My maternal grandmother, whom we called Mammy, died on December 21. I got the phone call only a few minutes before I was going to begin my Yule celebrations. Somehow, I didn’t feel “in the mood” after that.
Rev. Sanders at Church of the Good Shepard in Alburtis, PA–where Mammy was a member of the choir for many years until her health prevented her from doing so–shared a side of my grandmother that I knew very little about: her faith.
Rev. Sanders shared some of his own memories of Mammy. He talked about the joy in which she approached her faith and how her joy was shared with the others in the congregation. He laughed, reminiscing about her off-color jokes in the parking lot after services. And, especially, he remembered how much she loved to sing.
While my mother’s family was Christian, my mother converted to Judaism when she met and married my father. My family practiced Judaism well into my teenage years, but after we moved from one house to another in 1990, we became somewhat less observant. We were never the most ardent members of the Jewish community, but we kept a kosher household and kept the performed the at-home, Friday night sabbath services until then. Shortly thereafter, I was moved into the Bar Mitzvah phase of Jewish adolescence; afterwards, I drifted away from that religion.
We were not unaware of the Christianity that one half of my family (and the larger half by far) practiced, but it wasn’t our religion. Neither my mother nor my father tried to hide us from Christianity–I remember the baptism of my cousins, for example–but it was just something that other people did, even if some of those people were relatives.
Here I was, at Mammy’s funeral, and I was learning new things about her. As the pastor described her joy in singing, I decided to sing along with the hymns, though they were not my own, though they references a god to which I am not devoted; I did so in honor of my grandmother.
And, then it struck me. Here was a woman who had lived her whole life as a Christian, but she had a Pagan grandson. Her daughter had married a Jew whose sister and brother-in-law attended the service. There was at least one Catholic in the room (my partner), and I suspect that there was at least one who no longer believes in any god at all. She was a woman, who’s faith was very important to her, who was surrounded by a multi-faith community (and family). Mammy was born in the midst of the Great Depression surrounded by family and friends of Pennsylvania Dutch descent, likely all Christian, who ended her life among many of the same, but also at least a few others of sometimes wildly different faiths.
We so often hear stories of situations where the different religions of the world exist in conflict with one another. But at that moment, in that church, surrounded by family and friends, I was reminded that, while we might be climbing different mountains, we are still human. We live, we laugh, we grieve, and we mourn together.