A few days after my mother died in 1988, we were cleaning out her closet – which felt like a breach of privacy. But it proved to be a treasure chest of joys.
First – it smelled like her. Her clothing would not keep the scent of her perfume forever so we breathed it in while we could. We found Christmas gifts she had already purchased. (It was September.) And – best of all – we found letters written to my siblings “to be opened on their 16th birthdays” written by the Rev. Wilkes Macaulay on the days of their baptisms.
Mom had forgotten to dole them out on C, M, & S’s 16th birthdays, but we had them now. (I had been baptized by his predecessor.) Wilkes had written each letter about their baptism in hopes that – at the age of 16 – they would have confirmed the vows made for them when they didn’t yet know that they were loved by God.
Wilkes had just preached at Mom’s funeral and – unbeknownst to us – he would also preach at Dad’s funeral less than two years later, even though he was long retired. It was an immeasurably precious gift to us.
Because of that discovery of letters in Mom’s closet, I decided that I, too, would write letters to the children I baptized to be opened on their 10th birthday – believing that 16 was too long to wait.
I wrote baptism letters about who was there and what was promised and I included other details: if they wore a special family baptismal gown, how I met their parents, if they’d laughed during the sacrament. I would also tell them that, “now that they were ten and making some decisions for themselves, I hope they would also make faithful choices about who or what they would worship in their lives.”
Heavy thoughts for a ten year old, but I’ve found ten year olds to be wise and thoughtful and ready for some deep conversation.
Several times through the years, I’ve received letters from ten year olds telling me that they opened my letter and giving me an update on what they are doing these days. “You’ll be happy to know,” wrote one ten year old in 5th grade cursive, “that I have a really good life and my brother is not so bad.”
Wilkes Macaulay was a pastor’s pastor. Our families have known each other for over 60 years and we have experienced everything from church camp to weddings to funerals to conferences together. While he was the pastor of the church of my parents’ and grandparents’ and great-grandparents’, my Aunt Jane headhunted him to be her pastor down the road.
Wilkes died yesterday in North Carolina at the age of 91 and he leaves behind a rich legacy of love and generosity. He was one of my models for ministry.
I look forward to baptizing a baby this coming Easter Sunday – the daughter of two clergy friends who have their whole lives in front of them. And I’ll be writing a letter about that day for A in hopes she opens it on her tenth birthday.
Thanks be to God for life and death and resurrection and hope – even in dark days.
Image of Wilkes Macaulay (thanks Clay) when he was a young pastor in NC. Much love to his wife, children, and grandchildren.
Wilkes continued to learn. I got my letter from him on my 12th birthday. I still have it. Tom Carrigan
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Oh wow. What a lovely testimony to the communion of saints. That’s church right there. 💜
I missed this when you posted it, but E loved her letter. And M can’t wait to open hers…
This makes me so happy. Much love to all your family.