One Day, Two Good-byes

Sunday will be a unique day in my life and my ministry.  In the morning I will preach my last sermon for my congregation after five years of ministry; in the afternoon I will conduct the memorial service for my mom who died at the age of 89.

I choose October 25th to be my final Sunday a month ago.  Like all good-byes I am experiencing a mixture of emotions: sadness, loss,  but also some excitement and hope as I embark on a new venture.  I have sensed the powerful prayer support of family, friends and community as I transition in my ministry. (Read more here)

Mom and GraceMy mom, Sylvelin Keller, had been a nursing home resident for the past four years as dementia robbed her of speech and memory.   She did not know my name or converse when I visited but she could still smile and laugh.  She seemed happiest when she held her great granddaughter, Grace.

I was away at a pastor’s conference last week when I received the phone call that my mother had died in her sleep.   I was both surprised and relieved.  She had always said she wanted to die in her sleep and her wish had been granted.  Before I left the conference to travel home, my bishop gathered the other pastors around me for prayer.  Again I felt the great cloud of witness surrounding me.

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visit from FarFar and FarMor

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visits from FarFar and FarMor

My daughter, Suzanne Keller, wrote a post on Facebook that describes her relationship with her Farmor (grandmother):

As a child who grew up with scholarship and the struggle to dissect understanding of things as others created them, my Farmor was the greatest force of unrelenting creation I can remember.

She made things with her hands and her heart and turned the world from a place of study to a place to leave a thousand tiny marks. She sewed, she baked, she cooked and she made memories that my dad could recount with fondness with her own two hands. She sewed and embroidered entire expanses of my childhood. She lived across the country, but with one plate of cookies created an entire iconic aspect of my Christmases. She was a craftsman of cookies and memories, a legacy of genetics and stories.

My Farfar left me his name on a chain from fighting in World War II, and my Farmor left me with a packet of recipes and the understanding that a thousand little creations can create a story.

She and Michael Brashears, the two most creative people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing, passed in October. I wrote a poem in college calling fall the dying season, but what a hateful thing having the greatest composers of legacy leave us in the same month, if years apart. What a hateful thing to lose, what a beautiful thing to be transformed.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

My mother had five children, who now are scattered from Kodiak Island, Alaska to Atlanta, Georgia.  Coordinating the date of her memorial service was challenging.   Finally the date that worked was Sunday, October 25, the same day as my final worship service.  Mom had joined my congregation five years ago when she moved to Minnesota.   I had been her pastor during that time and now I needed to do her memorial service.  I did not feel the need to baptize my children or marry my son, but this is somehow different.  Maybe it’s part of the fourth commandment.  I don’t know.

All I know is that Sunday will be filled with some incredible emotions, both sorrow and joy, as I say good-bye to a tribe and to a mother.   The one sure anchor in the midst of these storms is the very name of my congregation: Resurrection Lutheran Church.

cropped-2014-rlc-logo-cropped-2.jpgJesus said  “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” John 10:25

5 thoughts on “One Day, Two Good-byes

  1. sarahstorv

    Beautiful post, including both your and Suzanne’s reflections. You continue to honor your mom so well. I pray for God’s peace to surround all of you this weekend.

  2. Brian Campbell

    May God Bless you and your new ministry John! I am sorry to hear of your mother’s death of her physical body, but you know that we will all be together someday.. as it it has been written.. You also know, our parents and loved ones that have gone before us are never further away from us, than a thought, or a memory, or special times with them.. and John, they dwell in our hearts… forever..

    1. Pastor John Keller Post author

      Thanks, Brian. Yes, the memories of my Mom are quite strong this week. When my siblings and families gather this week-end, they will become quite intense, a mixture of joy and sorrow. Yet God gives strength to the weary and hope to the hopeless. Peace be with you.

  3. Mark Knutson

    What a day you have ahead of you. I will keep you in my prayers….Big Slvv is what we x
    called her….she was a gracious and lovely woman. My sister Mary anxd Sylv were close cousins in their younger years….Mary is now in a retirement….center suffering with Parkinsons and broken hip and memory issues…uffda! Wnere will your new positon be?
    Carry on….God is with you! Mark Knutson (your 2nd cousin I think)

    1. Pastor John Keller Post author

      Mark, I will be training for Intentional Interim Ministry. My bishop assures me that I will be kept busy here in the Twin Cities. Thanks for remembering my family in your prayers. I recently discovered your nephew Jon’s blog regarding your sister Mary and her stay in the retirement community. Peace be with you.


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