Dudne M. Breeze (1938-2020) A Remembrance

Greetings from the Berkshire Hills. I’m Rick Floyd and I’m Pastor Emeritus of the First Church of Christ in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

It will be 50 years ago next year that I walked down the Andover Newton hill and took the MBTA from Newton Centre to Newton Highlands for a job interview to run a coffee house at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church.

I was twenty-two and a new college graduate and a first-year student at seminary. I wasn’t sure what I was doing there. I had more questions than answers, and was searching for something, and I wasn’t sure what for. My mother had died when I was eighteen and I was still a bit lost.

When I got off the T and walked the one block to the church it was dark, and I was comforted by the sight of a lighted stained-glass window. I was a child of the church and it felt like home.

That night when I met the committee, I met two people who would change my life. One was Martha Talis, a youth representative to the Youth Ministry Committee, and now my wife of 44 years, and the other was Pastor Dudne Breeze.

I liked Dudne immediately. He met me where I was, and supported me in my coffee house ministry. After that first year I told him I wasn’t sure about a calling to ministry and whether I should stay in seminary. He offered to let me do a year’s internship with him, and so I did. I shadowed him for a while as he made his pastoral rounds, and then he turned me loose to go by myself. That year I preached my first sermon. I wrote my first pastoral prayer. I attended my first church meetings. I led a Bible Study.

It was a trap, of course, I see now, but by the end of that year what had seemed like a sane possibility seemed a providential inevitability. I had a calling.

I stayed at the church for three years and watched and learned from Dudne. Four years after that first interview, I was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in that church. Dudne preached the sermon. He admonished me to be “A Minister of the Word of God.” Only years later did I realize how wise that was, and how hard that would be. The next year he officiated at my wedding to Martha.

What was it about Dudne that made him such a good model and mentor? For one thing, he was comfortable in his own skin, and never tried to be something he wasn’t. He never condescended to me. He always listened. Sometimes he would say, “There’s a lot of truth to what you are saying.” He modeled for me a ministry of encouragement that I tried to emulate in my own ministry.

Dudne was wise as well as smart. He always had my back. When I preached my first sermon, I owned no dress shoes, so I wore my new work shoes under my borrowed pulpit robe. One of the ladies in the choir told me that it didn’t bother her, but “other people” had complained that I wasn’t attired properly. I told Dudne about her comment, and he said, “Ah. The old form over content disease.”

Dudne was a thoughtful and engaging preacher and I learned much of what is good about my own preaching from him. In the parsonage in Newton Highlands there was a guest bedroom, sometimes used by his mother-in-law. Dudne read voraciously and would clip articles from newspapers and magazines that he thought he might use in a sermon. He would toss the clippings into the bathtub in the guest room for research later. Unfortunately, when his mother-in-law visited, he had to gather them all up.

Dudne supervised numerous Andover Newton Theological School seminarians and he was also adjunct professor of homiletics. He mentored many of them, and a number of them were ordained at the Newton Highlands Church.

He was a kind and compassionate pastor. He walked beside me through some tough times in my life. He was always ready to answer my youthful questions with clear and concise answers. I once asked him what God is like? He said “God is like Jesus!” I once asked him if God punishes us for our sins? He said, “Sin is its own punishment.”

After my graduation Dudne remained a valued friend and interlocutor of mine. He and Gail visited us many times, as they had previously served a congregation in Pittsfield and loved the Berkshires. We shared many meals, many lively conversations, and even went skiing with them.

He always like to tell the story of coming down to the breakfast table early one morning and my daughter Rebecca was there with a book. She must have been five or six. She said, “What are you reading, Dudne?” My daughter, now a United Church of Christ pastor, was once an active member of your congregation in Cambridge, where she reconnected with Dudne and Gail. They came to her ordination in Westport, CT in 2013. I have a lovely picture someone took from the balcony of Dudne laying hands on my daughter as he once did at my ordination thirty seven years earlier.

When I started my own pastorates, Dudne was one of my go-to phone calls whenever I found myself in the “deep weeds” of pastoral ministry.

Dudne really loved his family. I recall visiting him at the parsonage one evening before he put the boys to bed, and he was roughhousing on the floor with them to squeals of delight, while Gail calmly went about her business. He was devoted to Gail, whom he often called “The Lithuanian.” I once asked him what the secret of a good marriage was and he said, “Marry a Lithuanian!”

