It has been 26 years since the death of Idaho’s acclaimed United States Senator Frank Church, but as I listened to the tributes for his acclaimed son on Saturday those years melted away and memory rushed back.
Forrest Church was described during his memorial service at Boise State University as one of the most important theological thinkers of the last half of the 20th Century. His pulpit at All Souls Church in Manhattan was a place were the public intellectual, the political son, regularly confronted the messy reality of a troubled world. Church’s major contribution as a religious leader was, as many have noted since his death, to help us focus on the good in the midst of the world’s reality.
So, being called a great thinker about life, death and religion is an entirely appropriate epitaph and true enough in Church’s case, but Forrest, who died in September after a prolonged illness, was also his father’s son – a complicated, eloquent man deeply committed to social justice and aware enough of himself to be comfortable with unanswerable questions.
Both these men died young and from cancer. The Senator was 59. Forrest died on September 24th, the day after his 61st birthday. In life they shared much, but perhaps nothing more important than the grace and dignity with which they left. In his last days, Forrest Church recorded a long series of interviews with AARP reflecting on life and appreciation, religion and death. The series of interviews is available here and well worth your time.
Forrest was, like his father, a profound and gifted writer. He produced 25 books in 25 years, but he may never have written anything as touching as the eulogy for the Senator – his father – which, upon re-reading, seems like it might have been written for him.
On that April day in the crowded Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise in 1984, Forrest spoke these words:
“In so many wondrous ways, my father taught us how to live…he also taught us how to die. I have never seen a or known a man who was less afraid of death. If religion is our human respnse to the dual reality of being alive and having to die, my father, from a very early age, was touched with natural grace. Because my father was not afraid to die, he was not afraid to live. He did not spend his life, as so many of us do, little by little until he was gone. He gave it away to others. He invested it in things that would ennoble and outlast him.
“In his life, my father was a bit like the day star, rising early to prominence, brilliant in the dusk and against the darkness, showing other stars the way. When it came time for him to go, when his precious flame flickered, he was ready. Peacefully, naturally, with serenity and grace, he returned his light unto the eternal horizon. Like the day star, my father went out with the dawn.”
We are fortunate, indeed, to have been touched by both of these remarkable people – sons of Idaho and men for the world.