The Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, formerly the senior minister at All Souls in New York City and now the Minister of Public Theology there, announced in early February that he has terminal cancer.
Rev. Church has devoted his ministry to not just caring for his people and his community, but also to scholarship and theological writings meant to further the movement of Unitarian Universalism. Many of his writings can be found at his website, and he has also published many wonderful books.
The central message of his life, however, has been consistently that of how we are called to love one another. This sermon (PDF), given on February 3, 2008 to All Souls New York and a week later to All Souls Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a culmination of that message.
comfort, connection, death, Forrest Church, grief, hospice, love, meaning
Love and Death
by the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church
Although I have delivered some thousand sermons on almost as many discrete topics, one way or another each circles back to a single theme. This tendency, I’m told, is not uncommon. Every minister worth his or her salt has one great sermon in them. It’s no wonder that we return time and again to its familiar music and uplifting chords.
Even church administrators pick up on their bosses’ penchant to repeat themselves. In certain instances, they have little choice. One of my storied colleagues, James Madison Barr of Memphis, Tennessee, had a habit of disappearing periodically, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, when the office staff was composing and printing the weekly church newsletter. At the top of each newsletter, they included the sermon title for the following Sunday and a brief précis of its theme. Whenever Dr. Barr was missing in action and necessity forced the Memphis church administrator to be creative, she listed his forthcoming sermon as follows:
“The Great Mystery”
James Madison Barr, Preaching
What Dr. Barr will be preaching about this Sunday is a mystery, but we’re certain it will be great.
Whether great or no, my recurring sermon, too, is rich with mystery. Time and again, I return to the abiding themes of love and death. I do so this morning for personal reasons. Since there is no way, or call, to be artful about blunting this news, let me begin by reading you the letter I shall send tomorrow to the members and friends of this wonderful church, whose destiny and mine have been interwoven now for so many years.