His son Andy wrote a lovely letter about him that said Dudne had “a life well lived.” I heartily agree with that, and I would add that his was no only a life well-lived, but “a life well-lived” with great enthusiasm.

Dudne loved life. He loved not only his family and his calling, but also ideas. He read voraciously and subscribed to numerous magazines. He was intellectually curious and always interested and open to the new. He loved the movies, especially off-beat avant-garde ones. He put me on to Martin Scorese’s very first film, “Mean Streets.” He loved to go to Harvard Square to watch a film.

He loved cities and all the cultural amenities they offered. He had gone to Union Theological Seminary in New York City toward the end of its heyday, and he had been friends with some avant-garde artists such as Al Carmines of Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in Greenwhich Village. He loved jazz and recalled his student days in New York where he could go to jazz clubs and hear Miles Davis and Billie Holliday. Dudne could spend hours perusing the used books at the legendary “Strand Bookstore.”

Dudne had a great sense of humor, a great big laugh, and also a wry little chuckle. His signature parting was an enthusiastic “See you soon!”

Now Dudne joins that great cloud of witnesses who surround us as we walk in our faith journey. I give thanks to God for him. I will miss him. I’m not sure what happens to us after we die, but my faith assures me that someday we will be reunited in Christ. So, my friend, Goodbye for now: “See you soon!”

(These are my words of remembrance for Dudne M. Breeze at his Memorial Service at First Church of Christ in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 12, 2020. My remarks were recorded in Pittsfield, MA.)

“By the River” A Sermon on Acts 16: 9-15 and Revelation 22: 1-5

You may have noticed there is a lot about rivers in the service. A river is featured prominently in both our readings for today. One is an actual river in the ancient city of Philippi, where Paul went to pray, and where he met Lydia. The other river is from John the Divine’s vision of the New Jerusalem, where a river runs through the heavenly city. Continue reading

My Blog is Ten Years’ Old: A Retrospective

In the Beginning: 2009-2010

I’d like to thank all of you who have dropped by this blog over the years. It is hard for me to believe a decade has passed since I began it. I started to write again as a personal act of healing which in time morphed into a new chapter of my ministry. Continue reading

“Unfinished Business” A Devotion on 1 Corinthians 3: 6

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”—1 Corinthians 3: 6

At the beginning of my ministry I taught myself to cook. I was serving two small congregations in rural Maine. I was single then and rattling around the parsonage, so to keep myself occupied (and fed) I started reading various cookbooks and trying out different recipes. Continue reading

Remembering Horace T. Allen (1933-2019)

My friend Horace Allen died on February 5. Horace was an important ecumenical Christian scholar of worship and liturgy.

The Reverend Doctor Horace Thaddeus Allen. Jr. received his B.A. from Princeton University, his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and his Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary. Continue reading

“Small Beginnings” A Baptismal Sermon on Mark 4:30-34

Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” —Mark 4:30-34 Continue reading

Gabriel J. Fackre (1926-2018) A Remembrance

I head down to Cape Cod this weekend to mourn the death and celebrate the life of my friend Gabe Fackre. Gabe was very important to my life. I knew him first as my seminary teacher, then my mentor, later a faithful colleague and a life-long friend. Most of all he encouraged me again and again in my ministry. Continue reading

A Tribute to Meredith Brook “Jerry” Handspicker 1932-2016

Jerry(We had a beautiful and moving Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving for the life of Jerry Handspicker this afternoon at the Second Congregational Church, UCC, of Bennington, Vermont. The Pastor, the Reverend Mary H. Lee-Clark, presided and delivered a fine homily. Jerry was Professor of Practical Theology at Andover Newton Theological School for 36 years, my former teacher, colleague and a family friend. I was asked to give one of the remembrances. Here are my remarks:)

I’m Rick Floyd. Jerry was my teacher, my colleague and my friend. I knew Jerry for 45 years through many ups and downs and changing experiences of life.

I met him when I arrived at Andover Newton in 1971. That very first week I applied for a field education position, running a coffee house (that dates me!), at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church. There were two token youths on the search committee, Amy Handspicker and her best-friend Martha Talis. By Amy’s telling they judged I was hip enough for the job, and convinced the skeptical grown-ups that I was their man.

