August 23, 2021

THEY LEFT TOGETHER

Today brought tragic news that has left many people in my community and beyond in complete shock and grief.  This photo was taken in the spring of 2017 when this dad—Anglican priest Thomas McKenzie—took his elder daughter Charlie (aka Ella) with him to one of his favorite spots on earth—the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico.  In honor of her 18th birthday, he wanted to share this experience with her.  They left together and it was a very rich and meaningful retreat for them.

This morning this same dad was driving this same daughter to New Mexico again, where she was to continue her college education at St. John’s College in Santa Fe.  They left their home in my neighborhood together—and less than an hour later, both died in a car crash on I-40 West.

As the news spread through our church community, so did the shock and grief.  Just the morning before, we had listened to Father Thomas’ sermon, received the Eucharist from his hand, and shared in his excitement at beginning his long deferred (due to the COVID pandemic) sabbatical.  Twenty-four hours.

Although not a close personal friend like so many others, I’ve been a parishioner for eleven years and was a temporary interim staff person for over a year.  And I came to love and appreciate Father Thomas very much.  A masterful storyteller, he could begin his 15-minute sermon with a personal story that perfectly illustrated the lesson from scripture.  We enjoyed so many stories of his growing up in Amarillo, Texas, the amazing house his artist father built near a canyon, school experiences, and more.  Many of his stories poked fun at himself.  

He delighted in mystery and imagination. No platitudes, no assurance that he had everything figured out, and always, the assurance of God’s unconditional love for each of us just as we are. Being more than doing. 

He was also a masterful teacher—with classes on the Benedictine way, the Anglican way, the imaginative prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, teachings of the church fathers and mothers, and rich Bible studies. He stressed the importance of “feeling your feelings” and being honest with God about them. He prescribed specific spiritual practices for specific seasons of life.

Lively conversations about books and writers, music, movies, and art usually followed Morning Prayer at the weekly staff meetings in his church office.  He produced dramatic and soul-wrenching Tenebrae services (often at the Belcourt Theatre) during Holy Week, with live music, movie clips and readings.

For the amazing gifts that Thomas and Charlie were to so many, I am thankful.  Now that they have left together on the greatest adventure of all, “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

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