Greetings and Updates from the Rev. Jack Fles

Dear Episcopal friends and colleagues:

It has been almost two months since my 18 year-old daughter gave me 4.2 lbs., or 70%, of her liver on Dec. 20, 2010.  The surgery was done at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington Mass.  Each of us had a team of 12 doctors for the dual operations, which lasted eight hours.

Surgery was successful, both father and daughter were at the top of the charts in terms of recovery.  Broghann stayed in the hospital nine days, I remained for 14.  While the care given by doctors and nurses was excellent, our memories of those days are somewhat traumatic; discomfort, no sleep, changing soaked bandages, multiple drainage lines, the meds and escape from pain.   But we also were mesmerized simply by the idea that my liver was gone and Broghann’s was functioning inside me.  My first semi-cognizant day was December 25.  What a new angle of thought on the meaning of Christmas, new life though a gift of love.  Pain was part of it, as follows the pattern given to us during that first week of the great passion.

Yesterday was my last weekly visit to Lahey.  Now I go down once per month, with blood work sent up every two weeks.  Yesterday I  voiced my concerns about recovery time and returning to work.  “It is generally six months before a recipient returns to work, and part time at that” was the medical response.  “Maybe five months if you are up to it.”

And what of work?  I have been on full-time disability since before Easter, and working part-time for some months before that.  I see now how sick I was; my energy level was low, my memory was failing, zest for new ideas non-existent.  I am grateful to the membership and vestry of Christ Church in Gardiner for their patience and determination to see our family through surgery and recovery.  I have learned in an inescapable way that I am loved and my family is too.

But this thin time between health and illness is difficult to bear.  Bishop Steve has been great, very present and supportive. Our church insurance plan has been excellent.  Friends, church members and even strangers have been helpful with food, finances and friendly support.  But you can imagine that such a disruption is hard on a congregation, even with the excellent and faithful pastoral care provided by Fathers Jim Gill and John Widdows and our Deacon Gary Drinkwater.  Attendance has fallen off, death has taken its toll on long term members, the challenge we all face garnering enthusiastic and present younger members is no stranger to us in Gardiner.

The greatest and most direct challenge I have experienced is the annual meeting decision a few weeks ago that come June 1, the rectorate of Christ Church will be a half-time position.  Besides half salary, that means having to pay for half utilities and health insurance.  In my youth I thought job security was part of the clergy job description. “They will always need a priest,” I thought.  “Even in the most dire of circumstances, the church will continue and a clergy person will always have a place to serve.”

But this merely personalizes the trauma that most of us face as pew warmers of the Episcopal Church.  I am not alone in this dilemma, and this reality is known and felt by +Bishop Steve and at all administrative levels of our diocese, and probably to you as you read this.  I look forward to the soon to be released “white papers” with observations and recommendations for the strengthening of all of our congregations.  I have a feeling a major theme will be “no more pew warmers”.

We must stand up and be counted, reach out, express our faith in word and deed, and share the light that we know as Christ.  Other neighborhood churches are full.  We can be too!

I look forward to growing stronger day by day, and especially at rejoining the good working people of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.  God bless us all, and thank you for your prayers!

Sincerely in Christ,
Father Jack Fles+


Filed under Christ Church Gardiner, Clergy News

9 responses to “Greetings and Updates from the Rev. Jack Fles

  1. Hans Boman

    Father Jack,
    Some time in the range of almost a year ago, I got it into my head to look you up and found all the articles on the web about your shared surgery (you and your daughter). For some time before that I had thought of “what’s going on” in your neck of the woods, wherever that may be. The way you, your daughter, your family, of course, the medical people, your congregation are supportive of you all is inspiring.
    p.s. keeping you in my prayers… God bless…

  2. Suzy Hoover

    Hi Cousin Jack,
    We must catch up soon. It is good to know your surgery has been successful so far. Thank you for your phone call about Uncle Jack and that you were able to travel to NY to be with your mother.
    Love, Cousin Suzy

  3. Dale Morgan

    Also helping out at Christ Church during Father Jack’s illnerss was The Rev. Canon Nancy Platt. What a loving gift her many hours of service, given freely, were to us. Not only did she beef up our Eucharistic Visitor ministry, but she also Celebrated Tuesday Morning Eucharist each week and filled in when needed for Sunday services as well. Thank you Rev. Canon Platt. You are appreciated for your selfless service to us. I am sure your omission from this was an unintended oversight.

  4. Sheila Seekins

    Thanks for your post: hopeful in the healing, provocative too of communal futures.
    Blessings for continued healing and growth

  5. chick carroll

    Jack: What a wonderful letter, with wonderful news. Don’t hurry it; I hope you will take all the time you need.



    • jack fles

      I agree about the future of the church. The most recent magazine from EDS has a article, “Creating a new world” that contains a cogent list of statistics that we all are facing. Also posted are some suggestions as to what we might do, bringing ministry outside of the church walls. I think the marching orders must include the zeal of an evangelical, the courage of Ghandi, the patience of Mandela, and a blitz of an unifying idea, like Rugby in South Africa.

  6. Ben Barr

    Prayers have indeed been answered with this difficult operation and the wonderful gift that your daughter has given you. Praise be to God for this healing.
    The days ahead will be challenging days, not for only you, your ministry and that of Christ Church, but as you mentioned throughout the diocese her in Maine (and not only the rural areas, but some of the more populous regions of our state). And not only here, but across this country many other dioceses and denominations are feeling the effects of a changing demographic that will eventually change how we view and do “church”. There is much unknown in the days ahead, but by uplifting one another in prayer and conversation we will make a new way that will maintain and Episcopal identity and also one that will embrace our brothers and sisters in the fellowship of Christ.
    May each of us hear God’s voice and reply, “Here I am Lord, send me.”

  7. James L.Gill

    Dear Fr. Jack:
    I have reread your message four times now and gained insight from each reading. Surgery has not impaired your skill in communication, that’s for sure!
    During the nine months that I was privileged to be part of the clergy team at Christ Church, during the long wait of your family for the right moment at Lahey Clinic, I gained a deep appreciation for the effect you have had on the lives of your flock; a two-way street, as you will agree. It is in this same mode of leadership that I hear you engaging all of us to face the challenges ahead as financial resources, but not depth of faith, diminishes.
    Thanks for this personal reflection from your perspective of new life.

    • jack fles

      Thanks very much for your kind observations and comments. I gained new depth from being near you during your recent months at Christ Church.
      I value our friendship and look forward always to seeing you. Jack