Wednesday, June 5, 2012– William H. Danforth wrote, “One enkindled spirit can set hundreds on fire.” I can think of no more enkindled spirit than that of my beloved father-in-law, Russell Clark, who died this past Sunday morning at home, surrounded, as he was his whole life, by loved ones, enkindled spirits all. My brother- and sister-in-law were beside him, another sister-in-law out in the garden cutting luminous yellow irises, yet another sister-in-law just moments away in her car. Russ’ son Bruce, my beloved, was at that moment beginning worship here on my behalf, at the same time Russ had begun worship on countless Sunday mornings.
Russell had served United Methodist Churches in northern and central New York for over 40 years “officially,” and many more years after he retired, supply-preaching, doing weddings, funerals and baptisms. In places few people outside the area would know–like Oriskany Falls, Deansboro, and Pulaski, NY–and in places which are perhaps more widely known, like Watertown, Corning, and Potsdam, NY–Russ brought his enkindling spirit with both intellect and wisdom, passion and studiousness, expansiveness and appreciation for the humble people and things of life.
Born on a farm in Nowhere, Northern New York, into a family that wrote love letters in Latin verse, Russ went to Colgate University and then on to Boston University School of Theology, putting himself through school on his intellectual and musical abilities. He became a Methodist minister, falling into it as much as being “called” into it, as his father and grandfather and maybe great-grandfather had been Methodist ministers. He would have made a wonderful doctor or professor or anything else he chose to do, but he healed and taught through his ministry.
I honestly believe no one who heard Russell Clark preach remained unchanged. “I’ve never heard a preacher like that,” people would say, or “I’ve never had so much fun in church,” or “I will never forget that sermon about…” I daresay Russ enkindled thousands of spirits.
The real enkindling fire in Russ’ life was the Love which he experienced in his family–his life partner and sweetheart June, his five children, eleven grandchildren, and four-plus great-grandchildren, not to mention all of us “out-laws,” as those of privileged to marry into the family like to call ourselves. Each one felt special. Each one knew we were unconditionally loved by him.
We have had the rare privilege of saying good-bye to Russ over these past months when we knew that his cancer would someday overwhelm his body, though never his spirit. It has been a heart-breakingly sweet time. So now we must let him go, knowing that, really, he is now part of that greater Presence. With Dag Hammerskjold we say, “For all that has been, Thank You. For all that will be, Yes.”