Teri Orr: By and by Lord
Sunday in the Park
Park Record columnist
My co-worker and I were sitting in my office recently when a knock came on the frame of my open door.
A tall man with a kind face suddenly filled the frame. I jumped up — we embraced — and I asked him what he was doing in town and how long was he staying — in one breath.
He said he was on his way out of town; he had only been here for a brief, kinda send-off.
A Park City friend was dying and he had come just to “sing him home.”
I asked about his family and, he, mine. And we kept hugging and promised to have another longer visit, like the one we arranged on the Colorado River two years ago with his wife, Heidi, and our friend, Sena.
He told me I looked happy. And I said the same to him. And we both knew the weight of our words. Then he gave me a new CD of his band, and we hugged some more and he left to drive home.
It all happened in a matter of minutes. My perplexed co-worker, still sitting in his chair in my office, asked, “Um, who was that?” And I said, “Oh, that was my minister.”
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s — here in Park City — all the churches were on Park Avenue in Old Town and the less than dozen folks who celebrated Passover held their Seder in the parish hall of the Catholic church.
My own checkered church history from California had included a mother who had never been Catholic, though her mother was, who had become what my friend called a “Country Club Christian.” Someone who dressed up for Easter and Christmas and used the church to marry and bury folks.
My own religious path included my California Mormon boyfriend in seventh grade, my Catholic grandfather on my father’s side — who I attended church with on occasion —and some Young Life meetings in high school.
My first marriage was in the community church my mother socialized with. When I moved to Tahoe from the Bay Area and I needed a preschool, I found one in the Lutheran church. I found a pastor who loved God and didn’t care about the particulars of structure.
He also saved my life.
When I confessed to him my marriage was abusive, he didn’t try to make me stay in it. He quietly helped me out.
I was invited to the community church my first week in Park City. And we went. But it wasn’t a fit. And we went to the tiny Lutheran church shared by the Episcopal church, and we went to the Catholic one, too. I got remarried by a Catholic priest — who waved my first marriage away — in the courtyard of the old Kimball Art Center.
We ended up back in the Lutheran church for a while and then the Community Church, which is where I was when the new minister came to town.
He was newly single, and all the single women in town found religion that year. Mark met a woman in a national park on vacation and was smitten with her. She came out to visit and we loved her, but she needed a job or would have to return to California.
She was well educated, over educated for the job I offered her: a beat reporter. I was, by then, the editor of this paper. She turned out to be more than good; she was award- winning. They married and I got divorced. Again.
In those early Park City years — in our late 30s/early 40s — we had endless potluck dinners with kids and dogs and bottles of wine of no discernible vintage. And music.
Mark with his mandolin. We sang off key with great enthusiasm. Nobody was checking any devices because they didn’t exist yet. Yes, I’m just that old.
But it was a halcyon time. Except for the broken-hearted parts. And Mark helped me through that roller coaster sadness. And when I was stronger, I helped him with his very private depression.
A couple of times he asked me to fill in with a sermon when he traveled. Eventually the weight of a congregation — grown so much so fast as the town was growing — caused us to launch a campaign to build the first church outside of the city limits on what we now call The Highway to Heaven. The Community Church is there, ditto the Lutherans and Catholics and even a Jewish Temple. And, of course, the Episcopalians: The Church of the Blue Roof we named it, since it was close to that gas station.
When Mark took a calling in Colorado, it was the same year I left the paper. Our other friends Robin and John — she another reporter for this paper and her husband a Delta pilot — moved to Georgia.
Our friend Sena, my county reporter, married to a Delta pilot, was named editor.
I remember that last dinner around my same dining room table where we sang and told stories and cried a bit and wondered what was next.
We all lost track for a while. Busy with our new lives and responsibilities with kids and just life. A Christmas card most years. Sometimes a letter. Mark came back for a long weekend with Heidi and he married my son. He still struggled with depression. I had some serious health issues.
The magic of the internet reconnected us all. And we have stayed in touch through Facebook, emails and, on very rare occasions, a visit.
I popped Mark’s CD in my car the other day and his bluegrass band sang “May the Circle Be Unbroken.” And I cried and laughed on my drive home. And I said a little prayer, about my blessed life that finds us all connected again. And for all those Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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