Growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina meant that I grew up with friends and neighbors like myself - people who also were not natives of that community and who had no nearby kin. There were some exceptions, but it was rare to find extended families living together in that community. Rather, because of their connections with the military, most people I knew were from somewhere else. The familiar southern question “You any kin to ...?” just did not make sense in that community.
Things changed when I moved to a small town in South Carolina. As a newcomer, many people wanted to know who I was “kin to.” That connection to family was apparently vital for establishing your place in the existing order of outsiders and natives, the honorable and the disreputable, trust and suspicion. The importance of those family ties extended not just among the living but also to the dead who remained in the memories of the living. This was brought to my attention in a delightful way when I moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Someone shared with me the observation that Charlestonian are a lot like the Chinese. They eat a lot of rice and they worship their dead ancestors.
For members of Good Shepherd, our faith community plays something of a similar role. It helps define who we are as Episcopalians. We have our Episcopal family history and our Episcopal traditions. We practice and celebrate those, and they make us distinct. And like other family systems, we also recall those who have gone before us when reckoning our kin-ties. We remember the martyrs and official saints of the church on All Saints day and other appointed days, but we also remember those departed with whom we lived more closely. These are, for many of us, the true saints of the church and the ones who helped define who we are more than those officially recognized on any church calendar. At 5:00 pm on November 3, we will gather to remember and celebrate the lives of all these faithful departed. It is a time for us to give thanks for the lives of those now departed, yet who still make us family.
In Christ’s service,