A woman I knew in my last pastorate in the U.S. died recently. She was as full of life and spirit as almost anyone I knew. We talked when I returned from Africa and preached at my old church where she was then in charge of the music. It was a very large church with four services a Sunday, but that did not dismay her, it only challenged her. She understood the power and beauty of the music in a service and breathed that inspiration into every service so that every listener and singer was touched. She had an irrepressible spirit that could not be contained. She played instruments, she sang, she led and lived a life that became the Gospel. If she had a bad side, I never saw it. There were times before services and before and after rehearsals for big musical events that she and I talked about the music and its influence on the way people would feel after the event. We both preferred live music to recorded and wondered in awe at how amazing it was to hear great music performed well. She died too soon, in my opinion, but God didn’t ask my opinion. At least I am sure that she rests in complete peace in the arms of the Christ for whom she devoted her life. In her honor, I offer this poem by Mary Frye that is often used in funerals because of its own power. For Fenner Russell—
Do not stand at my grave and forever weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and forever cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
From the last scene in “Hamlet” these words, “May flights of angels sing you sweetly to your sleep.” We will miss you, Fenner.