Last weekend, I got a surprising phone call. An important man in my life had passed away.
No, it wasn’t my husband. Or my son. Or my dad. It was Father John—more formally, the Rev. John P. Roof—the priest who held my attention with his infectious laugh, his sometimes-off-kilter sense of humor, and his genuine love for all mankind for the first 34 years of my life. (And then some…but he was only my “official” priest for the first 34 years.)
Father John picks up his granddaughter at his retirement reception in 2009.
Father John was the longtime rector of St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Danville, Ind., until he retired in 2009. It was at this church where I was baptized as a child, where I earned camperships to Waycross Camp in my youth and where I came running back in 2004 when I realized, after several years away, that I needed God in my life if I was going to survive tough times.
Father John performed our wedding ceremony (along with my husband’s pastor at the time, Mike Thornburg) and those of my two sisters to their husbands, baptized Gabe and Ella as wee little ones and always made us feel at home when we showed up on Sunday mornings.
He served as a reference for me when I applied for a job at Christ Church Cathedral, even though I was probably only a vague memory for him at the time. I turned that job offer down, but when I applied for another at the same church years later (this time after having returned to St. Augie’s), he put in a few good words for me. I have no doubt that his approval carried some weight. He was respected and well known in the central Indiana Episcopal community.
He remembered who I was and welcomed me back with open arms after I had spent several years away from church, without so much as a question as to why I might have left or what I was doing in those missing years. He made me feel like he was just genuinely glad to see me back. And I think he was.
One of my many fond memories of him was when he gave the kids a ride in his golf cart (lovingly nicknamed the Canterbury Chariot). Other fond memories include his many sermons (always good for a laugh, they were), his hugs at the back of the church on Sunday mornings (we all waited patiently in line each week to have a chance to say hello, share a smile and get a hug) and his retirement gathering (where I was touched by the number of people who came out to say a word of thanks to this wonderful man). It was always clear that Father John was full of love—and well loved by all who came to know him.
This is just a piece of the line at Father John’s retirement reception in 2009. The reception lasted for hours, with people lined up patiently to shake his hand, get a hug, share a story and hear his fabulous laugh.
Father John was a lovable man who was a clear picture of the love that Jesus Christ asks us all to share with the world. For years, he performed weekly church services and loved the inmates at the women’s prison. He joined gays and lesbians in commitment ceremonies because he wanted to honor their love for each other. He loved us all—no matter our backgrounds, our faults or our tendencies.
And we, the community of St. Augustine (past and present), the Danville community, the Episcopal community and so many more, loved him back.
I haven’t been a member of St. Augustine for the past two years. We left after he retired—but not because he retired. Our family simply needed to find a church home that was fitting for all of us and our changing spiritual needs—and we’re very happy where we are now. But I consider myself a part of the St. Augustine community, albeit a former one, and I am praying that God will bless each of us during this time, reminding us all of God’s peace, and helping us take comfort in knowing that He simply called Father John home.
I am praying especially for his wife Midge (who loves the St. Augie’s community as much as Father John did), his children, John, Josh and Missy, his grandkids and the rest of his family. Their hearts must feel an unimaginable ache right now. I’m praying for strength, peace and the desire to draw nearer to each other and to God in this tough, tough time.
I am thankful that the horrible disease that claimed Father John’s life took it quickly, in just a matter of days, so that Father John would not know an extended period of suffering. I have no doubt that God had a hand in that.
Those who loved Father John miss him already, and will continue to miss him, regardless of how frequently (or infrequently) we’ve seen him over the few years since his retirement. He made a mark in the world, blessing all of those with whom he came into contact. If only we could all do the same.
Lots of love to the Roof and St. Augustine church families.