Celebration of Life for Br. Nathaniel Chester- A RC Woman Priest Reflects
“I never thought I would enjoy a Memorial Service, but I sure enjoyed this one”. These were the words of one of our Good Shepherd Church “Elders” Mr. Harry Lee Gary after the Memorial Service and Celebration of Life for Nathaniel Chester, II, on Saturday December 15, 2018. All of the people around him from Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Nathaniel’s family, and clergy and members of several local churches heartily agreed there was great joy in this celebration. St. Phillips C.M.E church on Lillie Street, Pastor Nicholas O’Neal and former Pastor Maurice Gilmore provided the worship space and led in the celebration. Nathaniel’s brother Michael Chester, also a Pastor, and all of Nathaniel’s family also had roots in this church. Together this rainbow hued group lifted one another in reflection, memory of Nathaniel, scriptures and song. Ten members of our Good Shepherd church family attended and were represented by Pastor Judy Lee for reflections. The joy that Nathaniel expressed so often in his life permeated all who were there to celebrate his life. Whether it was the joy of visiting family members and friends and sharing a meal with them, or the joy at the wins of the Dallas Cowboys, or the joy he often shared in church with his booming singing and Scripture reading voice or his “sing it over” as we sang the Amen, Nathaniel’s joy was the hallmark of his life. We can think of Nathaniel’s joy too as we celebrate Gaudate, Joy, Sunday the third Sunday in Advent today.
Nathaniel was one of our earliest Good Shepherd Church members who began with us in Church In The Park in 2007. He was a Cape Coral High School graduate and served in the Air Force. But his mental health struggles led to homelessness by the late 1990’s. He ended his homelessness when he moved into our Joshua House (Jesus’House) in 2008 and moved into and maintained his own housing after getting his life back on track in 2010. The journey for Nathaniel had many moments of joy and joy was in his very nature, nourished early by a loving faith filled family and church background. But also sorrow and struggles with mental illness and alcohol challenged his journey. The loss to early deaths of both parents and an older brother, Harvey, weighed heavily on Nate’s heart. And he wrestled with voices and delusions, many religious, using beer as medication until he was able to connect with Lee Mental Health Services and accept help. The tie with Good Shepherd, his new church family held him fast for many years.
below is Nathaniel (maroon sweatshirt) on the day he moved into Good Shepherd’s Joshua House-11/24/08.
Below,prominent in the blue suit Nathaniel is making his Confirmation in 2014 along with 16 other members of Good Shepherd. Nathaniel worked at being a loving Christ follower. Sister Pearl Cudjoe remembers that Nate always gave her a few dollars for the orphanage in Africa after church on Sundays. Stella Odie Ali one of our Board Members remembers the wonderful greetings and hugs Nate would give when she met him in the community. Brenda remembers sharing her cooking with Nate and how much he enjoyed it. Joe remembers him as a good room mate at Joshua House and a good neighbor in their community now. Our deacon Hank recalls Nate’s warm greetings and energetic singing. Family members remembered a loving, laughing, enthusiastic man who made them happy when in his presence. He tried to love like Jesus.
Almost miraculously for the first seven years that Nate was with us, Nathaniel used the Mental Health Center and stayed on his meds and off alcohol- until late 2015- 2016. The precipitants were not clear but then the illness, non-compliance and using beer to medicate returned with a vengeance and caused him and those around him untold mental suffering. Pastor Judy Beaumont with great patience and caring helped him to manage his funds and maintain housing and both Pastors accompanied him into and out of the mental hospital for stabilization and he was able to return to mental health time and again in the recent years. His very dear younger brother Pastor Michael helped him and walked with him as much as possible as well, but the torments of the illness were very strong. Recently he was off of his meds and the illness raged causing upsetting behaviors in the community. He also went off of his diabetes and blood pressure medications. In the midst of this tumultuous period Nathaniel was suddenly “missing” for three days, and it was learned that he died in his home on December 4, 2018. All who knew him were shocked and saddened that he passed at fifty-four years of age. When I addressed those gathered in the church I too remembered Nathaniel’s gifts of love and joy and then I shared the only way I understand it: when our suffering is too great, be it physical or mental, God comes and says “Suffer no more, I will take you home with me”. I shared the words of Jesus in John 14;1-3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled: trust in God”;trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms;if it were not so,I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you,I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going”. With God’s grace and the help of Good Shepherd and many others Nathaniel had gone from homelessness to a home. And with the grace of God he also went home to God in the midst of suffering his voices and now he suffers no more. I led the congregation in singing “Amen” with everyone doing Nate’s part “sing it over”. We felt we could hear his voice singing it over with us. To a sometimes hard life well lived- Amen! It will be sung over with God forever. It lifts sadness to know that Nathaniel is now home again, this time home with God forever and he is finally free of torment. His joy can be complete. The joy Nathaniel freely expressed in his life was present in the singing, worship, and reflections about Nathaniel’s life. We all left with hearts lifted by remembering God’s grace in Nate’s life and our own lives and enjoying again the joy of Nathaniel Chester,II.