Father McKenzie

cemeteryI serve a small congregation on the outskirts of a village in Northern Virginia. To describe the churchyard as picturesque just doesn’t do it justice. There are towering oaks on the property that are as old as our little chapel (125 years). It’s quiet and peaceful, belying the fact that it’s a suburb of DC.

On the southern edge of the two-acre plot lies a fifty-foot strip of land dedicated in 1891 to be a cemetery. Although I don’t have time to do it often, I love to putter around the property doing a little groundskeeping every now and then. It’s quite therapeutic.

I was doing just that a few days ago when I discovered a song rattling around inside my head. I realized immediately that I subconsciously hear it every time I work in the graveyard. The song is the old Beatle tune, Eleanor Rigby.

The composition is about lonely people in general. But there’s a specific part of the number dedicated to a fictitious clergyman by the name of Father McKenzie. The particular line I always think of at times like those says this:

“Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved”McCartney

Said dirt was from the grave of Eleanor Rigby—one of the lonely people mentioned in the song. As I wipe the dirt of our cemetery from my hands, I often think that (in some small way) I’ve become Father McKenzie.

It’s not that I’m lonely—far from it. But I’m now sixty-six years old. The majority of my life has passed (I assume), and I find pleasure and solace in trimming trees at gravesites. Father McKenzie I presume.

Maybe the saddest line in the song is the phrase that asserts, “no one was saved.” It’s almost a throwaway line, but it stands out to me. I think it says more about the Beatles than it does about lonely people. Since the people mentioned in the song are fictitious, it’s easy to say they weren’t saved. It’s their song, after all.

Still, there’s an underlying current that smacks of hopelessness. It seems to strongly imply (if not downright proclaim) that Father McKenzie is wasting his precious time. His life amounts to nothing, and his ministry is bogus. Obviously, I disagree.

FatherMcKenzieThe Beatles have been one of my favorite bands since they burst upon the scene in the sixties. I love their music (their judgment of other peoples’ usefulness not withstanding). They helped to shape my teenage years. Hence, they made me feel really bad for the lonely priest in their song. Now, in some ways, I’m him.

The Father McKenzie of song darns his own socks and writes sermons that no one will hear. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, and hopefully never will. Still, that day may be on the horizon. In the meantime, I’ll find fulfillment in writing, preaching, and cleaning up around the tombs. Someone may even be saved.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

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