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.)