Some Sundays seem more significant than others. It probably should not be that way, but it is. This past Sunday was All Saints Sunday. It is especially meaningful to me as it honors those who have passed away during the past year.
The past year has been particularly challenging for all of us. Our new church family in Auburn had 49 members go to their heavenly reward. The pandemic brought even more emotional challenges to the day as the city of Auburn had 330 citizens pass away due to Covid. Mary Lou and I lost over three dozen friends and acquaintances during the past year.
All Saints Day recognizes those we have lost. There are many saints among them. Auburn United Methodist Church (AUMC) recognized each of those in a moving electronic tribute. I was surprised at how many I knew given our short time in this community. I know some of the churches in our longtime home in Donalsonville and Southwest Georgia had similar ceremonies. How many we love have moved on to their rewards.
To offset some of the sadness of the day, AUMC honored their past organist, Sandra Watwood. Sandra was the organist when Mary Lou and I began attending AUMC. She used her considerable talents to bring to life one of the largest organs in the Southeast. As an organist for 35 years, I was in awe of her talent and of the instrument she played. I enjoyed sitting in the congregation for the first time in decades.
Not too long after we began attending AUMC, Sandra announced her retirement. I was heartbroken as I was so moved by her talent and service. When asked what she would like as a retirement gift after 14 years of service to the church, Sandra said she would like an anthem commissioned in her honor so that others could enjoy the music for years to come.
When asked what tune she would like as part of the new anthem, she asked that it be her favorite hymn, “For All the Saints”. When asked who she would like to be commissioned for the work, she said Mark Wilberg.
That was a big ask as Wilberg is the Music Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was unlikely that he would have time to undertake such a request given his incredibly busy schedule. That is, until Covid and the pandemic. Suddenly, time was not such a great obstacle.
Sunday, the Chancel Choir performed the finished product. “For All the Saints” was amazing, sung by the choir and backed up by the mighty organ that Sandra Watwood had played for so many years. She sat in the front row, hearing the music she had requested, and feeling the love of the congregation she had served for so long.
Sandra Watwood is a saint. We all know many like her. They do not have to be musically talented. Some touched us as children. Some were part of our early family life, sharing friendship and children. Some we have known for our entire lives. Some we have known for just a year or two. The length of time we know someone does not relate to how they may have touched our lives.
Thankfully, we got to give thanks to Sandra Watwood during her life. Many of the saints we know have passed away and we can only honor them with our remembrance of how they touched us.
While we remember those who have recently passed during All Saints Day, I am mindful of those saints that left their mark years ago. My grandparents. My father. Some of my childhood friends, co-workers, teachers, neighbors. Years pass but their impact on our lives remains forever.
For most of my adult life, I have recited the Apostle’s Creed. It is the response to the question “What do I believe?”. While I embrace all the parts of the ageless creed, I am fond of the phrase, “I believe … in the communion of saints”.
There is something comforting and empowering knowing that all the saints of the past year and the years before are enjoying communion together. One day, I will join them. For all the saints before me, I look forward to that day. That reunion. That communion together when my name is called on All Saints Day.
In the aftermath of this especially challenging year, who are the saints you remember that have transitioned to their heavenly reward? Who would you hold up as someone who touched your life? Someone you loved. Someone who loved you.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org