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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Emmett

Emmett Jarrett was my seminary field education supervisor for two years at the (then) Mission Church of St. John the Evangelist on Bowdoin Street in Boston. He also served as my mentor during my 6 month diaconal formation and early priesthood.

While we weren't always in touch, he remained a trusted mentor and friend.

Emmett died of cancer last Friday at the age of 71, in his home, surrounded by his family and community.

I've read his obituary and the articles about his life - even found an essay he wrote on line -  and I still really can't get my head wrapped around the fact that he is dead.

Yes, of course he was a bold, fierce peace activist. Yes, of course he was a passionate, committed activist for the poor and homeless.

But, did you ever see Emmett smile? Then you know how that serious, professorial and monastic countenance could evaporate and suddenly light up the room.

Have you ever disagreed with Emmett? Then you know how he would get a deep furrow to his brow as he carefully listened to and considered your position even if, in the end, he respectfully disagreed - respect being the operative word.

Did you ever make Emmett laugh? Then you know how absolutely delicious it was to hear what began with an almost little-boy giggle explode into a laugh-cough-laugh spasm of absolute delight.

If you worked with Emmett, you would know what an intensely passionate, complex, sometimes maddeningly frustrating man he was.

I remember one evening at the Thursday Night Suppers - a sit down meal provided by various suburban congregations - for the homeless who live in the shadows of Beacon Hill and Government Center.

One man came in - clearly in an "altered state of consciousness" - looking like he was on a very short fuse. He mustn't have had a bath in a long time, but the whiffs of alcohol vied for a primary assault on the olfactory nerve.

He had bumps and bruises and open, bleeding cuts on all over his face, leading one to suspect he had just come from a street brawl. It was Ms. Conroy, however, who called it. "He's an epileptic," she said. "Watch him. He's gonna seize again."

And, within minutes, the man started to yell and shake and then he fell to the floor in a full seizure. The dinner guests began to gasp. Those who were serving were horrified, not knowing what to do.

Ms. Conroy began barking orders as she and Emmett and I rushed to the man's side. "Someone call 911. Don't touch him," said Ms. Conroy. "Just try to keep him safe. Move those chairs. Everyone stand back. Give him some room."

When the man stopped seizing, Emmett got on his knees and gently lifted the limp man's head and shoulders onto his lap. He kept whispering to him, "It's okay. You're safe. You're going to be okay. God loves you."

Emmett's pants were covered with the man's blood and perspiration and vomit and, when you looked at him, you might have thought he was engaging in the greatest privilege on earth - as if he were holding Jesus himself. Because, to Emmett, he was holding Christ in his arms.

Then he did something amazing.  Emmett bent down and kissed that man's bloody, sweaty, filthy forehead.  Some of the visitors quietly gasped.  Most of the guests smiled warmly.  For me, Maundy Thursday had come early.

One of the cops who had come into the Parish Hall just ahead of the medics made a snide remark. I didn't hear it, but Emmett did. Whatever it was, the cops words fell on Emmett's ears like a match on dry wood. I could see the anger flare in his eyes and nose and burn in his chest. I really thought he was going to do something - verbally or physically - violent.

Instead, I watched as Emmett closed his eyes, take in a deep breath, open his eyes, look at the cop with great gentleness and say, "I think we're okay here, officer. Thank you."

The cop lowered his eyes as shame washed over his face. He muttered, "Sure thing, Father," as he backed away.

That was Emmett. Capable of violence, just like the rest of us, but working to find a place of compassion in his heart and soul so that he could be, instead, a vehicle of peace. If he could be an activist for peace, anyone could.

For me, the fact that Emmett acknowledged the potential for his own violence as the source of his impulse to work for peace gave him an authenticity and credibility I often found sorely lacking in many so-called peace activists.

Another memory has come to visit me this morning: In November, 1986, Emmett took a huge risk.

In September of that year, two men who had been in a committed relationship for 5 years asked Emmett to bless their relationship in the church. They were life-long Episcopalians who had been long-term members of the church.

