Last week I learned of the death of one of my former choir members. Priscilla Johnson was one of the first people I met when I came to McCarter Presbyterian Church back in 1990, and she was on my interview committee. Priscilla was also a dedicated choir member, singing alto in our small group during my tenure at the church.
My time as choir director at McCarter had its ups and downs, but Priscilla was the one steadfast rock I could count on in the congregation. She told it like it was, and fortunately (for me) we saw eye-to-eye on most issues. I last saw her several months ago in a local restaurant, and was delighted to have one last good conversation with her.
Yesterday afternoon a memorial service for Priscilla was held at McCarter, and I made a point of attending. It was great seeing old friends, and seeing how the church had been remodeled and expanded since my days there. Even with the changes, much remained the same.
The service had all of the hallmarks of a good memorial service, and family and friends gathered in the fellowship hall afterwards to chat. There was more nostalgia, as current and former members of the church gathered. There were some missing from the ranks, though – there had been some previous deaths, and several familiar faces had moved on to other churches.
It wasn’t all lovey-dovey reunion time, though. Off to one side was a church member whose face I remembered, but I couldn’t pull a name from my faded memory. Nonetheless, I walked over to say hello, and the following exchange took place:
Church member – Who are you?
Me – I’m Tom Taylor. I used to be choir director here.
Church member – (Emphatically) No you’re not. You don’t look a thing like him.
Me – We’ll I’ve aged a bit, but I assure you it’s me.
Church member – Well, you know we hate you around here, don’t you? (At this point I should have politely left)
Me – Uhm, I’m sorry about that…
Church member – You bought us all those big heavy hymnals. They’re hard to hold, we can’t find the hymn numbers fast enough, and they left out all of my favorite hymns.
…at that point I did politely excuse myself. Print cannot really convey the belligerence in her voice. I guess there was a reason she was sitting off by herself.
Apart from that brief encounter, it was a good visit. There were enough returning former church members and employees that I didn’t feel awkward. I’m glad I went, and I still hold to my philosophy – always go to the funeral.