Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A last farewell at the Washington National Cathedral to Charles Perry

On Sunday evening, I had one of those extraordinary experiences when it is fun (yes, fun!) to be an Episcopal priest.

The occasion was the interment of the ashes of The Very Rev. Charles Perry at the Washington National Cathedral. I definitely believe my friend Charles would approve of the word “fun.”

I was privileged to be invited to participate in an Evensong in Charles’ honor. We did it in full cassock-surplice-hood-tippet splendor, with vergers, acolytes, two choirs and a host of clergy. It was Charles’ gift to me that I could be a part.

I must admit I had goose bumps when walking in the procession down the center aisle, led by a verger, and up into the quire. Lori was seated in a stall just behind me. There were 600 people in attendance, and the many members of St. Paul’s who came were given choice seats. The hospitality extended by the Cathedral to the Perry family and to all of us from St. Paul's was remarkable and much appreciated.

I gave the second reading, which was from Charles’ book The Resurrection Promise. The passage was selected by Charles to be read at his funeral, and it represents his testimony about his life of faith and being a disciple of Jesus.

The homily was given by The Very Rev. Sam Lloyd III, the dean of the National Cathedral. Dean Lloyd paid homage to Charles’ tenacity in finishing the construction of the National Cathedral, rescuing the project at a time when it faced bankruptcy. Dean Lloyd underlined that it was fitting and right that the Cathedral took time to honor one of its greats.

For a few minutes I felt I was part of the Cathedral, that I belonged in this amazing space. And then it occurred to me that is precisely how I should feel; that the National Cathedral is the national house of prayer; that all of us are a part of this epic sacred place, not just presidents, dignitaries and bishops, but all of us. It is our house of prayer. And that is fun! And that is how Charles hoped all of us would feel about the cathedral that he played such a huge role in building.

In his book, Charles wrote about how faith is both intellectual and emotional and the two go together (p. 110):
“It is emotional, soaring high as the cathedral vaulting, sometimes not. It is fun—yes fun! In a rather grim age, the stance of faith involves surprise and folly and enthusiasm—the real kind—brought about by his presence in us. And that is fun!”
When we finished with Evensong, we were led down a stone stairwell to the crypt beneath the high altar to Charles’ niche. His ashes were placed inside, and Dean Lloyd blessed the niche and ashes with holy water, and said several prayers. It was very solemn, very moving, and a very fitting goodbye to Charles. One of the final prayers was this:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Charles, and we commit his robust vessel to this place beneath the great stone tree builded here; her fluted columns, rooted deep in nourishing soil; her vaulted branches and tracery; her light and song, reaching to praise your great glory.

The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.

1 comment:

Christian Roberts said...

Thank you for posting this account of your experience. What a wonderful service this must have been, and a very fitting tribute to Charles. May he rest in peace.