Emmett talked with the bishop who told him that the church had not authorized such blessings and neither would he. Emmett thought and prayed long and hard and decided not to disobey the bishop.

It was 1986.  I just repeat that to note just how long we've been working at this.

The congregation was in an uproar. Most of the community wanted their rector to bless the couple.  Emmett cautioned patience and persistence with the institution for change.  The two men went to a Unitarian Church in Boston and had their covenant blessed. It was a wonderful celebration.

Later, in discussing this with Emmett, I mentioned that Ms. Conroy and I were about to celebrate our 10 anniversary. He suddenly brightened. It was like watching one of those cartoon characters where the light bulb goes off above his head.

He asked if he might be able to bless our home, our family and our relationship in our new home in Lowell, MA.  "Surely," said Emmett, "the bishop can't have any objections to that."

We had our reservations - we really wanted to hold out for a blessing that focused on our covenant in the midst of our community of faith in the church.

On the other hand, our family was in transition.  I had been called as Chaplain at University of Lowell in January and ordained deacon in April.  I graduated from seminary in May. Our family had moved to a new home in Lowell and I was about to be ordained priest on the Feast of St. Luke.

A blessing on our home and family and covenant would be empowering for us as well as provide a vehicle of healing for the community of St. John's.

And so, it came to pass that Emmett - accompanied by his family and almost the entire community of The Church of St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin Street, Boston, traveled to Lowell, MA for a special blessing on every person and creature who lived and moved and had their being in that house, and on our home, and on our family and on our covenant.

That was 1986.  Today, as Ms. Conroy and I prepare to celebrate 34 years together, we're still holding out for a blessing in the church at the time of our marriage.

It would have been wonderful to have had Emmett present for the blessing and celebration of our marriage.  Alas, that will not happen, now. However, the memory of that moment, 24 years ago, swirls around me and comforts me like a favorite, old, worn out sweater on a chilly morning.

Emmett was a husband and father, a priest and a poet, a peace activist and an advocate for the homeless and helpless, a mentor and friend, and so much, much more than words in an obituary or tribute could possibly contain.

I shall miss him terribly, although I find a strange, wonderful peace in my heart, knowing that Emmett is with Jesus and rests eternally in the peace he could only dream of and work for while he was with us.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done.

14 comments:

Mary Beth said...

Thanks for sharing this amazing person.

Waiting and hoping for your wedding day.

JCF said...

May flights of angels sing him to his rest...

Thank you for this---Emmett's story---Elizabeth. I offer you a {hug} in your grief.

[wv, "zookinds". It takes "zookinds" eh, to make a world?]

romelover said...

What an absolutely stunning remembrance of Emmett. Surely God loved this man, as clearly he loved God and God's creation.

Peace, chrissie

Muthah+ said...

I remember Anne at EDS and Emmett when he was in DC. And J remembers him from years in Cambridge. We have lost a great priest in the church. Thanks for the rememberances.

Linda said...

Thanks for your gentle and wonderful tribute to a friend I did not realize we had in common....and who I didn't know had died. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

Mark Delcuze said...

I was there today, Elizabeth, a dozen people got up and gave testimony before Fr. Ed Rodman knocked the ball out of the park.

I was there the night of that seizure, too. I saw the kiss and the cop.

I continue to marvel at the transfiguring power of pure love,

Mark +

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I thought I remembered you there, Mark. That was an awesome place in those days, wasn't it?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Mark - if you get a copy of Ed's sermon, would you send it along? Thanks.

Theo said...

Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you for reminding me why I love this church. So many saints, everywhere, to those who have eyes to see.

More love,

John

Mark Delcuze said...

With all due respect, Elizabeth, Fr. Rodman is a great preacher and a great writer, but not (in my experience) at the same time.

Episcopal Urban Caucus members and fellow Franciscans were present in numbers and they may better recount his masterful homily.

What I heard was, Ed weaving together the witness of those who spoke along with his own catalog of how Emmett fulfilled every rule by breaking it. He pointed Emmett's attention to the little things, the intimate details of life, which made the big picture achievable.