Thus began a long association with that congregation, where Jerry was the associate pastor, and with the Handspicker family. Jerry and Dee embodied what today we would call “radical hospitality,” and I had many a dinner with them and Amy, Jed and Nathan. I once briefly lived in their attic! (And I wasn’t the only one.) Continue reading

“Holy Weeping” A Sermon on Romans 12: 9 -18 and Revelation 21:1-4

CryOur two scripture readings today both speak about crying. The first reading speaks to the church on earth today, what I was taught as a child to call the church militant, and the second reading speaks to the church in heaven, what I was taught to call the church triumphant. Perhaps those terms are too martial for us today, but by whatever names it is the distinction between the church here and the church hereafter.

In the first reading Paul admonishes the Roman Christians on how to be the church now, and one of the things he tells them they need to do is to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.”

The second reading is from the Revelation of St John the Divine. I have a soft spot for the writings of St John the Divine, as I was baptized at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, which is the world’s largest gothic cathedral (so I come by my high church inclinations honestly.)

In this beautiful passage from Revelation, St. John describes the holy city, the New Jerusalem at the end of time and history. He says then there will be no more crying there because God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

So in engaging these two texts about the here and the hereafter, I started thinking about the function of crying in our lives, and especially in the church. I did a little research on crying, and discovered that we don’t know all that much about it. There are several competing theories about why humans cry, including those theories of evolutionary biologists who think it may have some social function. Continue reading

Norwood Days: We All have to Start Out Somewhere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all have to start out somewhere.

I was reminded of that today when a friend sent me a funny clip about church from Saturday Night Live and I immediately recognized that it had been filmed at the little church I grew up in.

I had seen rumblings about this on the Norwood Facebook page, that there had been a film crew at the Church of The Holy Communion, a beautiful Episcopal church in Norwood, a small town in Bergen County, NJ.

Both my parents were raised in Congregational churches (and my Mom was for a time a Methodist), but when my Mom beat the dust of the Midwest off her heels and moved to New York City she became an Episcopalian. Both my parents were, for a time, librarians at General Theological Seminary, an Episcopal school in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

They lived on the Upper West Side when I was born, which is how I came to be baptized at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, which if you’re keeping track of things like this, is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral.

Before I started school we moved to Closter, New Jersey, a little town in Bergen County across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan. My Dad was a commuter at the time, working downtown as the photo and caption editor for the Religious News Service, the public relations arm of the old National Conference of Christians and Jews.

While in Closter we attended the little church in Norwood, where my brother Bill was baptized, a very early memory of mine. My father, never baptized, was then a grumpy agnostic, and from him I learned to take both faith and doubt very seriously. My mother was devout and active in the church.

We moved to Norwood when I was in fifth grade, and then were within walking distance of our church.

I am sure there was sin, gossip, and the sundry pettiness that plagues every congregation of humans, but I felt loved and accepted there, and the fact that I ultimately became a Christian minister speaks well of their care and nurture for and of me.

The rector was a gentle, ancient man, Mr. (always “Mr.” as he was low church) John Foster Savidge. He had an odd way of speaking that I assumed was some kind of special ecclesiastical patois. Only years later did my Dad tell me he had CP and a resulting speech impediment. He was very kind to me, and one time when I was about 11 he came to call and neither of my parents were home. He treated me with great respect and dignity, and told me about his trips to England. Years later I had my own times living in Oxford and Cambridge.

His successor was The Reverend Robert Maitland, who was ironically more blue collar but also more high church and always “Father” Maitland.

It was under his care that I was confirmed. He was a very down-to-earth guy, much a contrast from the patrician Mr. Savidge.

When I was in high school my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. In those days cancer was an unmentionable and few adults talked to me about the prospect of her impending death. One was my beloved basketball coach, John Shine, and the other was Father Bob Maitland. He took me to lunch at the Red Coach Inn (any Bergen County folks remember that?). He showed me what a minister could be.

My Mom did die during my first weeks at college at the age of 53. Fr. Maitland presided at the service at the Church of the Holy Communion, to a packed house as only those who die too young can bring out. I was having none of this God who snatched away the most important person in my life.

But years later after a long and arduous faith pilgrimage (which is another story for another day) I came back to the church and to a calling as a minister, although in a different franchise.

So the Church of the Holy Communion remains one of my landmarks, a holy place. And since I always (usually) love SNL the confluence of these two made my day.

The little clip was a trip down memory lane. I took voice lessons from the organist, Walter Witherspoon, and saw the organ near where I stood for my first recital. I saw the lovely stained-glass windows. I wrote recently about the window dedicated to a  Sunday School classmate of mine who died in a sledding accident when I was in the second grade.

It has been years since I have been back there, but I thank God for the place and the people, mostly now in the church triumphant, that were there in my growing-up days.