Sunday, June 19, 2016

Eulogy for Dad; Thomas Stromberg

I’m always fascinated to hear stories about my father from before I was born. Dad grew up in Upper Darby, just as I did. He was the oldest of six children, five brothers and one sister. In the last week, as our family was crowded into my parent’s Upper Darby row home, I heard many of those stories. My Uncle Bernie was just a boy when my dad was still at home. He remembers when he and Uncle Leo used to have to share a bed with my Dad, their older brother. He also related to me how he immediately took a shining to my Dad’s girlfriend at the time, my mom, Suzy, because she would make him coke floats. He told her she looked like a movie star.

The sibling closest to my Dad in age is my Aunt Bernadette. They are practically “Irish twins,” just 15 months apart. She was my father’s confidante. “He was often sad in those days” she told me, “He would get so discouraged, but meeting your Mom-Mom changed all that. She made him very happy.”

When I was struggling through my own time of youthful angst and restlessness, my dad often told me about those difficult times he went through. He told me that he used to pretend that he was a visitor from outer space, a stranger in a strange land, and that soon he would return to his home world. Perhaps people who knew my father as the affable person he often was would be surprised to know just how alienated he sometimes felt. At one point, he told me, he was so desperate for some direction that he decided to begin seeing a psychotherapist. He lay down on the couch and poured his soul out, only to find that the doctor had dosed off and was sleeping! He stormed out offended and never returned.
For all his searching, I believe that my Dad did find the peace and happiness he longed for. From all I know of my father’s life—and I think those who knew him best would agree—there were at least two major turning points in his life. The first, as we have already mentioned, was meeting my Mom and beginning their family together. Family was always of essential importance to my father. The second turning point was a great spiritual awakening that he experienced later in life.

My father was the first person I ever knew who was, “born again.” In the world of Evangelicalism, that term is used to signify the change of heart and personal transformation that happens when one encounters Jesus in a personal way and accepts him as one’s savior. It is based on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. Many Americans first heard the term as it was coming into public prominence during the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was the title of Watergate conspirator, Chuck Colson’s best selling book published in 76 in which he recounted his own repentance and spiritual transformation. Counter culture icons like Bob Dylan were getting saved, and even the president of United States, Jimmy Carter, proclaimed himself a “Born-Again Christian.” Dad’s own conversion was a part of that great movement of God’s spirit across this country. My father had always been a believer, being raised in a Christian home, but for the first time he really experienced what it meant to personally have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It changed everything for him.

He was on fire for Jesus and he had a new found evangelical zeal. He wanted everyone to know the good news and to experience the same joy and freedom he found in Chirst. Early on, it must be said, he could be a little over bearing. I worked with many of the same guys that my Dad worked with in the Upper Darby School District. They referred to him a bit sarcastically, but also affectionately, as the Preacher. It was clear to me that they admired him. He would outdo all of them in working hard, even though many of them were considerably younger. Whenever they needed a break they told me, all they would need to do is bait my dad in a discussion of religion and he would be more than willing to indulge them at length!

My brother and I were born around the same time that Dad was born again. I grew up in the shadow of that remarkable transformation. It was the major theme through which I understood my own growing faith. I grew up knowing that God was real and that faith in Jesus transforms people’s lives.

 My father did more than talk about his faith, he lived it. The lights would always be on downstairs in the living room, long before anyone else was awake. If you went down stairs you would find him with his Bible open in his lap and his heart in flames as he meditated on God’s word.  Also, our home was always open to widows, widowers, and single people, people who needed help. My father was a true servant always running errands for people and driving them to their appointments. He also served in many ways here at Crossroads.

When I was a baby, my father told me, he prayed that I would become a great evangelist like Billy Graham and reach many people with the gospel. For much of my life I laughed at this idea. That was certainly not what I had planned for my life. My own faith felt much more conflicted and complicated than my father’s. I went through my own period of agonized searching, but eventually I experienced my own spiritual awakening in which the faith my father passed unto me, the one I received in Baptism, began to touch my life in a deeper and more personal way. I knew that my life was not mine to live as I chose, but that I had been bought with a price, and set aside for a work that God had prepared for me.

To be sure, I am no Billy Graham, and my faith looks different in many ways from my Father’s faith, but I know that he was proud of me. He told me so. If I received no other commendation from human beings but that, I would consider myself blessed. Thank you Dad, for teaching me the greatest lesson a man could teach his son, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Daniel and Olive Nash: Missionaries to Otsego and Patrons of Christ Church Cooperstown

Below: Christ Church Wardens Paul Hager and Carol Waller Place wreaths upon the graves of Daniel and Olive Nash

Today we celebrate the feast of our patron, founder, and first rector, the Blessed Daniel Nash. He plays a significant role not only in the history of our own parish, but in the history of our diocese and the wider Episcopal Church in this region. He was a priest and church planter who preached to the Oneida tribe and between 1804 and 1816 performed 496 baptisms and organized 12 parishes across the Susquehanna including places like Christ Church Cooperstown, St. Matthews in Unadilla, and Zion Church in Morris. This commemoration was inaugurated at the 131st Convocation of the Albany Diocese in 1999. Bishop Herzog has said, “In effect, Blessed Daniel Nash is our first diocesan saint…We saw in him a model for all of us, who in the face of hostility and scarcity was determined to preach the catholic faith as it was set forth in scripture and the Book of Common Prayer.”

