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Remembering Irene

Irene Murray

February 1, 1927 - June 20, 2022

I first met Irene on July 1, 2009 at choir practice during my first week as pastor. Irene sat in the front row of the choir, just where she always did. The same place she sat when I last saw her—about eight weeks ago. Irene loved the choir, and she especially loved to hear the guys in the back row sing. And every once in a while, Wally (our choir director) would pick out an anthem that had a bit of rhythm to it—we would dig out a tambourine and try to get Irene to play it. I would joke with her, suggesting that we would bring some white go-go boots for her to wear when she played it.

Irene prepared for our service every Sunday morning. She was there early with her bulletin in hand, the pages of the hymns bookmarked, and the choir anthem placed in her folder. She was ready! It was a habit that she traced back to her days as a surgical nurse at Martha Jefferson Hospital.

I loved the group photo of Irene with a number of her nurse colleagues. This picture still hangs in the hallway of the hospital. It must have been taken in the late 50s or early 60s--the nurses were all wearing their white nursing outfits, including the caps that used to be standard attire for nurses.

Irene’s focus on caring was not limited to people; she also was fond of caring for dogs. Irene was our “go to” person to care for our Shih Tzu/Bichon Frisé mix that our daughter named Angel. Irene always insisted that we give her precise directions for Angel’s care—what to feed her, when and how much, and Irene always asked us to bring Angel’s crate, leash and a favorite toy. She wanted Angel to feel at home. But the strangest thing happened when we would bring Angel back home from staying with Irene. Angel all of a sudden had the audacity to think she could demand handouts from the table during dinner and that she was entitled to a place on our bed at night. When we asked Irene about these habits, Irene lowered her eyes and smiled meekly with a look that said “I’m guilty!”

That’s how Irene was. She always seemed to be transparent. If she was angry, she showed it. If she was sad, she showed it. If she was happy, she was over the top happy and she showed it.

I noticed, especially in my later years as pastor at Cunningham, that Irene would pull me aside on her way out the door, take my hand, thank me for the sermon, and tell me that she now understood for the first time that she was a child of God, that God loved “even her.” This happened not once, not twice, but probably at least half a dozen times.

Sometimes I wondered if she might be experiencing the onset of senior memory issues. But it occurred to me eventually that she might have kept repeating this—not because of senior moments but because of human moments. Like all of us, she needed to be reminded of who she was. It wasn’t new information; it was a reaffirmation of the timeless truth that she wanted to hear over and over again. We all need to be reminded of who we are: children of God!

When I was preparing some memories to share at Irene’s Memorial Service, I looked back at the notes and cards that the people of Cunningham gave me when I retired for the first time in 2019. I found Irene’s note, in which she wrote: “Pastor Tom, You taught me that I AM A CHILD OF GOD!”

Yes, Irene, you are a child of God. You fully mastered the lesson taught in 1 John 3:1: "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"

But Irene has gone before us to master a second lesson that 1 John teaches--the lesson of moving from being “children of God” to becoming fully like Christ. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2).

I hope that when the day comes for me to master that next lesson, that Irene will be there to greet me, fully prepared with her bulletin in hand, hymnal bookmarked, wearing some white go-go boots, playing the tambourine and sneaking food to Angel from the table at the heavenly banquet!

This post was adapted from a remembrance shared during Irene's Memorial Service held at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia on July 8, 2022.

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