All Saints

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I recently encountered this All Saints prayer:

O God, before whom the generations rise and pass away:

            We rejoice today in the Communion of Saints,

            In the remembrance of friends and loved ones who once walked with us in mutual love.

We are thankful for every precious memory of their goodness,

            And sustained by contributions each made to our common life.

In the Christian tradition, the feast of All Saints normally lands at the beginning of November. For us inhabitants of the northern hemisphere, it makes sense that the seasons of nature influence the human imagination. As we witness leaves falling and the vibrant colors of summer surrendering to ambers and browns, it seems normal for us to ponder questions of mortality and those who have gone before us.

All of this was on my mind as I reached for the door that led me into the church hosting the funeral for Herb Schulte. Herb was a board president for the Center among his many other accomplishments in a rich life of 93 years. He was a decades-long spouse, father, neighbor, and successful in a career as a Meredith executive and journalism professor. He also gave back generously as a community volunteer—not just at the Center. The funeral ritual captured a spirit of kindness and generosity. All this I surmised as someone who didn’t know Herb personally.

I attended the funeral because I wanted to thank the family for all that Herb and his family did to support the Center over the years. They were even so kind as to make us the beneficiaries of memorial contributions made in Herb’s honor. Thank you! Clearly the work of the Center mattered to the Schultes. I sensed privilege in my opportunity to be present—and inspired.

Inspired in the sense that I felt surrounded and comforted by the spirits of the many folks who have gone before us to make the Center possible. Inspired also to consider my and our role to carry on this important work. Could we even call this work holy in the sense that we are working to stitch lives back together in such a way that people once again experience wholeness? It’s right there in our mission: that we walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing, and live a fulfilling life.

We work pretty hard around here to meet people where they are, especially when it comes to their spiritual tapestry. I recognize the throwing around terms like prayer, ritual, holy and saints tends toward confessional language. The problem with language is that it can never capture ultimate mystery. Language has limits.

I resort to such terms because they are a part of my heritage and they help me to describe something I experienced through a ritual celebrating the life of a fellow pilgrim who worked hard to help the Center succeed. What makes a saintly life? A whole life? A life in full? I am convinced that a major part of the answer to these questions is rooted in service. How do we use our gifts to build community? To serve others? To make a difference? To contribute to our common life?

Each day I am inspired by so many who participate in our mission of healing wounds that require the expertise of a counselor. I am grateful for a talented and generous staff, for courageous clients who seek healing through our services, and for the community of donors and volunteers whose generosity makes it all possible.

If you think it’s easy being a board president, just ask someone who’s been in that role!  I’m grateful for Herb and all the saints who have gone before us and those still in our midst.

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