Last week I lost a very important person in my life. I was not the only one to suffer this loss. One of our sister churches lost their minister and the members of that congregation lost their leader and friend. Rev. Georgette Wonders had been the minister at Bradford Community Church UU in Kenosha, WI, for ten years and had recently announced her retirement. The congregation was already dealing with the grief of having to replace her when she was killed in a freak accident. Bradford is my home congregation.
When I first thought about entering seminary I went to Georgette and asked her thousands of questions, all of which she answered in her kind and gentle manner, even when I asked the same questions over and over to make sure that I understood the answers. When I finally made the decision to attend Meadville Lombard Theological School, it was required that I have a letter from my minister to gain acceptance and Georgette wrote that letter. The seminary journey required that I complete a two-year part time internship in a congregation and I was unable to find a congregation in the area that could take me. Georgette opened her heart and her pulpit and took me on. Several months into that internship, Georgette became ill and was on sick leave for about 10 months during which time she felt comfortable allowing me to run her church. In this past year, while at Tree of Life, I would still go back to my mentor and friend for guidance and conversation and when she would tell me that I did something well or referred to me as her colleague; it would make my heart sing knowing that I was doing this job of ministry well.
When I heard the news of her accident, I went to the hospital to see her and my heart was heavy knowing that she would not be coming back to the congregation that she loved so much. I knew that she would want only the best for them and I knew that I would do all I could to help. However, I am just one small person in this great big world and I wasn’t sure exactly what I could do.
I got home that night and turned on my computer and the Central Midwest District Facebook page came alive right before my eyes. Ministers from all over the District were signing up to fill the pulpit; they were not asking for the usual honorarium, they were willing to do this simply because there was a UU congregation that was in crisis and they were willing to help in any way they could. Our Mid-America Region offered to pay travel expenses for anyone that preached in the congregation. LREDA, the Liberal Religious Educators Association had an outpouring of help for the Director of Religious Education at Bradford helping her not only to deal with her grief but also begin to help the children of the congregation make sense of this loss. The Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Team has sent members to the congregation to help those who are grieving and need a place to take that grief. I watched that night as our association came together in a beautiful way with an outpouring of support, love and comfort. The Regional staff helped plan and attended a candlelight vigil and Dori Thexton, the Mid-America Staff Liaison, met in an emergency meeting with the Board to give them support and direction on what to do next. Everyone came together with help and support and most importantly, they did it with care and love.
At Tree of Life, we have received support from the region and our denomination and with our current budget shortfall, we are unable to pay our fair share. After seeing the outpouring of love Bradford has received from them I believe this is something we should reconsider. They are there for us and we need to support that.
Bradford will be fine, they will grieve, they will, with the help of the Regional Staff, find someone to fill the pulpit and carry on the work of the congregation. We need to help the region and our association, so that they are able to continue to offer this type of support.