Monday, June 25, 2012

Eulogy for Emogene Evans

Yesterday I had the privilege of sharing an eulogy at the funeral of Emogene Evans. Emogene was a wonderful woman--one of the joys of being a pastor is getting to know people like her. The service was wonderful--the themes and music were especially appropriate in a service that remembered her life. It was moving to me to celebrate her funeral in the sanctuary that she helped build--the colors of that space were dazzling yesterday. The Spirit was smiling on all of us. The following is the eulogy I shared. Thanks to John Curtiss for inviting me to speak.

It’s a privilege for me to be here today. I want to thank Pastor John for extending an invitation to me to share this eulogy. I had the honor of being Emogene’s pastor for 16 years and hearing stories from her that spanned a century. Emogene was a living repository of stories about Plainview and Community Presbyterian Church. If I ever wanted to know a story about something that happened in the last 100 years I would call up Emogene. “Emogene,” I would say when she picked up the phone. “yes,” “This is the parson.” For some reason she liked the term, “parson, ” so I always used it when I talked to her on the phone. “What do you want,” she would snarl back in her sweet way. And off we would go talking about the story of the day.

She was one of the few people I knew who without apology would mention Voltaire, Dr. Kevorkian and Billy Graham within five minutes of a conversation—and she loved each of them. She told me on many occasions that she disagreed with what I had to say, but she would defend to the death my right to say it. Which was good since the two of us disagreed about most things theological and political. You really didn’t feel part of the community until you had been chastised by Emogene. But she was so much fun, and who didn’t love having a refreshment in her condominium, shooting the breeze about the church or the community or the world. I don’t think it was an accident that her place looked out over the main street of Plainview because she looked out for this town, and was main part of our lives.

She loved this community. She loved sharing stories of what this town was like 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 years ago. There was probably no long-term resident of Plainview whose story Emogene didn’t know. She knew everyone who lived here for any length of time. The town was her canvas. She would go everywhere. She enjoyed telling me about when she would go to worship at Immanuel Lutheran or when she went to a Lent service at the Catholic Church. She would get a twinkle in her eye and tell me that she liked to play both sides of the street.

She loved this church. She knew most of the stories about this place. One of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary was given by her youth group; this window up here was given by her dad to the church. She knew all the pastors back to 1939 —Rev Stratton, Ed Diehl, Rev Brown, Chuck Schwenke, John Green, Gordy Hoke, Jim Walker, me, LeRoy Haynes and John Curtiss. She had an opinion about all of them. Some of her opinions were strong. She probably hadn’t gotten to know John well enough to have a strong opinion about him. But she was the type of person when she went overboard you could just say, “Oh Emogene,” and everything would be all right.

When I came to town Ed had just passed away. And it still hurt quite a lot. I remember having lunch with her at “the club.” She started telling me some stories about Ed. It was hard. But to look at Emogene you would never know it was hard. She had a classic Minnesota personality where her exterior presence didn’t match her interior feelings. But on that day she was in touch with what was going on inside of her. She startled me when she said that she needed to go. “Why,” I asked. “Because I’m going to start crying and I don’t want to cry in public. But she still wanted to talk, so we went to her place and talked some more about Ed. Not a day went by when she didn’t think about Ed or his passing or how much she wanted to be with him.

She was different than many because she couldn’t wait to die. She wanted to die. She didn’t worry a bit about her salvation. She was fascinated about heaven. She told me that when Ed was in his final days she kept quizzing him about whether he had seen heaven and what it was like. Ever since he was gone she wanted to go too. She wanted to be with Ed. Even though Jesus did say we won’t be married in heaven, I can imagine Emogene in heaven acting like the persistent widow in the parable that Jesus told—making her case that she needed to be married in heaven to Ed.

I told her on many occasions that it wasn’t time for her to die because God was not through with her yet. It was true. She made some tremendous contributions to this congregation over the last 20 years—like she did throughout her life. She was part of our building committee. We were all too na├»ve to believe that a church our size could build the type of building that we imagined—what turned out to be a million dollar building. Emogene played an important role in that process. She attended more meetings than she wanted to attend. She let us know that she had attended more meetings than she wanted to attend. Because of her and many others we finalized architectural plans, received the blessing of the congregation, and started a fundraising drive. Our team had decided that we would do some large gift solicitations. I volunteered to visit Emogene.

It was one of the hardest visits I’ve ever done. It was hard because I knew her so well, and I was going to ask her for so much. I knew that the amount I was asking her to give was three times the amount she was thinking about giving to the building campaign. I told her when I came to her place that she had every right to throw me out for making the request. She didn’t throw me out of her place. We talked. When I left she told me she would think about the request. She did think about it. She ultimately gave the large gift—three times the amount she was planning to give. This beautiful building would not be the place it is if she hadn’t made that gift.

She is totally cursing me out right now for telling you this story. The story needs to be told. Emogene Evans has a multi-faceted legacy, but for me her primary legacy is her commitment to the church, in particular Community Presbyterian Church. In this age of narcissism where life revolves around me, Emogene was interested in seeing life revolve around us—the community. She was the type of person who was willing to put her money where her mouth was. She did. Every one of us is a better person because of her sacrifice.

This church has not always been Presbyterian—at first it was congregational. A long time ago this community got mad at the Congregationalists because of the quality of the pastors that were being assigned here, so that group of people went off on their own. Emogene was part of that group. When she recounted the story she said the congregation wanted to be a community church—because they wanted to be involved in the community. This faith community has lived out this desire, making a difference in the lives of many, many people in this community—because of people like Emogene.

I was very sad to hear about Emogene’s stroke and her physical condition. We had kept in touch—she would write me a letter or I would make a phone call every now and then. I hadn’t seen her since she had suffered her stroke. When I heard what happened I was praying and hoping that she would go because I knew she hated to be in that condition. So when she finally did let go—and believe me for Emogene it was never easy to let go—we could all say thank you, Lord. It was time.

So we go on. We go our separate ways. We don’t live in the past because the Holy Spirit always calls us to move into the future. But on each of our faith journeys we carry a common legacy of our saints—and Emogene Evans was one of those saints. The next time we wonder if the challenges and messiness of being in a faith community are worth our involvement, let’s remember Emogene. Let’s remember the thousands of trips she made through these church doors so that our community life might be better.

Praise God for the life of Emogene Evans.

No comments: