In Memoriam

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

Ah, the Oscars. Viewers of this year’s award ceremony were treated to a naked man presenting the Best Costume award, a seemingly confused Al Pacino announcing the Best Picture winner, a five-star tribute to Barbie’s Ken … and a botched In Memoriam. 

Every Academy award ceremony devotes four minutes of its broadcast to honoring members of the film industry who have died in the past year. Usually, this offers a moment of quiet appreciation and gratitude for colleagues, some of them famous and others less so, yet all clearly vital to the craft. There will be suitable music, as the screen fills with the names and faces of people who contributed to the art of moviemaking. This year, those names and faces included Michael Gambon, Tina Turner, Harry Belafonte, Andre Braugher, Chita Rivera, Tom Wilkinson, Glynis Johns, Paul Reubens, Piper Laurie, Richard Roundtree, Ryan O’Neal, Robbie Robertson, Matthew Perry, Carl Weathers, William Friedkin, and Glenda Jackson, among others.

But, if you were watching, good luck trying to appreciate them. Not only was there music, but the operatic duo singing the music was on stage and featured prominently. And then there were the dancers—more than a dozen of them—also on stage, sometimes swirling, sometimes standing in pantomimed awe and grief, and always obscuring the screen that displayed the very people being honored.

Plus, there is a painful irony here: the Motion Picture Academy did not trust the screen as a sufficient medium for its own message!

OK, this is Hollywood, well known for its lavish (and often artificially enhanced) cult of youth and self-promotion. It shouldn’t surprise us that they have turned In Memoriam into a song-and-dance number. But what a missed opportunity to pause and attend, as a gathered community, to the lives and gifts of departed colleagues.

We trust that your church board culture is not at all like Hollywood’s. But how, in your time together, does your board pause to acknowledge those in your community who have passed, reflect on their gifts to the church and world, express gratitude, and learn from their example?

Psalm 90 offers an essential starting point, as it plainly states our mortality as children of the Living God. In the middle of a board’s budget discussions, working on your program calendar, or putting out the latest “fire,” it can provide uncommon insight and refuge.

The psalm begins with an ultimate reorientation of the arc and tilt of human life:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place

     in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth

    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

 And then, when we get to verses 9-12, the wisdom is more personal:

…our years come to an end like a sigh…

    …they are soon gone, and we fly away.

…So teach us to count our days

    that we may gain a wise heart.

This year’s In Memoriam at the Oscars was a lot of things. But there was no sighing, and surely there was no intent to help the gathered community gain a wise heart.

In these times of unprecedented challenge for congregations and their leaders, perhaps the very practice of ‘counting our days, that we may gain a wise heart,’ can help church boards discern and value what matters most in the work of ministry.

How could your church board pick up this practice? Here is one idea that Hollywood won’t steal anytime soon: set aside time every month (without dancers or opera singers) to remember each member of your congregation who has died since last you met. Who were they? What made them special? How did they contribute to your life together? If it is someone that nobody on the board knows, then call others in the congregation and find out something about the person.

If your board does this each meeting, month after month, you may discover a way to a “wise heart” in your leadership.



What does it mean, in your own life, to count your days?


When was the last time your church board took time during its meeting to reflect on the passing of specific people in your faith community or larger community? How did you approach it? (Were there dancers?)


Is there space to sigh (in the context of Psalm 90) in your meetings?


What does a “wise heart” mean in congregational leadership?  What does it look like?

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