Live NOW and Forever! All Saints and All Souls Celebration of The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community with Three Roman Catholic Woman Priests
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers, Florida celebrated All Saints and All Souls day a bit early this year. On Saturday afternoon, October 16, 2021, twenty-seven people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and social class and cultural backgrounds, met outside in East Fort Myers where several members live, to give thanks to our Loving God for those who have gone before us. Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP, was assisted by Co-Pastors Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia, RCWP and Marilyn E. Rondeau, RCWP, from Maryland. Rev. Marilyn gave greetings from The Living Waters Inclusive Catholic Community in Baltimore and Thurmont, Maryland and was warmly welcomed to our Good Shepherd Community. We also named those with Birthdays during this season and said we would celebrate those important events today as well.
We especially remembered and honored the faithful Mother and Grandmother of our Good Shepherd Community who made her transition home to God in August of 2021 after battling cancer for four years, our beloved Jolinda Harmon,70. Nine members of her family attended, including a daughter, Yolanda, eight grandchildren, Quayschaun, Natasha, Keeondra, Jolinda La Faye, Ni’ya, Ri’ya and Ki’ya, and Isaiah and Isaiah’s 5 year old son. Four of the young adult grandchildren present recalled that they were baptized with or after Grandma Harmon as she made sure they became a living part of our church community. We also recalled how Grandma Harmon brought all of the children and grandchildren and their friends that she could bring regularly, and how she was Grandma for everybody. Two other grandchildren who were baptized with or just after with her were not able to attend today, Jakeriya, who was home preparing a birthday party for her son Jamir and Jakein who is living and working in Alaska. While three Good Shepherd members attended her Funeral in August when Pastor Judy co-presided with Pastor Tommy White of Jolinda’s mother Lessie Ivory’s Missionary Baptist church, this was the first time we could celebrate our dear sister as a Good Shepherd Congregation. We lit a candle in her memory and her Grandson Quay placed her picture on the altar along with that of his mother, Linda Maybin, also our beloved member who went home to God in 2017.
We celebrated our dear Linda as well as Nathaniel Chester, who lived where we were worshipping until his death in 2016 and Michael Murray, Lauretta Rasmussen, Richard Duncan who made his transition home in 2021, our great supportive brother,Jack McNally, 93, in December of 2020 and other church members, along with our beloved Pastor Judy Beaumont who left us to return home to God in January of 2018. Each one was remembered. We recognized that we are a part of the vast Community of Saints who surround us with their love and guidance, especially those who welcomed Christ as their Beloved here at Good Shepherd.
We began with the hymn Revive Us Again as Pastor Judy introduced the theme of the day, to LIVE now and be assured that we will also rise again according to God’s love for us expressed in the Scriptures of the day. Pastor Marilyn read the first reading from Isaiah 25:6-9 where we learn that God will remove the mourning veil forever, and destroy all death forever, wiping away the tears from every cheek. Our elder, Mr. Harry Lee Peter Gary led us in the Responsive Psalm33-“May Your faithful love be upon us ,O God as we place all our hope in You”. Pastor Marina Teresa read from the Epistle to the Romans (6:3-9) where we hear that Christ was raised from the dead so we may lead a New LIFE and be raised from the dead as well.
We then sang and claimed the ground before us and ourselves and our neighbors as “Holy Ground” before singing ALLELUIA before the Gospel. Pastor Marilyn then read from the Gospel; John 6:37-40-“Whoever comes to me I won’t turn away…but rather raise them up….this is the will of my Abba (Father): that everyone who sees and believes in the Only Begotten will have eternal life….and be raised on the last day. ”
Pastor Judy then preached on LIVING NOW and the assurance of our rising again. She asked the congregation to reflect on their lives and to share what can keep us from really living now, can keep us as if we were dead. Grief was the first thing first mentioned…how it is so hard to let go even when we believe in the rising again of our loved ones. Then stress and money problems and health issues, and loneliness and other worries were mentioned. As we all owned the things that deaden us, Pastor Judy asked that we let them go and trust in our loving God and God’s people for support and compassion.
