As I write these words it’s a few days before Pentecost. I had planned on writing a bit about the Holy Spirit and how he/she moves in our world. I had planned on writing how the Spirit intercedes for us as Paul writes in Romans, “that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” yesterday morning changed all that. For I heard the news that an elder had died in Shishmaref. In fact Vincent was 96 years old and full of grace when he breathed his last surrounded by people who loved him. The Holy Spirit was with Vincent his whole life and today I need to remember him and share with you what I wrote about him when I was serving as the Interim Pastor there in that incredible place. The following words were written in my journal when Vincent at 94 resigned from church council.
“This is the face of wisdom and faithfulness. Vincent stepped down from church council last night. He had come to the annual meeting last night to speak about it. He will be 94 in a few weeks and felt that that it was time to step down. His eyesight has failed and his hearing is no longer what it once was. He arose to speak to the whole congregation and his words were gracious and filled with a profound sense of community. He had revealed to me just a few days ago, when I visited him, that he’d been on church council for 70 years. No, they don’t have any term limits here. Now he needed to tell the community of faith how thankful he was for their trusting him throughout that time. His faithfulness is a gift and it will be remembered for a long time to come. He is an elder in the truest sense. I had read, as an opening devotion, from Mark 10 where Jesus says that the son of man came to serve and not be served. Vincent didn’t just believe the words, he lived them. The congregational President, sensing that this was sacred time, asked Vincent to pray to close the meeting. He did so using his first language, Eskimo as he puts it. I didn’t understand a word of what he was saying, but at the same time I understood every word. He prayed for the people, he spoke for the people and interceded for the people with “sighs too deep for words.” To be in the presence of such a faithful servant is an honor and it is, as he is, truly holy. Vincent, Child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever!”
Vincent will be buried soon in Shishmaref, a small group of men will gather to dig the gave by hand. Then the whole village and more will gather to say thank you to God and to Vincent for his service to his Lord and to his town. I did two funerals while there and each time at the end Vincent and I would stand next to the casket following the service. It was his role as an elder and the oldest person in the village. It was an honor to do so. I know someone else will stand next to Vincent’s body as they gather to say thank you to a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Vincent will not be forgotten by those incredible people and neither shall I.