The Good Life
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long. Psalm 23:6
A few months ago, we received a letter addressed to Foster Shannon at the Presbytery office. I was intrigued, because the return address was Anne Cohen. Anne is a well-loved local UCC pastor, who is classically progressive, as one might imagine for a UCC pastor in Southern California. I wondered why Anne would be writing to Foster, as I wouldn’t imagine them to be pen pals.
I called Foster’s number and found it had been disconnected. I contacted folks at the two churches I knew Foster served among us—Alhambra True Light and Arcadia. Jamie Fong, a deacon at Alhambra, contacted me, because she has been dutifully scheduling visits to Foster and Janis Shannon at the home where they were now staying.
I went to visit Foster and Janis, taking with me the letter from Anne Cohen and a souvenir from the meeting when Arcadia called John Scholte. The letter turned out to be an invitation to the memorial service for Anne’s father, Rev. Albert Cohen, whose obituary starts by describing him as “minister, activist, ecologist and agitator.” So I’m guessing that Foster didn’t have much more in common with Albert than with Anne, and yet there was enough of a relationship for Anne to track down a way to personally reach out to him on the occasion of her father’s death.
The visit was pleasant enough, though Foster didn’t seem to remember Albert. But Foster and Janis were very pleased to hear about Arcadia’s new pastor. I was glad to see them in a place that was safe and friendly, though I could only guess how difficult the adjustment was for Foster especially. (Alhambra’s pastor, Jack Davidson, and I have had a couple calls trying to encourage Foster to move to a retirement community, and he wouldn’t hear of it.)
A few months passed, and Jamie contacted me to see if I would like to visit Foster again, and I was scheduled to see him after Christmas. But then COVID took that away from us, as the home did not want to risk allowing outside visitors coming in.
A week ago Jamie forwarded an email from Foster’s daughter saying visitors can come again, and that it would be good for people to visit now, because Foster had stopped eating and it seemed he would not be with us much longer. So I went to see them on Thursday afternoon. Janis and I had a good conversation as she told me their 70-year journey of faith. Foster rested quietly, though several times he raised both arms as if he was giving a benediction or reaching up to the Lord.
I had precious few interactions with Foster, but I did share with Janis my favorite memory. He invited me to have coffee so we could discuss Korean Good Shepherd, with whom we were in the throes of the dismissal battle. The Presbytery was forming an Administrative Commission for them, and I asked Foster to be the chair, because I knew he had sympathy for Korean Good Shepherd’s conservative misgivings about the PC(USA), though he himself had chosen to stay PC(USA). This coffee was the first time I had a conversation with Foster, and early on he looked at me with piercing eyes and said, “Now I’m pretty sure there is very little we agree on . . . But I love you anyway!”
I always thought that was a glimpse into the best way to be Presbyterian—honest, acknowledging our differences, but confirming that our common love in Christ transcends all. And when I learned that Foster did go on to the Lord on Saturday, I was so thankful to have spent some time with him and with Janise just two days before, to hear more about his life of faithfulness and to remind Janis that she will continue to be loved by her church family, even as she feels so alone without Foster.
Indeed, this winter I have been amazed at the stories of some of our older siblings in Christ. I wrote about Casper Glenn’s 100th birthday party, and the joy of that event continues to buoy my spirit. As Bryce Little is arranging things since Phyllis died a little over a week ago, he shared Phyllis’ service with Presbyterian World Mission:
1957-1960 she taught at Hope School for the Presbyterian and other missionary children in Cameroon
1960-1970 Phyllis and Bryce were appointed to develop urban-industrial mission work under the Church of Christ in Thailand and Trinity Theological College in Singapore
2002-2010 Phyllis and Bryce served as Regional Liaisons to serve with our PC(USA) partner churches in Portugal and Spain.
And now there’s Foster’s earthly journey coming to an end. It’s hard for me not to lionize these great role models in ministry—and I can’t help but also give thanks to God for the incredible loving lifelong partnerships of Casper and Vernilla, Bryce and Phyllis, and Foster and Janis.
As we look ahead to Winterfest and our Presbytery meeting, I give thanks for all the holy and amazing folks in our presence. The Presbytery meeting is really short, but we will have the opportunity to hear from and greet new/old friends Harlan Redmond, Tom Eggebeen, and Amy Mendez. And WinterFest will focus on helping us nurture resilience in our own emotional well-being, and in our congregations. We will hear from Presbytery members who are mental health professionals as well as pastors, and friends and church leaders who will share their expertise and experience caring for people who are struggling, and helping us tend to our own mental health during these stressful times.
I believe resilience is helped by taking the time to reflect on the blessings we’re aware of, and giving thanks. Role models to inspire us, friends to partner with, folks to teach and learn from, souls to care for—certainly God has blessed us. So let us give thanks, and cherish the time we have together.
See you at WinterFest,