My heart is aching right now, flooding with memories of countless brief–but always beautiful–moments with Carol Kiniry, who passed away today.
Carol was Pastor Peter Mohr’s strong right arm at Lutheran Church of Christ the King (LCCK) in Tacoma WA. I had the great good fortune to work in the LCCK nursery for three years several years ago, and at Kings Manor (an assisted living community that is a ministry of LCCK) for seven months in 2004. My nephew and niece and grand nieces spent nearly every Sunday at LCCK, worshiping and serving, so I’ve known Carol since 2004 when I returned from Hollywood to resume my life in the Pacific Northwest. Every time I visited the church (before I started working there), Carol was the person who made me feel most welcome.
She was a kind, calming influence in everything she did. I never saw her out of sorts, rushed, frustrated or cranky. She solved problems, created and published the weekly church program, arrived early and stayed late to help everyone who visited and worked at the church.
LCCK holds numerous weekly gatherings–dinners, game nights, informational gatherings, Food Bank assistance, Vacation Bible School, exercise classes, tax prep in March and April, and so much much more. A lot of people take turns shepherding the various ministries, but Carol was nearly always on hand for most of them.
My Hollywood pastor, Dr. Alan Meenan, once described two types of church-goers:
There are the pillars of the church, the worker bees who do so much of the work day in and day out whether they’re employed there or not. To them, church is a living organism, such a fundamental part of their existence that they practically live there, serving, loving, offering intercessory prayers, and the like.
Then there are the caterpillars of the church: the folks who attend sporadically. They come to their kids’ and grand kids’ Christmas programs and appear at Easter and during frightening times like 9/11 when they’re driven to their knees by situations they have no other way to process.
I’ve become a caterpillar since leaving Hollywood Pres. I come and go, fish around, drop into various churches up here, hoping to find The One that speaks to me in the way Dr. Meenan at Hollywood Presbyterian did when I was born again in 1999.
LCCK comes close: it’s inclusive and LGBTQI-affirming. I just can’t get into the liturgical readings; scripted worship feels unholy to me. (It isn’t! It just doesn’t feel as holy as praying to God does when I’m alone with Him. Maybe it’s because I’m shy that public professions of faith, spoken in unison, are as uncomfortable to me as they are.)
Carol was a pillar of the church. Most people will tell you that you can tell someone is a Lutheran by the way they don’t preach. They’re not evangelical; they live love, they don’t proclaim it while acting in ways that are inimical to the way Jesus lived. (That’s what I love most about Lutherans!) And that’s why, when people ask my denomination, I tell them I’m Lutheran. It’s a stretch. I do my best to be a good Christian, a social justice Christian.
But I can’t hold a candle to Carol. I have zero doubt that she is being welcomed into God’s arms with a resounding, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
When I get to heaven, I’ll be lucky to hear, “Oh, it’s you. Well, given your various idiosyncrasies and your wallflower nature, you did all right. C’mon in.”
(It’s a far cry from, “Well done, good and faithful servant” but I’ll be grateful for whatever I get!)
And if Carol’s allowed to weigh in, I know she’ll welcome me with a smile.
As much as we hate having to let her go, I know she’s rejoicing right now as the voices of angels welcome her home.
It just hurts like hell right now, though.
I wish I had told her all this while I had the chance. I sincerely hope she sensed my affection for her…