To say goodbye to a beloved priest and pastor after nearly 35 years, the people of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Fullerton, California chose the theme of Aloha, which communicates the ancient and godly virtues of affection, grace, and love and has more recently come to mean (this is the especially helpful part when you're still a little in denial) "hello" and "goodbye" at the same time. So at the end of a ceremony this afternoon in front of a church packed with well wishers, the children of St. Andrew's took turns loading down the Rev. Canon Mark Shier with leis. As each young face approached, Fr. Mark's brightened more. Children all love him. Pretty much everybody else does, too, which made today's parting all the more poignant.
Several years ago, Mark spearheaded a renovation of the church grounds, including a reception plaza that has now been named in his honor. Our bishop, J. Jon Bruno, designated him rector emeritus. While his name will be all over the place, the church won't be seeing much of him in the weeks and months ahead as the congregation gets used to its interim pastor, who will help them get used to life without the only priest most St. Andrew's members have ever known, and launches a search for a permanent replacement.
Over the last few months, Mark has prepared the church for his leave-taking with his usual meticulousness, but today was still hard for his devoted people -- and I was one of them. Sitting in the pews, watching the sometimes stoic priest try to battle back tears, I remembered my first visit to this friendly church 14 years ago. I'd been in search of an Episcopal parish that felt right. As Holy Eucharist began that Sunday morning, thanks to Mark's gracious ministry, I knew I'd found it. Forgiving (or overlooking) the whole Republican-Nixon thing, he inspired, encouraged, and supported my own vocation, sent me off to seminary, baptized and confirmed my daughters, Valerie and Lindsay, married Kathy and me, and gave me my first job as a deacon and priest while teaching lifelong lessons about how to do both jobs. My life wouldn't be remotely the same if it weren't for this gifted theologian, liturgist, pastor, and proud Vietnam veteran and Welshman. That our lives intersected as they have (and still shall, I pray) is an ineffable thing. Only one other word for it, really: Aloha.