Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Message to the SMUUCh Community

Dear Members & Friends of the SMUUCh Community,

If you have not heard by now, it is with sadness that I share with you the news of the death of Gloria Anderson. Gloria was a founding member of our congregation and has been an active member over the past 43 years. Over the past several years Gloria has battled valiantly against cancer in her digestive system. A recent visit to the doctor showed that her cancer had returned and had spread aggressively.

This past weekend Gloria received the news of the spreading cancer. She passed away in her home on Tuesday, 9/22. While traveling in Peru I learned about Gloria’s death late at night on Wednesday, 9/23. The following morning I made contact with church staff and leaders and also was able to speak with Gloria’s son, David, by phone from Cusco, Peru.

Please know how grateful and impressed I am by the shared work of our staff and church leaders. The original thinking was that a memorial service would be held within a short time frame. Sara Sautter diligently worked the phones to contact Unitarian Universalist ministers in the area to inquire about their availability while remaining in contact with the family. Deb Markum also coordinated many of the communications. Patsy Pierce, one of our trained lay ministers at SMUUCh, was a key member of Gloria’s care team and provided excellent care. Carla Dodge, our Lay Ministry Coordinator during my sabbatical, continues to be involved in determining how we might best care for Gloria’s family. Let me state how deeply impressed I am with the shared work and ministry of our members and staff. Their cooperation and communication is a shining example of our congregation’s core strength. Please take a moment to thank them for their compassion and vigilance.

Since I became SMUUCh’s Minister in 2003 I have visited with and spoken to Gloria on many occasions. Still, I only got to experience one chapter of her life. Those who are long time members knew her over a greater portion of her life. I remember Gloria for her quick and agile mind. Gloria was sharp, attentive, and wise. She also deeply loved her children. She talked about them with great warmth. Gloria was predeceased by her husband several years ago. In his memory, the church was given the gift of a chalice that served us faithfully each and every Sunday for over a decade. At a moving worship service in May, 2007 we marked our 40th Anniversary by celebrating our founders, our present, and claiming our hopes for the future. At that service we “decommissioned” the Anderson chalice and dedicated the new chalice that we use in our services today. The Anderson chalice will be lit in memory of Gloria and will be on display over the next several weeks. The June 2007 issue of the DrumBeat included a picture of us honoring Gloria.

Our current plans are to hold a Memorial Service celebrating Gloria’s life on November 14 at 11:00 in Fellowship Hall. This is a date that works best for all of Gloria’s family to attend as several members of the family live out of town.

Unlike other religious traditions that instruct that a funeral be held within a certain number of days, Unitarian Universalism is quite flexible. It is not at all unusual for a Memorial Service to be held two or three months after a death. The timing of a memorial service takes into consideration several factors. One factor is the simple fact that in our contemporary society relatives are often quite dispersed and the logistics of getting everyone together can be tricky. Another factor that is considered is whether the Rite of Passage is mainly designed to address a powerful grief or to celebrate a life. Services designed for the latter purpose are often pushed back to allow the family the time to assemble photographs and other items used to remember the life of the person who has died.

(Oftentimes, a more immediate service is held when family have already gathered for a vigil for a family member who is in the process of dying. Such was the case when I was at General Assembly in Ft. Worth in 2006, received a call that a church member had died, drove eight and a half hours on Friday morning, met with the family Friday afternoon, and officiated at the service on Saturday. The family had gathered around him in his final days and wanted a service within a few days since they were all together and that was most convenient.)

Again, I extend to Gloria’s family and to the SMUUCh Community my deepest condolences, expressions of sympathy, and my abiding love and care.

With Lovingkindness,

Rev. Thom Belote
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Lima, Peru