She went onto say that our faith in God’s love through Christ can give us the strength to let go of our heavy burdens of grief and worry and give us the strength to really live fully now. And we can turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ to give us the support we need to let go of death and embrace life. We have each other, we are not alone. The prayers of our loved ones and all the saints gone before us can enliven us again. Our God is the God of the living and our loved ones live with God and want us to live too, now and forever.
Our intercessory prayers included our loved ones and all gone before even as they pray now for us. Joelle White age 14, now taking college classes in her first year of High School, who grew up in our church read special intercessions for victims of war and conflicts, hunger and basic needs unmet, and victims of AIDS, Malaria, Covid-19 and other infectious diseases especially those who died without adequate care. This is Joelle next to Mr. Harry Gary and her mother Debbie and friend Felicia, and niece Courtney Bolt. Mr. Gary was Joelle’s Godfather at her baptism at Good Shepherd ten years ago .
We prayed for all our deceased members and loved ones who sleep in Christ and for families and individuals locked in grief, that God will give relief and consolation to them, and that we may minister to one another in this. This is Grandma Harmon and her grand and great grand daughters in 2018.
We welcomed all present to the Table of Plenty prepared by Jesus at his Last Supper. And we sang Thank You, God, and I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me as Holy Communion was received.
Before we concluded we gave Birthday blessings and gifts to Kathy Roddy, Natasha Terrell, Jolinda LaFaye Terrell, Keeondra Terrell, and Ni’Ya, Ri’Ya and Ki’Ya Battle who were ten in the picture above and 13 now and seven year old Courtney Bolt. We also recognized the presence of Ellen McNally at 91, our CTA President who continues always to support Good Shepherd. All received a big hand, especially Ellen McNally. She is on right in mask here with Mary, Gary, Pearl, Brenda and Kathy. And below are the three Pastors of the day together after we concluded with a mutual blessing and Mr. Gary sent us forth to continue our service.
May you be blessed as we celebrate All Souls and All Saints day this year. May you realize the fullness of your life and service to our loving God and others every day and live in the hope of the resurrection as you remember and celebrate the life of your loved ones.
In The Risen and Living Christ,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
My friends, It has been a long time since I wrote in these pages. No, I didn’t have a writer’s block. I had a very long night. I cannot count the number of funerals and Memorials I have done since my beloved life partner and co-Pastor Judy Beaumont went home to our loving God after a battle with Leukemia, her fourth cancer, in January of 2018. Her loss left me depleted, sad and empty and lonely. And that feeling increased with the years. And many of our Good Shepherd members whom I loved dearly as well joined her in those almost four years since her passing. They were not particularly old, but they had suffered the ravages of homelessness, and poverty, and sometimes serious physical illness, mental illness and or addiction to alcohol or substances. This year alone I presided at three funerals, and I have been there for the consolation of those remaining and of others in mourning, at their sides, where I was asked to be, and where I wanted and needed to be. It seemed to me that I was surrounded with death and loss. The words of Jesus challenged me to be part of the consolation in Matthew 5:4 NIV ” Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”. Or “Blessed are those who are mourning: they will be consoled” (TIB). The Presence of our loving God was there in the night and did console me. It kept me going when I could have given up. But somehow, the nights and even the days were hard. Sometimes long and hard. Yes, even Pastors and Priests, and maybe especially Pastors and Priests, have times when nothing flows freely and it is like night. Oh we may still do all that is expected of us, but something is missing-it is the joy of life and the joy of salvation. And it is the absence, partial or full, of the essence of life- of love- that gives us cause for joy.
The Scriptures give us words for it: in my Grandmother’s Bible, the KJV, I read Psalm 30:5c: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning”…and in the Peshitta translated from the original Aramaic of Jesus: “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. And in the NAB- Psalm 30:6b “At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing”. And continuing in the NAB, verses 12-13: “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” Or The Inclusive Bible by the Priests For Equality: “Then you changed my despair into a dance–you stripped me of my death shroud and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).