Ed also spoke personally in the homily to Sarah, Emmett's sister, and the kids in a way that was touching and true.

One last word about those who spoke. There were street people and politicians. There were church officials and members of the parish. There was a Muslim, a Rabbi, a nun, a Franciscan, and a protestant clergywoman. Several of Emmett's writer and poet friends spoke. One poem was read. It was so true, that I saw Emmett at that moment and cried.

If I see heaven, it will look a lot like St. James' Church, New London did at 10:00 am on October 14, 2010.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, my dear brother, Mark, for your witness and testimony. You will see heaven, dearest. It has been promised.

NorthCountryVicar said...

Gentlefolk:
I was privileged to serve as Assisting Priest with Emmett+ when he became Vicar of St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin St., Boston. From him I continued to learn the reality of the Radical Gospel of Jesus Christ, so firmly taught and exemplified by Ted Mellor, the then Master of Ceremonies who formed up this new priest in the parish where I was Deacon, and then priested in 1981. Emmett was truly a representative of the Priest, "who stands at the foot of the Cross with the People on his heart" I learned from him as he, with great fortitude and faithfulness, watched through the final illness of his first wife; as he created structures and policies in the parish which incarnated effective service to the the people who lived on the streets and needed food and care, including gay and lesbian youth. I recall splendid Rogation Day Processions to the Boston City Hall and Massachusetts State House, flinging Holy Water in the direction of our Representatives...whose Catholic Faith needed 'watering'. And in the Mission House, I was introduced to some great music...like "American Pie" and was privileged to come to know Kenneth Leech+, Emmett's dear friend...I recall with delight the gatherings of Emmett, Kenneth and assorted parishioners as we lifted a couple at the local brew pub down the street.
Those two years happened to be very hard ones for me personally, as I began to "come out" to myself, in not good ways...Emmett+ was an extraordinary Pastor to me. God used Emmett+ to save me for Christ's priesthood.
I write in great sorrow and joy, as he rests in Peace, and most certainly rises in Glory. and Song! I hope Anne will see this note, for I grieve for her and their children, Nate and Sarah, whom I sadly have never met. ...Anne and I go way back to Wellesley College where she was my very sharp and memorable student.
Ellie McLaughlin+ (sent to Ted Mellor on Anglican Left in mid October)

NorthCountryVicar said...

Gentlefolk:
I was privileged to serve as Assisting Priest with Emmett+ when he became Vicar of St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin St., Boston. From him I continued to learn the reality of the Radical Gospel of Jesus Christ, so firmly taught and exemplified by Ted Mellor, the then Master of Ceremonies who formed up this new priest in the parish where I was Deacon, and then priested in 1981. Emmett was truly a representative of the Priest, "who stands at the foot of the Cross with the People on his heart" I learned from him as he, with great fortitude and faithfulness, watched through the final illness of his first wife; as he created structures and policies in the parish which incarnated effective service to the the people who lived on the streets and needed food and care, including gay and lesbian youth. I recall splendid Rogation Day Processions to the Boston City Hall and Massachusetts State House, flinging Holy Water in the direction of our Representatives...whose Catholic Faith needed 'watering'. And in the Mission House, I was introduced to some great music...like "American Pie" and was privileged to come to know Kenneth Leech+, Emmett's dear friend...I recall with delight the gatherings of Emmett, Kenneth and assorted parishioners as we lifted a couple at the local brew pub down the street.
Those two years happened to be very hard ones for me personally, as I began to "come out" to myself, in not good ways...Emmett+ was an extraordinary Pastor to me. God used Emmett+ to save me for Christ's priesthood.
I write in great sorrow and joy, as he rests in Peace, and most certainly rises in Glory. and Song! I hope Anne will see this note, for I grieve for her and their children, Nate and Sarah, whom I sadly have never met. ...Anne and I go way back to Wellesley College where she was my very sharp and memorable student.
Ellie McLaughlin+ (sent to Ted Mellor on Anglican Left in mid October)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Ellie. You were my mentor, too, in those "lean years" of not having very many women as role models and mentors. You and Margaret Rose.

I am deeply, deeply grateful