Pastor’s Blog: Forever Young

Now for the second time in just over a month a beautiful, vivacious woman of 62 has died.
First, it was Beth. She and I went to different high schools together, as they say. She was the quintessential teacher about whom most children can only dream. I met Beth and her husband Mike several years ago at a wedding for which I officiated at the Hilton on the Cape Fear in downtown Wilmington. After the ceremony, they introduced themselves to me as former members of St. Matt’s, the congregation I have served for almost 14 years now. We were laughing right away, and they returned to St. Matt’s after a long hiatus from church.
I learned Mike had been suffering with lupus for all but six months of their almost forty year marriage. Mike’s health declined, and eventually I conducted Mike’s funeral. For the next two years, Beth struggled with grief, with her mother’s Alzheimer’s and subsequent death, and then with her own cancer diagnosis. For about a year after surgery and treatment, Beth lived an almost normal life…whatever that is. And then cancer metastasized all over her body. She died just after Christmas. With her grown girls, we managed to give Beth a proper send-off. It was another hard day. I miss Beth and her great smile and the love she had for kids and for life.
Late this Wednesday, after a typically long day at church, I checked out the E-News from my hometown in Texas. As always, I went first to the obituaries. These days I find fewer and fewer folks there that I knew from childhood. But, then, my heart went up in my throat last night. “No!” There was Kathryn, a beautiful 62-year-old, who will always be one of the sweetest, lovely souls from high school days. I thought of her as one of the gorgeous twirlers in our marching band of about 100. After time together at Camp Fire camp, an old girlfriend jealously remarked that Kathryn woke up in the morning looking beautiful, her hair falling into place with just a shake of the head.
Because she was younger, I had forgotten Kathryn had been Homecoming Queen. Not a surprise in retrospect. I remembered going to her first wedding, a misbegotten mismatch. Our paths never crossed again in adulthood. But a couple of years ago we exchanged greetings on Linked-In. I commented on having enjoyed her cooking column in the hometown E-News. I had planned to stay in touch. But a pastor’s life is never short of opportunities, and our families often get the leftovers. We work the major holy days. And so on and so on and…
Several thousand years ago, the psalmist wrote: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (90:12). The tall skinny kid with long hair no longer looks back from my mirror. The thought of not growing old, common to my early adolescence, is an ancient memory. And now those of us for whom the first days of high school were a half-century ago would do well to contemplate that our hope for the future may be the stuff of Saint Augustine’s yearning, restless heart.
My last visit with Beth, before she moved to hospice, was just prior to Christmas. She said, “It went so much faster than I expected.” She asked me to sing “Forever Young” at her funeral, and so I did on the afternoon of Epiphany…hoping I might evoke the Oklahoma wail of the late Jimmy LaFave.
Beth and Kathryn will stay forever young in that new creation Jesus promises in Revelation 21. After the struggle, after the pain, after the broken hearts, yes, eternal Joy!
Rest eternal grant Kathryn and Elizabeth, O Lord, and let Light perpetual shine upon them. Amen. 
St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt


The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity ( In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.