A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
A Tribute to Fergus Freeman: One of My Most Memorable Mentors
October 26, 2012
Thanks to global communications Lynette and I heard almost immediately the sad news that this time Ferg had not beaten the odds that have been against him for as long as I've known him. We were staying in the guest house of the seminary where I was trained for ministry in Alexandria, Virginia. Not a lot has changed there, but now they have WIFI everywhere on campus.
It occurred to me that while Virginia Seminary was very good at training me in the particulars of doing ministry, what they did the best was to prepare me to be taught by the many who would cross my way these thirty years since I graduated. They prepared me to learn from you how to be a priest, how to minister; how to be faithful to a way of life; a way of being we see in Jesus. Not the church's Jesus, but the real human one.
Fergus is one of those mentors. So I was touched and honoured when Chrisanthi, another of my important mentors, asked me to speak on her behalf this morning.
Ferg & Chrisanthi were amongst the first to welcome this Yank with his strange accent to St Matt's and the very first to offer me hospitality in their home. I soon would learn that they were softies for bringing home strays. When I arrived for dinner I met Alex. I thought he was their dog but no, he belonged to the neighbors, he just preferred living with them. Who wouldn't. I also learned that their forte was offering hospitality. They had been a place to party and socialize for the parish since they first became a couple 27 years ago next month.
I have to say I did not immediately intuit that Fergus would become one of my significant mentors. I wasn't quite sure how to take him at first. How do you take seriously someone who first offers you a fine whiskey and then toasts you with all the verses of Rogers & Hamerstein's Oklahoma in honour of the country you emigrated from?
His pride in his Presbyterian heritage and his love for St Matt's did not deter him from telling his gently ribald jokes or his taking the mickey out of both. I was surprised to learn he was retired cop, but less so when I heard his many stories about where all bodies are buried at St Matthew's. Boy, could he tell a story, but they were never unkind or mean-spirited. He just seemed to relish and delight in the foibles of his fellow pilgrims and being truthful about them and him in an entertaining way.
I suppose the most confusing thing I found about Ferg was how did someone who portrayed himself as the class clown and Broadway troubadour land the prettiest and smartest girl in the class? That he did was my first clue that all was not as it seemed on the surface. There was much more to this man than he liked to give away.
As I have witnessed, and Chrisanthi has attested in her understated way "theirs was a robust marriage and a perfect partnership". One could expect no less of a union of two people of strong opinions. However, no temporary disagreement, annoyance or irritation had a chance against their deep love, respect and appreciation for each other.
So what has Ferg taught me for which I thank him today?
· Never shy a way from being a fool for Christ. The purpose of the fool in the king's court was to tell inconvenient truth to those in power in a manner they can hear it. Somebody has to do it seemed to be his motto. A long line of St Matt's clergy can attest to his skill in this.
· Being yourself has the single one advantage that no one else can do it better.
· Hospitality and a fine single malt builds relationships and leads to spirited conversations. He understood that Jesus at his core was a party animal.
· Learn to appreciate the flaws and foibles of people and institutions. They will keep you entertained for life. Especially the church and her clergy.
· Live in the moment. It's all we've really got. Being anywhere else is a waste of time.
· There is never a bad time to sing, although he felt we could do better here singing more good ol' Presbyterian hymns.
· If you have the opportunity, choose a good mate who brings out the best in you.
· Don't take life too seriously or you might miss what is really important, as well as a good laugh.
· Enjoy good music, it nourishes the soul. You may have noticed he didn't feel the same about prayers. He faithfully took a loo break during the prayers of the people most Sundays. For that reason and his discovery of liking Buddhist chanting 20 years ago and his enjoyment last Holy Week of walking the labyrinth while Dmitry sang Gregorian chant from the balcony, he expressed the wish that the prayers at his farewell be Gregorian chant sung by Dmitry.
Thank you Ferg for being a good mentor, a good friend, and a truly unique and faithful representative of the Jesus I try to follow.
With Dmitry’s help let pray.
Commendation and Commital
We are thankful for Fergus’ life. We are glad to have seen Ferg’s face, to have been influenced by his personality and ways, to have loved him and to have been loved by him in return.
Fergus’s deeds continue to influence those he touched and our larger world, for we are all woven into one tapestry.
We are thankful that time lessens and memories heal the grief we feel at this time.
We are thankful for the comfort we give one another, which has grown among us this hour.
We are thankful that Life continues, passing from generation to generation
We are thankful for Love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” For the love that never dies.
In the spirit of this love we say our “good-byes” to Fergus.
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air,
Deep peace of the quiet earth,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the gentle night,
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you,
The deep peace of God to you
Rest in peace
We give thanks for the years we shared with you
The good we saw in you
The love we received from you.
Go forth from this world,
In the Totality of Love who created you
In the Gentleness of Solitude that redeemed you
In the Strength of Friends that sustained you,
In communion with all our dead,
May you dwell this day in peace.
We commit Fergus’s body for cremation and to the keeping of Eternity. We do so with deep reverence for the body as a creation of the Divine — a unique expression of an eternal and abiding, though mysterious, love.
Spirit of Life and Love, Eternal God, may the spirit of Fergus become one with your Eternity. Grant to us, who grieve this death, forgiveness; a sense of comprehending compassion, and a meaning in which all things are understood and made whole. May the love in our hearts join us together in richer ways than before and, in time, lead us to the peace that passes all understanding. We know that Fergus’ spirit will always be with us — his love for us and our love for him will never die. Amen.