Funeral Homily for the Rev. Deacon Lucinda “Pete” Dempesy-Sims

Pete picture

In the name of our loving God. Amen

She would not live to be a fine old age.

Our beloved Pete has left us much too soon, and we all feel cheated.

Cheated of the years together and the good times to come.

Cheated of a chance for Cathy and Pete to grow old together.

Cheated of the chance for her to love and nurture and raise up another generation of our children.

Cheated of the opportunity for Pete to discern what was next for her in her life as a teacher and a deacon.

Cheated of one more chance to hear that rich, resonant laugh … to hear her yell, “It’s the nuts!” about something she thought was awesome … to watch her cuddle with the dogs.

Cheated of a chance for her to live out her call as a good shepherd — of animals, of people. For Pete there were no outcasts, just people and pets she had not rescued yet. She rescued all of us.

She would not live to be a fine old age, but today we give thanks for the way she changed our lives and the gifts she left us.

Pete’s life and ministry were devoted to showing dignity to people and to animals. When she listened to you, it was with her whole self, as if there was nothing more important in the world than what you had to say. When she looked at you, she really saw YOU.

She was proud to be a deacon. She was proud to be a mother to Patrick.

One of Pete’s proudest accomplishments was the creation of the pet food pantry at Ascension. When she learned that some of the patrons of the food pantry were giving the food they obtained there to their pets … because they could not afford to buy pet food … she saw a need.

She saw a way to give dignity to the pet owners, who were willing to go hungry themselves in order to feed their pets, and to the animals themselves.  As her friend Jaimie Marzullo says in the eulogy printed in your bulletin:

“Pete didn’t only LIKE animals; she respected them. She knew God moved in the relationships between animals and their humans. And more than that, she knew the binding power of people’s love for our pets, and had the wisdom to put that common ground to work uniting neighbors and healing broken souls.”

That ministry revitalized Ascension and gave the congregation an identity, one that they insist on maintaining as they merge with Good Shepherd. It inspired pet food pantries all across Western New York.

Pete worked for 40 years as a teacher of emotionally disturbed middle-school students — a challenge beyond the patience and wisdom of many of us. She said she’d keep doing it as long as it was still fun. The goal of her work was to give her students the dignity they were denied by much of the rest of the world.

There was one student, a young man named Jimmy. When he was having a hard time in class he’d ask to go meet with Miss Pete, and he’d go to her office and she’d play his favorite song, by Tom Jones. Now, I’m not going to embarrass us all by wiggling my hips like Tom Jones, but you know the words: “It’s not usual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone.” Jimmy would start dancing and lip-syncing, and he’d start smiling and calm down. Pete knew what Jimmy needed because she listened to him, and she helped him regain control, dignity and humanity — just as our Baptismal Covenant calls us to do.

Pete wasn’t afraid to call us on our own bad behavior. Ruth Tweidle, a matriarch at Ascension, would cast a disapproving look on people she didn’t know, apparently fearing they were about to steal her purse and her cigarettes. When Pete caught her, she’d tell her, “Ruthie, you can’t make that face at people!” Pete saw Christ in every person and respected the dignity of every human being.

Pete died surrounded by her dogs, the pets she rescued, and not far away, out in the barn, was her rescue donkey. She was an animal whisperer. She embraced all God’s creatures who had been thrown away, beaten up, disrespected and rejected. She was the Good Shepherd who laid down her life for her sheep.

At meetings she didn’t talk much, but when she did, everyone listened very carefully as she articulated wonderful wisdom that saw things clearly and came to the point. As she would have put it, she used her head for something besides a hat rack. She advised me as I worked to revitalize parts of our diocese, and I came to rely on that advice, to know Pete would always say what I needed to hear. Near the end of her life, when chemotherapy robbed her of her speaking voice, we could still hear her speaking through her actions, her life as a servant of dignity.

A week before Pete died, she met with me in my office. I thought she was coming to talk about her future as a deacon once she was restored to good health through radiation and chemotherapy. I felt a powerful push — I’ve had this inclination only once before — I knew that I needed to give her communion from the Reserved Sacrament. I did, and then she told me this:

“I am ready. If it is God’s will, I am ready to die. If it is God’s will for me to live, I am ready to live.” Her face radiated absolute peace and calm. It was a powerful moment I will never forget.

She would not live to be a fine old age. But in the living of her life, she is an icon for such a time as we face now.

I’m appalled to read about the Hollywood moguls, the media executives, the political figures who for years have sexually harassed and insulted and abused and disrespected both women and men, getting away with it, thinking it was their right — and about all the people who knew and looked the other way.

I’m appalled at the argument that we should maintain the monuments to Civil War heroes and politicians from the Confederacy — who dishonored other human beings by enslaving them, the ultimate form of dehumanization.

The great gift that Pete has given us is to help us recognize the ways others are treated with disrespect, are denied their dignity, are marginalized and ridiculed. This is a turning point.

If we wonder how to honor Pete, how to keep her alive within us, it has to be in a renewed commitment to dignity and respect. To assert ourselves as people of faith and renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. To say “No,” to say “Enough,” to say, “There is a better way.”

Our reading from Thessalonians offers us comfort — “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We live in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection, knowing that one day we will be reunited with Pete. “The dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together … and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

Tom Broad, the rector at Grace Church in Randolph, shared this thought with me: “Those whose earthly pilgrimage ends go on to a life more real than the one we enjoy here. They live just over the horizon of our finite sight. In Jesus we remain connected with those we love but see no longer. Our love for them gives us a foretaste of eternal life. And it is in Christ’s love for both the living and the dead that my hope for an eternal reunion rests and will rise.”

She would not live to be a fine old age. In the time she had with us, she lived richly and deeply into her diaconal vows: to be “modest and humble, strong and constant, to observe the discipline of Christ.” Through her life and teachings many came to know and love Christ. She shared in Christ’s service, and now she has “come to the unending glory of him who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever.”

Pete’s death reminds us that we never know how much time we have together, and therefore to treasure the time we have. In the words of the great Colombian novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this would be the last time I’d see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.”

Our dear Pete: Know how much you are loved. Know how grateful we are. May we all be as strong an oak of righteousness as you, as loving a Good Shepherd, and may the saints in heaven rejoice to welcome you home.

Amen.

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