Answering the Call
by Rev. Kerry Fong-Jean
I’m so grateful to Clergy Support Memorial Church for the opportunity to strengthen my faith walk with God. I have had to overcome fear and self doubt and push past these challenges to become a better person and a greater believer in the power of faith and prayer and let my actions in service speak louder than words.
Having an autoimmune illness, Lupus, for over 30 years, has helped me to grow with the challenges it has presented me. I manage my illness with self care and self love, meditation, quiet time, gentle exercise, and personal chats with God. These practices have helped me greatly on my journey.
It has been such an honour to serve by performing weddings, funerals and grief support. And each one of these services has taught me how to be more loving and accepting of myself and others. I am so appreciative of the opportunity to do this work as I feel I have been training for it all my life.
The first wedding I did was a stretch for me and I was almost paralyzed by fear. However, I also knew I had signed up for this and no one else could do it. So, pushing past the terror, I took a deep breath, and appeared in front of an audience of doctors and nurses from my local hospital. I recognized some of the faces and carried on despite quaking in my boots. Thankfully, God sent me such a kind, easygoing couple to marry.
Over 150 weddings later, I’ve learned many valuable lessons: how to be patient, how to navigate family unrest and smooth out the edges of discord, learning to breathe and have faith when extremely challenged.
One day I was contacted to do an urgent wedding ceremony for the next day. It was the groom’s last wish to marry his beloved. He was sleeping when I arrived, and I met and talked to his bride and members of the family. When I entered the bedroom to see him on my own, he woke up and smiled and said, “Hello God.” I was shocked and surprised but also knew I was witness to a profound moment where all I could do was be myself and be open to whatever happened. The wedding was short, emotional, and beautiful and I took pictures of the wedding couple and their family to remember this sacred time. I then went to the nearest town to get the license photocopied for the bride and the funeral home. I also took the license photocopy to the funeral home that day. I figured the family had so much going on it’s the least I could do. When I arrived back with the photocopies, the groom had lapsed into a coma, so I gave him a bedside blessing and he passed peacefully that night. This ceremony was a life changing experience.
My calling was clarified further when I was asked to do a funeral and a Celebration of Life for two souls who both had died tragically and whose families were in deep grief. I was able to connect with a father over his daughter’s tragic death and give him some peace and hope and have maintained contact with him over the last few years.
The other family had two small children at the attendance of their father’s tragic death and so I created a Celebration of Life that honoured their young grief with games and activities to help heal their hearts. It was my hope to give them comfort and faith that their dad was in heaven and still loving and watching over them. I had been asked for grief support for the family from a friend and from talking with them I felt the need for a unique family experience to honour and celebrate this wonderful man. I prayed for insight and inspiration. I received many wonderful ideas on how I could involve the family from making origami boats to building a wooden raft together with sticks and string and launching it into the lake together with notes, flowers and favourite candies. To see the family laugh and share and participate so heartily in all the activities warms my heart to this day.
A special part of my ministry has also been creating a safe space to share grief and help with the grieving process with “My Life After Loss Cafe” and grief walks. I held the cafe at a local brewery as an unconventional meeting place to discuss loss. I also held a meeting at a local park and was able to help a young father who had lost his twins who passed soon after they were born. The stress had affected his marriage and every aspect of his life. I was invited to be a part of his twin’s birthday party to honour them a year after their passing and then had the absolute pleasure to hear that they were pregnant soon after and now have a healthy, happy baby and a strong, happy marriage. I’m always astounded at God’s work and the miracles that abound even from very challenging situations. My grief support ministry is on a volunteer basis and I’m grateful to offer this help to the bereaved.
I felt nudged by God to be more available for last minute requests for funerals and narrow my focus of service to primarily serve through Celebrations of Life, funerals, and grief support. Heeding the call to bring some light to the darkness and be his messenger to give hope that there is more to this life than what we see. My steadfast belief in the afterlife with God aids me to serve with a grateful, open hopeful and peaceful heart. I, of course, acknowledge the immense grief felt for the deceased but also have such a profound respect and gratitude for their life and the legacy of love they have left behind.
This is the part of my ministry that fulfills me the most and where I find I have helped the greatest. It’s always a unique experience for each family I have served.
In my Celebrations of Life, I want to represent the loved one in the best possible way and to focus on the gratitude for a special life lived, while also asking how I can best support the family left behind. I know in my heart and soul, that this life is ephemeral, and the most important thing is love. God is love and we came from love, are love as God’s children, and will return to love again. Love never dies.
With respect to the ordination process, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was painless, smooth and quick. The words from Rev Ed, that CSMC was just acknowledging what was already there in me, were so welcomed. I felt so validated and affirmed. And it filled my heart with gratitude and reverence for God and my blessed opportunity to serve. Receiving my certificate of ordination was overwhelmingly gratifying. I am so thankful to make a positive difference in people’s lives, especially, when they are searching for meaning, during a very challenging time like grief and death.
In the future, I want to continue to focus my ministry doing Celebrations of Life and grief support for the bereaved. And with the growing trend of MAID during terminal illness, I also want to support the dying loved one and their family, during this difficult time.
I feel there is also a rising need for living Celebrations of Life or a pre-funeral where the guest of honour has the opportunity to have a say in the arrangements and preparation of their “retirement from this life” party/celebration. This is a Japanese tradition popularized in the 1990s called “Seizenso” or “living funeral.” It enables the dying loved one the opportunity to express their gratitude and love for their friends and family; also allowing them to hear their loved one’s appreciation and warm memories they have shared together. This shifts the focus from one of bereavement to a celebration of a life lived. While also honouring all feelings and emotions that arise…the laughter and the tears.
It is a unique and important opportunity to love and be loved and still be present. In Mitch Albom’s book, “Tuesdays with Morrie”, Morrie upon reflecting on his colleague’s funeral, says “What a waste… All those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irve never got to hear any of it.” So as Morrie, himself, was dying; he decided to plan a small celebration with his closest family and friends, to actually be able to give and receive everyone’s love. I know this is currently an unconventional idea, however, I think it’s an important experience that could be very healing. Also, it gives an opportunity for closure, to finally have a chance to express what’s on everyone’s hearts to be heard during life.
I look forward to continuing my faith journey with Clergy Support Memorial Church and being available for additional learning and growth. I’m approaching God’s call with an open heart and his strength to serve the community in the best possible ways.