Last week a friend and mentor went home to God. Somehow, Fr. Jerry Appelby’s sickness and death has truly been an integral part of my journey of faith these last few weeks. I know that I am a better minister of God’s Word because I knew Jerry. I know that some of my leadership skills are more finely tuned because I worked side by side with him.
Fr. Jerry served as Sacramental Minister in the parish where I served as the Pastoral Administrator. He was devoted to his ministry of presiding, preaching and sharing the sacraments of healing; reconciliation and anointing. He faithfully celebrated funerals, baptisms and weddings whenever we needed him. This ministry was one he took up in his retirement and he wanted to be grounded in one community where he could be a part of the life of that community as much as he was able. I had never been a Pastoral Administrator before and I wanted this relationship between us to work out. I started out rather tentative about the lines between his “job” and mine so as to not cross the line and cause hurt or even harm. He immediately put me at ease and encouraged me to take on my role wholeheartedly. He often would say: “Karen, you do x, y or z – you are the leader of this community.” He taught me how to be partners in ministry and how to respect the gifts of everyone on the team.
As I reflect on the many gifts Fr. Jerry was to the Church, the one that is most valuable and some might say, most unusual, is that he possessed the ability to see the gifts of others, identify them and call them into service. Looking around the Church at his funeral I saw so many current and past ministers in our Church, ordained and lay who were there because somehow their vocation to ministry was called forth by Jerry Appleby. He never hoarded the gift, but always seem to be ready to encourage others and urge them forward. He invited countless people to some sort of ministry that often grew to something more. The halls of the seminary and classrooms of both degree and certificate programs in lay ecclesial ministry were often populated by those whose gifts had been noticed by him.
On the day of Fr. Jerry’s funeral, we gathered to hear the scriptures and sing hymns that conjured thoughts of the gift of the ordained priesthood and in particular the celebration of the Eucharist and the reception of Christ’s body and blood as nourishment for our souls. Jerry was nourished by this sacrament time and again and to him, there was no sweeter, richer fare possible. We also celebrated the priesthood shared by all the baptized. Jerry celebrated this mystery in all its fullness. He was confident in the care of his God and this allowed him to not be threatened by the gifts of others. In fact, it was just the opposite. He delighted in the many gifts available in the community, just waiting to be shared. What a wonderful legacy indeed!