The promise is true: God will provide whatever is needed to turn that despair into dancing. But first we must trust that will happen, and then we must have patience, for it is in God’s time, not always ours, and we must remain in communication with God who is Love and let Love know how we feel. Whether it is sadness or anger or fear, or just emptiness share it with God. Sometimes I did not even have the words for it, and that is from a wordsmith who likes words, but I sat before God without words and God heard my heart. I believe God is listening to your heart too, especially if you are mourning or feel that it is night.
In reflecting on mourning and loss, time may not heal all, but it is a factor. It took me more than three years to open my heart to enjoying the company of others, and more than that to realize that maybe I could love again…and more…maybe I could be loved again. I continued to love and be loved by my Good Shepherd Community and my extended family and that had gotten me through the worst of loss. But something was still missing, something I did not dare even name. And for me, it was then that the miracle happened. There she was, someone to love and be loved by. Now, I was speechless- I am past my mid seventies, and I have been through the best and the worst that Life has to offer. I never even dared think I could begin again. But suddenly I was surrounded by new life, by hope, by someone loving me. And after getting over the sheer shock of it, I embraced it and her with all of my being. And so now I say, thank you God for the miracle of love entering my life when I least expected it. Thank you God for your abiding love. And, dear God, teach me how to love again, better than I have ever done before.
It may come for you in a different way, with the love of family, or friends, a new life born, or new friends or new work, or new experiences, or in a similar way, in the presence of a beloved person, but when it comes you will know it and you can say with the Psalmist: JOY COMES IN THE MORNING-THANKS BE TO GOD! And you will throw off those death clothes and you will be dancing!
This is a poem I wrote for my love about where I was:
In deafening silence
In endless aloneness
As life ebbed away
Toward another shore
From sheer loneliness and
just going through the
motions of daily life
and dying inside with each
day’s chores and emptiness
caring for the cats,
and the ducks and birds,
the little moorhens, the
big turtles and muscovys,
smiling at them sometimes,
the little joy I had,
the little secrets of creation
still shared with our Loving God,
caring for the people
given me to serve, so,
like Jesus I didn’t lose any one,
using the last drops of fuel to
reach out to the broken,
reaching out to be with friends
scarce as cool days in Florida,
not giving up, determined to hold on,
barely, barely, by my fingertips, and
laughing at the daily messages about
buying burial insurance and graves,
I carried on,
broken now myself,
yet still feeling the calming
Presence of God,
Who heard the prayers
I could not pray for lack
Of words, who heard my heart,
And still somewhere inside alive,
And needing flesh and blood,
And love, and love,
I pushed along,
Running on empty,
Until you came.
And this is for her:
Beautiful, strong woman,
Woman loving woman,
Woman like me,
Woman loving me,
woman of faith,
woman of intellect,
woman who dares to hope,
who dares to love, to live,
who loves me….loves me,
by an indescribable
miracle of our loving God,
a miracle of indirection and
longing and yearning,
and faintest hope,
you were there. A miracle-
We heard God speaking- we heard Her voice,
Our voices then matched in tone
In sheer quiet intensity,
With fear and hesitance underneath,
with so few words, and signs,
you took the leap, we took the leap,
you took a chance, we took a chance,
and in the midst of some chaos,
the kind we both produced in our lives
while hoping for more, hoping for love,
You broke through the silence,
You pierced through the emptiness
And you reached my very heart and soul.
Matched by a Loving God wiser than us,
We are matched in soul, in calling,
In thinking, in service, in values, and
In the need to join ourselves in complete
and glorious union of body and soul,
before we leave this earth.
My beloved woman, how perfectly we fit,
How easily we complete each other,
and how that love spills out
to grow the kin-dom of God on earth.
Oh how blessed we are,
I love you so,
How amazing this is,
And oh, how long we have waited.
Oh, thanks be to God, and to you
You are God’s perfect gift
to make us fully alive.
OH Thank you God, You turned my despair into dancing!
So do not despair if you too are mourning, or in a holding pattern, open your heart to our Loving God and wait for the morning when JOY comes again. Then, dance with me.
With Love and Blessings and Hope,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Pastor Good Shepherd Ministries of SWFL