Daniel Nash is indeed an example for us all in his passion for fulfilling the great commission that Jesus left to his disciples to, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

A contemporary of Nash—Father Burhas, the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut—wrote this, 

“By his zeal and indefatigable labours, sanctioning every step by a sober, religious and godly life, being instant in season and out of season—going from house to house, preaching the word, baptizing households, teaching them all things necessary for the life that now is and that which is to come—catechizing all, old and young, he did more, in thirty-seven years, in establishing and extending the church, than any other clergyman ever did in the United States.”

It was from the same Father Burhas, that we get this description of the beliefs and character of Fr. Nash, 
“I found Mr. Nash in possession of catholic views of the Apostolic Church, in primitive doctrine and discipline, but, above all, of a lively and practical faith, manifested in humility and sobriety, with a cheerful countenance, and a smile upon his lips, indicative of a pure and unaccusing conscience—affable in conversation—without cant, familiar on religious subjects, which endeared him to me and to all his acquaintance.”  

Christ Church could do far worse than calling a person of similar character and temperament to be their next rector!

Fr. Nash is a model for all of us in this as well. This morning, however, I want to say a bit about the woman behind the man, Olive his wife, who’s mortal remains rest beside his in our church yard. It is fitting on this day to honor her as well because she was indispensible to all the good work that Daniel Nash performed for the sake of the gospel. In the book of Proverbs it is written, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good and not harm all the days of his life.”

Olive Nash was indeed a wife of noble character. From all accounts they were a couple well matched and she was a great source of strength to him. They met and fell in love while Nash was in seminary and serving as a teacher and a lay reader in the church. She has been described as “an amiable lady” from a “a very respectable family.” Again Burhas writes, “Her benignity of mind and placidity of manners, like two elements of congenial matter, melted into each other. They were marred in January of 1796. A more happy couple seldom meet in this jarring world. There was no discord, but harmony and love prevailed at home and abroad, for they were both highly esteemed, for courtesy, for success as teachers, and for their amiable deportment and Christian example.”

Daniel and Olive were a team in ministry. What they did, they did together. Nash’s seminary professor recognized how uniquely gifted the couple were. He believed the academy and church where Nash served were, “too small for their expansive minds, which glowed with missionary spirit.” He believed that God was raising them up to bring the gospel among the rough new settlements that were springing up along the western frontier of New York,

In February of 1797, Nash was ordained as a Deacon and one of the first people that he baptized was his own wife, Olive, in July of that year. It is not entirely clear to me how a woman possessed of such zeal for missions and married to a clergy person, managed not to have been baptized already, but if I had to guess I would say that she was probably a Quaker, a Christian sect that has not historically practiced baptism with water. Perhaps some of our local historians can illuminate me on that subject! Nevertheless, the story of Olive being welcomed into the catholic faith by her own adoring husband and then partnering with him in bringing others to that same faith is an inspirational one!

 The two set out together into the wilderness. The couple criss-crossed the frontier settlements of New York sharing the gospel with everyone they met including the native people who had little to no familiarity with the faith. The couple was also particularly concerned with the religious instruction of children. Fr. Nash has been reported as saying that “he fed his lambs with catechisms, having found that such food rendered them most healthy and vigorous.”

As the principle and only minister in an untamed region and one that was not especially amiable to the Episcopal Church, Fr Nash writes that he never felt discouraged or alone, “My wife was then living,--a noble-spirited, sensible woman, who in the room of feeling discouraged, was the first to cheer me on in my arduous labours.”

When I first felt the call to ministry, I was single. The thought of leaving home, going to a strange place, and embarking on the long and difficult journey towards ordained ministry was very intimidating to me. It seemed especially daunting to go through it all on my own. I remember praying to God, “Lord I want to follow you, but I don’t feel prepared to do this by myself.” It wasn’t long after that God brought my wife April into my life. She was the help, the companion, and partner I needed to follow God’s call. I’ll never forget what the discernment committee told me before sending me to seminary, “When God calls a married person, he isn’t just calling them. He is calling their spouse as well. It is not just a matter of whether you feel called to ministry, but whether your wife also feels called. It is a calling that involves as much faith and sacrifice on her part as it does on yours.”  I am blessed to have a wife that is prepared to serve alongside me wherever we are called.

Fr. Nash writes about the support he received from Olive, 

“The country was then comparatively a wilderness—often she gave me a child and then got on the horse behind me with another in her arms, and thus we would go to our public worship for a number of miles. She excelled in music, and I understood it well,--we were never confounded in that part of the service, and when the congregation did not well understand how to make the responses, she always did it in a solemn, dignified manner.”

No one is called to the service of God alone. No one has all the necessary gifts by themselves. We need each other. Indeed God has said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” If we are to be successful in his mission we must do it together as a family, as a parish, and a community. Let us seek to live and work together in harmony like Daniel and Olive. Let us bring good and not harm to one another all the days of our life. But even if we do find our selves alone, with no one to help us, let us remember what Christ has promised, “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”