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Rites of Passage

Performing a child dedication ceremony with Rev. Elaine Strawn and Director of Religious Education Chelsea Churpek at the UU Fellowship of Wayne County.

I have performed one wedding, several funerals, and a child dedication ceremony during my internship at the UU Fellowship of Wayne County.

One of the most poignant moments of my career in ministry so far has been leading the memorial service for my father in law. The service featured profound contributions by friends and family, and it was an honor to be part of it. Below is the prayer, part of the eulogy, and benediction I gave at this service.

Prayer

Welcome my friends.

My name is Andrew Frantz. I’m Terry’s son-in-law, and I’m also acting as clergy for this afternoon’s celebration of Terry’s life. I am a seminary student and a ministerial intern in the Unitarian Universalist church.

I would like to offer a prayer now, and I do so knowing that this is a service for a man who didn’t go to church very often and who didn’t believe in God. But as Terry proved, you don’t have to be religious to have strong moral principles, such as helping the poor and the sick, and treating all people fairly. This prayer is for Terry, and for all of us gathered here in his memory—all of us of many faiths or of no particular faith.

Please join me in the spirit of prayer or meditation.

Spirit of life and love, mysterious power that was present before our lives began and will continue after our lives have ended — be with us now.

 Divine force that some call God, some call Allah, or Yahweh, or Gaia, we invite your presence now as we confront life’s greatest mystery and challenge, the death of a loved one.

May we be open to the deep source of truth within us, to the power and mystery beyond us, and to the life-affirming love between us.

In the name and faith of all who are gathered here, may it be so.

Amen.

Eulogy

Since February 21st, the day Terry died, there has been a big hole in this family, which is slowly adjusting to life without him; when Terry’s friends gather, there is now an empty place where his laughter and conversation used to be; and his death is a loss for this island community he adopted as his home.

We are here to mourn that loss even as we celebrate our memories of Terry. May this time together provide each of us with a safe space to feel what we need to feel:  to laugh, to cry, to rekindle the personal memories that belong to us alone and to share whatever memories we wish to share.

We all have different beliefs about death. Some of us are from a Christian tradition or another religious tradition that teaches faith in an after-life.  Others here believe that death is the end. That is certainly what Terry believed. He was a scientist. He saw beauty and wonder and mystery in nature, but he didn’t use a word like God to describe that mystery.

Let’s consider for a moment the words of another scientist, the famous scientist Stephen Hawking who died just a few weeks after Terry died.

“If we send someone off to jump into a black hole, neither he nor his constituent atoms will come back, but his mass energy will come back. Maybe that applies to the whole universe.”

…Maybe that applies to Terry and his energy.

You don’t have to believe in a traditional God to know that energy has many forms. Some are known and recognized by us, and some are not. I’m more of a minister than a scientist, but I say that we move energy as we move through this world. Every time we swim in the water, we create ripples. When the ripples seem to end, that just means that we don’t recognized their energy anymore, but that water contains our energy because we swam there.

If this is true, then Terry’s energy is in the swimming holes of Snowden, Alabama where he swam as a boy, still moving the atoms of that water in ways that our senses cannot perceive.

His energy lingers in the waters of the Hanakapa’ai Valley in Hawaii — in the waterfall where he stood with his arms outstretched, and in the stream where Cindy, Duncan, Terry, and Sansing narrowly avoided being swept out to sea.

Terry’s energy is in the Allagash River in Maine where the McPhersons and the Bennings canoed.

His energy is in the Caribbean Sea off Little Cayman where he SCUBA-dived with Sansing on the Cayman Aggressor dive boat.

I know his energy is in the Mediterranean waters off of the beach of Monterosso al Mare, where we swam with a rented paddle boat that had a slide attached to the top.

His energy is in the quiet waters off of Pine Island by Dolphin Head, just a mile from here, Terry’s favorite place to walk.

And his energy is in the waters of Mackay’s Creek near Pinkney Island where four weeks ago today Sansing with her children and her dear friends, took Terry’s ashes out in the boat and committed them to the water, spreading flowers on the surface.

Yes I believe in different forms of energy. I believe in spiritual energy, the energy of our thoughts and feelings which have a power of their own.  If that’s true, then Terry is here with us now, in an energetic form. Certainly he is here in the form of our memories of him. Our love for him.

Terry, I welcome your energy to this place. To this room where I know you have walked. Because you have breathed here, laughed with us, talked with us, shared your life with us, you are here with us now. Terry, thank you for what you taught me. Thank you for welcoming me into this family. Thank you for being a loving grandfather to my children. You are with me in my heart, and our connection remains unbroken.

My friends, let’s have a moment of silence for Terry, let’s allow his energy to be with us in our thoughts and memories, in our feelings of love, joy, and grief.

Let the sound of the bell call us into silence.

Benediction

Friends, in a few moments the bagpipers will play as we end this service. Everyone is invited to the reception which follows.There will be a buffet. Tables will be set up here. There will be a slide show. After we get something to eat, Rob Arnold will offer a toast to Terry at about 5:30 and others can offer a toast at that time if they wish. Most importantly, the reception will be a time to share further memories of our beloved Malcolm Terry McPherson Jr.

Please join me in a closing prayer.

As we end this service of memory and celebration, may we be reminded that life is precious and fleeting. As we are all surely dying, we are all alive in this moment.  May we be reminded that material things and external markers of success in life are nothing compared to the love of family and friends.

May each of us be filled with love, knowing that we deserve it just by being who we are. May that love be strengthened and affirmed among us today as we share our joy and grief with one another. And may the love of this gathering flow outward to bless the whole world with no exceptions. That’s how Terry would have wanted it.

This service is ended, but our memories of Terry will remain as long as we keep them alive with love.

Amen.

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