Last week, I had the very lovely opportunity to visit Pasadena, California. Ian and I lived there from 2010-2013, and over those three years, we built a wonderful sense of community, particularly at Pasadena Presbyterian Church where I was a pastor. It was very meaningful to visit and connect with this community again.
We traveled to Pasadena last week in order to attend the memorial service of Bob Thomas. Bob was a wonderful friend and colleague who died at the beginning of May. He had been undergoing cancer treatments for about a year, but he had just turned a major corner, so news of his death still felt very unexpected. This was certainly a sad occasion, and yet, it felt so filling to be present. It was good gift to honor Bob.
Bob Thomas is a person who wore many hats. For many years, he was classical music critic and columnist for the Pasadena Star-News. Likewise, he was an avid chorister himself. For most of his working years, he was the communications aficionado of the Southern California Golf Association, known most influentially as the publisher and editor of FORE Magazine. A very committed, life-long Presbyterian, Bob served as an elder and an administrator at Pasadena Presbyterian Church; then later, after completing years of training, he became a Commissioned Ruling Elder. (For those who don’t speak formal Presbyterian terminology, that means he served as a pastoral leader).
On Sunday, we heard more about his life at his memorial service, a service designed by Bob himself with beautiful pairings of readings and choral anthems. I could write a whole other post about how wonderful that was.
After Bob’s memorial service, I greeted Nikki Thomas, Bob’s wife, and I was grateful to connect with her. After chatting a bit, she said, “I have something for you.” I wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe a card of some kind? She went to get it, and when she returned, she handed me two of Bob’s stoles.
“I want you to have these,” she said. I was so touched to receive this gift.
Bob and I both served on a team of people that created a new community in Pasadena around a Sunday evening worship service. Five years later, the Evening Worship Community is going strong and has grown in some incredible ways. Among the other gifts of traveling to Pasadena, I was grateful to be invited to speak to this community on Sunday night. Other people from that original team were there too, including my very good friend Adrian, who had flown down from Sacramento. We talk often, but we haven’t seen each other in about four years. This was a tremendous reunion.
In the midst of it, I asked if Adrian and I could celebrate communion together, something that happens weekly in this community. Everyone agreed that this would be meaningful. So when it was time to share in this meal together, Adrian and I walked over to the table. And as a first act to honor Bob, we each draped one of his stoles over the other. That was so special. Adrian led the prayers, and I had broke the bread and poured the cup for the community. I think Bob would have loved to see the two of us sharing all of this with the people. I think he would have loved to see his stoles worn at Pasadena Presbyterian Church again.
The New Testament word for ‘remember’ — including Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me” — has greater meaning than simply recalling a past event. It means, “to make present.”
I think we’re going to find ways to make Bob present for a long time. These stoles will be just one, present reminder.