I Will Remember Larry




                My dear friend and priest passed away this past week.  I first met Fr. Larry LeSeure when I came to St. Stephen’s Woodlawn to do a Mystery Worship. Mystery Worshipping is sort of reviewing churches as if they were restaurants, primarily interested in seeing how they welcome strangers. I had been an atheist/agnostic for 30+ years, and now that I was returning to church, I was using the Mystery Worship process to look for a spiritual home.
                I remember shaking Larry’s hand as I was leaving, and he directed me to sign the visitor’s book. I had left the Mystery Worship ticket in the collection.
This was soon after 9/11, and apparently the ticket had inspired a bit of a panic when the collection was counted. Fortunately, Larry had been Mystery-Worshipped before and explained to the people who discovered it what the ticket meant. I received a beautiful hand-written card from his soon after where he wrote, “Were you the Mystery Worshipper? If so, please be kind.” He also encouraged me to return.
                I had been favorably impressed with St. Stephen’s (and Larry) {see review at http://ship-of-fools.com/mystery/2001/425Mystery.html}, so I started coming to church there every few weeks. I found Larry’s sermons theologically challenging, but what I was most impressed with was his handling of the liturgy. Episcopal priests do the same liturgy basically week after week for years and years. Larry was nearing retirement, so he must have had most of the text memorized by this point. But as I watched and listened to him it felt as if he was living each moment as it happened, ever fresh and new.  I spoke to him about it, and he explained it by admitting that he was constantly praying as he was going through the service. It’s a rare gift to be so involved, I think. I have seen dozens of priests over the years, and Larry gave me the feeling of newness more than anyone else.
                I had been baptized Episcopalian, but raised in a non-doctrinal church. So when the time came to become a member of St. Stephen’s, Larry was excited that I had never been confirmed. He gave me confirmation classes, and answered my many questions about the Episcopal church. The more I learned, the more I grew to love the church. At one point I called him, and I said I wanted to do more for the church (thinking of volunteering in some way). He told me he wanted me to help at the altar. This is not what I had in mind, but I couldn’t turn him down. I soon discovered that assisting him was particularly fulfilling to my growing faith. There was something about being personally involved in the service that made it even more meaningful. I have found other ways to do the work for the church I was interested in, but I remain helping at the altar and am thankful to Larry for inviting me there in the first place.
                He also was a good friend to my partner Mary and me. When he lived in the rectory, he invited us over for dinner a few times. The furnishings reflected his religious feelings, and he had a piano which he would play for us. Mary said she wished he would adopt us, so we could live there with him. We returned the favor by taking him out to lunch a number of times, and the conversations were always fascinating. When he retired from St. Stephen’s, he happened to move into the apartment building next to mine, so we have been able to keep in touch.
                Last year, my 20-year-old car died, and I haven’t been able to replace it. He immediately volunteered to lend me his car when I needed it. I wasn’t sure if I should accept, but he said to me, “But I want to help!” His generosity and friendship have meant much to me than I would have ever expected when I walked into St. Stephen’s to review it all those years ago. I saw him last about two weeks ago. He has struggled with his health the last few years, but the last couple of times I saw him, he was feeling very well and energetic. We talked about how the three of us (Larry, Mary and I) should go out for dinner soon.  I was shocked to learn on Sunday of his passing, but I know God has welcomed him and that he suffers no longer. I hope I am blessed to see him when I join him on this journey.

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