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+