth Sunday of this interim when the young man came to church. He looked to be about twenty years old. He had just moved to town to take a job. No one knew him, but everyone was friendly and welcoming. They dragged him over to me so we could meet. It had to be a quick meeting, though, because Helen and I had to leave immediately after worship to drive three hundred miles to put my father into a nursing home. Again. But that’s a different story. [1]

When we returned, we learned that the young man had gone back to his apartment after church and hanged himself. The job was not complete, though. He was in a coma in the hospital.

The hospital waiting room was full of angry people, from his home town, about 100 miles away. I learned why he felt he needed to commit suicide. He was married and had a child. He also had several girlfriends, at least one of whom was pregnant. His parents were divorced and remarried and openly expressed hate for one another and the new spouses of their ex-spouses. It was not a happy scene.

I returned to that scene day after day. There were fewer people there each day. Finally he died.

No one in his home town had a church or a pastor, so I drove a hundred miles to do his funeral service, at the funeral home. There were a lot of angry people there, none of whom wore a dress or a tie. There were a lot of t-shirts advertising Buds and Marlboros. It was a short service, no more than 20 minutes, but some mourners could not go that long without a cigarette. One by one they got up, went out to the porch to smoke, and returned. I could see them on the porch from the lectern. One of the pall-bearers wore shorts so low that he could be a plumber.

After I did the committal at the cemetery, a young woman came up to the coffin and placed a ring on it. Another young woman came up and grabbed it and threw it to the ground. This was repeated with two other young women and a rose. People began to mutter and glare at one another. That was when I did the second benediction, the one that said, “Don’t mess with this preacher,” the one that wasn’t in The Book of Worship, the one that said, almost literally, “It’s time to get your sorry behinds out of here.”

They were relieved. The mean old preacher had given them permission to back off. They could say to themselves and one another, “I wouldn’t have let her get away with that, except…”

That’s one of the roles of a pastor, or a parent, or a friend, or a president, giving folks an acceptable way out, away from hate and violence. If no one else is around to do it, it’s okay to give yourself a way out.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where people are Yoopers, a word in the new Merriam-Webster dictionary, and life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

You don’t have to bookmark or favorite the CIW URL to return here. Just Google Christ In Winter and it will show up at the top of the page.

I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, in late 2014 or early 2015. For some reason it does not appear when Googled, even though it’s a Google blog.

I tweet as yooper1721.


  1. reminds me of the funeral at Union Cemetery - Greasy Point- did you ever do one there? near Charleston? Only one bouquet of flowers - to our loyal customer -from the Brown Bottle Lounge. a few people- one guy in a purple tank top leaning hard on the corner tent post to keep him and the tent upright. I asked if anyone had anything to say. He launched into a 10 minute slurred talk a out how we and his family should all get along!

    I did more funerals in Kankakee - because so many pastors could not be bothered - than any other place. What a blessing to minister to the disenfranchised and marginalized.

  2. You are so right, Martin. No, I don't think I ever did a funeral at Greasy Point, but almost all the others in the Charleston area.