Like you, I sat in disbelief at the title of the email in my inbox yesterday. Rev. Mark Ward, our previous minister of 17 years, who taught so many of us to breathe was no longer alive. I couldn’t wrap my head around the loss for his family; his daughters; his grandchildren. I called my dad and told him how much I loved him. I couldn’t sleep last night. My experience was not unique, but Mark certainly was.
His teachings on humanism stuck with me along with his broad and infectious smile, his perpetual energy to do the next right thing, and his comforting words during challenging political times after the 2016 election. Like many parents in the congregation, he dedicated our children and held our baby in his arms, touching her head with a rose and water. He called us to action, to stand up for what was right, and not to get too comfortable in our habits and ways of thinking. Collectively, we have much of his knowledge, wisdom, and spirit and my belief system tells me he is with us when we gather through these shared experiences. Another aspect of Mark I deeply appreciated was his understanding that our beliefs change over time. Our personal faith journeys are not static.
I recently spent a beautiful day on the river rafting with a YRUU friend from high school and two of her three children. My friend lost her father to cancer when she was 18 and her husband to cancer when she was 41. We grew up together in the UU church. We went to cons. We were the face of young, liberal, religious individuals. But her experiences shaped and molded her belief system and now she is drawn to Christianity (and I must tell you, it is a very attractive proposal right now, with the promise of heaven). At previous points in my life, I was very judgmental about Christianity, but Mark’s wisdom and the UU principles have taught me to embrace those differences and those people as my own family.
I can understand and appreciate people of different faith traditions as expressions of their life experiences. Mark taught us so much and I do wish he were here, but I am grateful for the time we had with him. In the meantime, as we try to make sense of the world, we simply need to breathe.
Just breathe. Isn’t that what Mark would tell us to do at such a time?
Adam Griffith, Vice President, UU Asheville Board of Directors