Funk on Faith

Godspeed to Dave, Don and three Charlotte pastors

After 33 years, the nation says goodbye to David Letterman as he ends his final broadcast of the “Late Show With David Letterman” on Wednesday (May 20, 2015) at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York.
After 33 years, the nation says goodbye to David Letterman as he ends his final broadcast of the “Late Show With David Letterman” on Wednesday (May 20, 2015) at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. TNS

I’ve always thought there was something deeply spiritual in a heartfelt farewell.

And I’ve been sensing that a lot more lately.

I even felt a tug in that direction this week while participating in the culture’s ritualistic so-long to David Letterman and those wounded survivors on “Mad Men.”

Nothing churchy about either TV show, but saying goodbye to people, even fictional ones, who you’ve gotten to “know” over time can move the soul and leave you feeling thankful for what their stories and humor have taught you about yourself.

I’ve also been pondering the spiritual side of leave-taking at the news that three Charlotte houses of worship – including my own – are saying farewell to pastors who, through words and example, have brought their flocks closer to God.

My inner stirrings make sense. After all, saying goodbye in some languages was once akin to offering a blessing.

To bid adieu, as the English did centuries ago, owes something to the French, where the word for God is “Dieu.” In Spanish, too, there’s a short distance between “Dios” (God) and adios (goodbye).

Goodbye itself was, once upon a time, shorthand for “God be with you.” And farewell = “fare well.”

Then there’s my favorite blessing/send off: “Godspeed.” That’s my wish for these pastors:

▪ The Rev. Al Cadenhead, 67, recently retired from Providence Baptist Church after 17 years.

During his tenure, the moderate Baptist church paid off its debt, added a new Children’s Building, mounted a capital campaign to pay for major renovations, and built up its mission projects.

The 2,100-member church went all out – and then some – to honor Cadenhead, who was also a longtime columnist for the Observer’s Faith & Values section.

There was a 5K run in his honor. Mayor Dan Clodfelter named April 26 – the pastor’s last Sunday in the pulpit – “Al Cadenhead Day.” And the church named part of its driveway Cadenhead Way. According to the church magazine, the driveway “is not a straight line and it is not one way. Rather it is a gentle and trusted path.”

▪ The Rev. Thomas Kort, 68, will retire June 14 from Sardis Presbyterian Church.

He’s been there 27 years and is only the 12th pastor since the church’s founding in 1790. Kort has emphasized outreach and the 2,400-member church has been active in a host of ministries, including the Urban Ministries Center and Room in the Inn. He’s also been a builder, with four capital campaigns.

Kort will be moving to New Jersey, where he’ll become director of donor relations at his alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary. But before then, the congregation will fete him with a luncheon. He’s already offered his parting advice: “Strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak and care for those who suffer.”

▪ The Rev. Pat Earl, 73, is leaving St. Peter Catholic Church on June 15 after six years at the uptown parish. Founded in 1851, it’s Charlotte’s oldest Catholic church and – full disclosure – it’s where I’m a happy member.

Under Earl’s leadership, the church has grown from 800 families to more than 1,700. And St. Peter has attracted an increasing number of young people who live uptown.

Like Pope Francis, Earl is a Jesuit priest and popular homilist (Catholic lingo for preacher) who has stressed social justice, service to the poor and an open-arms policy to all.

On May 31, St. Peter will celebrate Earl and, in his honor, dedicate a bronze sculpture of St. Alberto Hurtado, a Jesuit who opened houses for the poor in his native Chile. Inscribed on the sculpture (in the church garden by The Green) is this quote from Hurtado: “I hold that every poor man, every vagrant, every beggar is Christ carrying His cross.”