All Souls’ Day, 2014

I’d have to say that today’s been a pretty memorable All Souls’ Day. For those, who’ve not read this blog before, and it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, All Souls in the Catholic calendar is November 2, the day following All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation, and one on which one celebrates all the saints in heaven (including those, such as beloved figures such as Dorothy Day or one’s beloved parents, who are not officially recognized by the Catholic Church, with a Feast Day and the like). When I was a kid in Catholic schools, this was also a holiday from school. You did have to attend Mass, but that could be done by 8a, and you had the whole day to yourself — if you were lucky, it was a glorious fall day, dry but brisk and very colorful. But our return to school on November 2 (well, on those days where November 2 fell on a Monday-Friday), we would get some brief acknowledgement at the beginning of religion class (usually the first thing in the morning) that the day was All Souls’ Day, a day when we thought about those who were largely forgotten, and especially about those in purgatory, who could use or prayers as leverage to get on a faster track to Paradise. And that acknowledgement of the forgotten, of those who didn’t get memorials for saintly behavior, seemed very important to me. I’m not sure that All Souls’ Day meant much to my classmates. There was the awww! gotta go back to school blues, but I don’t recall others wondering about souls in purgatory, the forgotten people who didn’t have a lot of people pulling for them. As a kid, I felt a certain affinity for Charlie Brown, and felt a kinship with the forgotten, and I usually spent time thinking a little about those forgotten souls in Purgatory or Limbo (where unbaptized good people ended up). It was probably more for me than for any good it did those souls.
When I came to Kansas City 20 years ago, I learned that the Unitarian Church in KCMO was called All Souls. I knew that All Souls was a pretty common name for Unitarian Churches, the most common name beside Church of the Messiah, or the ubiquitous numbered churches (there are more 1st Unitarian Churches than any other named designation). But on moving to town, and planning to attend services at All Souls, I was overjoyed to learn that the first membership Sunday of 1994 was to be held on Sunday, 2 November, All Souls Day. Well, I was overjoyed. I was going to become a member of All Souls Church on All Souls Day, and I was one person for whom All Souls Day had some resonance. And it was a memorable experience. It allowed me to honor my Catholic roots, and also to honor the church I was now joining as a member. All on the same day.
A few years back, I started this blog to continue my own search for truth (or knowledge) at a time when, though still a member of All Souls, I was not someone who attended service often. And the church had just undergone a very bitter battle over the Interim minister, Lee Devoe. Like many battles, this was one that didn’t need to be fought, and those fighting would have done well to remember the injunction that “we do not have to believe alike to love alike.” I decided to stay on, to help work through the negativity to see some positive outcome. And I decided to stay on to the calling of the new minister, Rev. Kendall Gibbons, who is still at All Souls, where I hear some of the hard work to better relations is being done. But I ceased my pledge in protest, and began a blog for me to work on my own inner life. There had briefly been some tough discussions on the Church’s Facebook page, discussions that didn’t help our public image, and may not have been so healthy. Though I tried to maintain some balance in my own postings, I cannot say I consistently succeeded in maintaining a positive tone or spirit. When naming the blog, I opted for the name “All-Soulo” in part to honor the church, in part to honor the forgotten (and maybe issues forgotten in the fray) which was one of the goals for All Souls’ Day in my youth, in part because I cannot resist puns, and the idea of someone who was of All Souls, but very much alone, put the idea of All-Soulo in my mind.
Well, today at All Souls, there was a music service, which involved performance of Karl Jenkins’ Requiem, and there was a service for Lee Devoe afterwards. So, I spent the day at All Souls. I saw some of the old faces, and noted many smiles when people saw me, and I was grateful for that. I am no longer a member of All Souls, but belong to Kansas City’s other church, in Shawnee Mission, KS (actually, we’re now in Lenexa, KS). I don’t feel as uncomfortable at All Souls as many of the people who left during the big fight over Rev. Devoe, the termination of her contract as minister of the congregation, and the bad blood that bubbled up in those days. Some members remained, though saddened by what happened, and others felt they could not stay because of the hostility they felt. The experience left many feeling quite hurt and such hurt feelings could, for many, only result in a less than rewarding religious experience (too much static getting in the way of Soul Work). Those feelings are still strong, and leave an emotional raw patch, even now, years later. I was enough to the side of the conflict that I could duck and weave a lot and avoid wounding. That time left me sad, but not much more.
In part, I went to the service, both the requiem and the memorial service for Lee Devoe, because I felt that someone from the exodus should be present. I was glad I went, and I was glad to see so many faces I had known well during my time at All Souls. The music in the service was quite impressive — it always is — All Souls has a vigorous music program and, though it would be nice to see music taken up by more people in the congregation, the choir does a great job and Anthony Edwards is an excellent music director.
It seemed appropriate that the church be doing a requiem on All Souls. It got me thinking of me as a little boy thinking of the forgotten dead, dead not honored in the history books, or the literature books, or the religious texts, making me recognize some kinship with those gone AND forgotten as well as those gone but NOT forgotten. And I’m glad that the recognition of Lee Devoe was held on this day. It is not that she is forgotten. Those who came, and many of those at SMUUCH who left over her treatment and firing, have certainly not forgotten her. But, in some ways, she was forgotten while she was minister at ASUUC — in the hurly burly of that time, people forgot others’ humanity, and lost sight of the human being behind the label they had affixed to her or to those who defended her or even to those who liked her. And, they forgot their own humanity at the time, and the generosity of spirit that is possible and incumbent on the human heart. In listening to people talk about Rev. Lee, I got to know things I hadn’t known at the time. And I got to learn ways in which Rev. Lee touched the lives of many at church. I was glad that I had taken the time out of a busy schedule to sit in quiet and listen and be a witness for Lee Devoe and what she meant and could mean.
It is great to have been able to come back, 20 years later, to the church I joined back in ’94, on All Souls’ Day, to experience the place again. I was glad to be there as witness to others as they spoke about Rev. Lee and all she meant. I was glad to be there as witness to their tears, and to tear up myself. To those at All Souls Church, which retains a special resonance in my heart and soul, I wish them well and hope for great days ahead. To those unable to attend the service, except in spirit because the pain (or its memory, which is often the same thing) is too strong, I hope they can let go of that pain and know peace. And to Reverend Lee Devoe, who came to All Souls with great promise, and did the job she was hired to do, but who could not complete this particular mission, I hope, dear ghost, you came to know peace yourself, and I wish your family, of whom I only got to know your daughter, well in this trying time. When someone passes, it is so difficult, but you had the great opportunity to be with Lee though these last days, and got to know her in all sorts of ways. May that knowledge and treasury of feeling be both a consolation and inspiration to you. And, finally, to Cheryl Westra, whom I got to hug at the close of the service today, I find you a very heroic and inspirational figure, and I’m glad to see you still doing good work at All Souls — the best to you and your family.

1 Response to “All Souls’ Day, 2014”

  1. 1 Carla Norcott-Mahany
    November 2, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Thank you Bernie for expressing so eloquently what is in the hearts of many of the KC Metro UUs who got to know and respect Lee during crazy bad times.

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