My friends, in so many ways, doing a eulogy, making remarks of “Joys and Remembrances” for Callina McNair is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It is difficult because Callina was, is, a dear friend. In so many ways, doing a eulogy, making remarks of “Joys and Remembrances” for Callina McNair is an incredibly easy thing to do. It is easy because Callina was, Callina is, a remarkable human being whose humanity is marked with the finest attributes any person can have: love, compassion, friendship, and selflessness. Callina was, Callina is, a soul with a remarkable, highly developed and profoundly evolved faith, love, and witness for Jesus.
So my task this evening is hard.
So my task this evening is easy.
This evening, I propose to do two things. Actually, I will do three things, but the last thing I’ll do is try to tie the first two things together, and bring them to the beautiful conclusion Callina deserves. First, I will share with you my own personal, pastoral perspective of Callina. Above all, my perspective of Callina is the perspective of a friend. Second, I want to share with you words from other people, words of love for Callina. Callina’s beloved husband, Tim, is a dear soul friend of mine, and Tim is also a tremendous writer. Over the last few days, Tim has shared many precious words with me about his sweet lady, Callina, and I want to share some of Tim’s words with you, and I want to share them, by and large, in Tim’s own gifted words.
First, my words about Callina:
Written on Holy Saturday, March 26, 2016
At Books and Brews Coffee Shop, Hurricane, WV
The piano rested silently in its corner of the sanctuary. We had no one to play it. A couple of people had come and gone. They didn’t stay. The piano rested silently in its corner of the sanctuary, and its silence was deafening when we considered worshiping God without it.
Then, one day, Callina was there. The silent piano started to sing again, and its song was a song of love and praise to God. Before any of us ever really knew the sweet, humble soul at the keys, the short figure sitting on the piano bench, we knew the depth, the quality, the love of each note, each touch from her hands to the ebony and to the ivory.
Our church was large, both in size of the congregation and in the size of the building. I had already served as Associate pastor for nearly two years when Callina came to us. I could still get lost in the building, and I certainly still didn’t know the names of all the 700 members of our congregation.
Somehow, within a short amount of time—months to my years, part time at the church to my full time—Callina found out about people, their gifts and their graces, in a way I simply was not. For instance, Callina found out a man in our church, who silently, faithfully, attended church at the 9:00 service sang beautifully. He sang with the voice of a tenor angel, and no one knew it. No one knew it, because due to a disabling sickness and innate shyness, this gentleman was never going to draw attention to himself by voluntarily joining the choir say, or asking for a special solo. No one knew of this man’s gift of voice and song that is, until Callina and Tim heard him sing from his pew one Sunday morning. When the Spirit led she and Tim to start a men’s gospel group, they recruited this gentleman. He said yes, and he became a part of the community, the family of this church like never before. It wasn’t me, a pastor, or any other pastor, who lifted that man up and gave he and his wife so much hope, it was Callina. In lifting him up, Callina lifted the entire church up because God blessed the entire church with all the voices of all the vocalists in this church, including one man, one man who before Callina was there to listen, and to lift up by asking, simply sat, in silence.
Callina made other voices stand out. She started the Saturday Night Alive Gospel Group (SNAGG), and she always called them “her boys,” until she recruited a couple of ladies, too. Some of Callina’s greatest joys in her fruitful ministry in this church centered around that SNAGG group, watching it blossom and grow beyond the old Saturday night service here, into the Sunday services, as well.
Many times folks who were ill, or folks who were really struggling with something in their lives would receive one of Callina’s Prayer Bears before they received anything else from the church, including a pastoral call. Callina started the “Working Hands, Praying Hearts” ministry. With prayers and lots of love and skill, Callina made 500 of those little bears. She didn’t make them uniform, either, all one-and-the-same. Callina would find some way to make each of those bears unique to whatever the person was going through, or unique to their personality. I still cherish the little NASCAR race car driver Prayer Bear Callina and Tim gave to me once upon a time.
I observed Callina through the lens of friendship.
I observed, and marveled at Callina through the lens of ministry. Callina did ministry: loving, caring, authentic Christian ministry at LUMC, and I know, in Monroe County Schools, and in all the places she worked as a temp in North Carolina and New York. I knew the glimpses and snippets of Callina’s compassionate work I was seeing here in Lewisburg was merely the surface of tremendous depths of many years of self-giving and compassion as Callina’s hands, her heart, and her voice did service to Jesus from folks from Maine and New York City to North Carolina and Monroe County.
Authenticity is a word folks like to bandy about as an attribute they admire in other people. It’s funny: most people like authenticity in other people, yet in our media and social media saturated world, it really is getting harder and harder to be able to tell what truly is a candid photo and what absolutely is one staged to create the illusion of candor; who truly believes what they are saying, and who says what they say because it is expected, it is normative. How can one be truly authentic in an increasingly artificial world?
I loved Callina, I love Callina for so many of her positive, deeply human and Christ-attributes, including her authenticity. Callina and Tim McNair are just about as real of human beings as you can get. I mean that as a compliment. I mean it as one of the highest compliments I could ever give anyone.
On Wednesdays when I ran into Callina at The Wild Bean as she got herself caffeinated to keep up with the frenetic schedule here on Wednesday nights, or on Sunday mornings when I would come rambling up the steps, the bundle of raw, nervous energy that I am, I always found Callina real: real in her love; real in her peace; real in her dedication to doing what she was doing out of pure love for Jesus, and for Jesus’ church.
Callina and Tim’s home on Second Creek in Monroe County became for me over the years something of a sanctuary. Their lovely long cabin which is a perpetual renovation-in-progress is a real home, a home where friends are welcome, a home where friends are wanted. I ate some good food and had some wonderful conversations with Callina and Tim on that porch overlooking the emerald green meadows where cows and deer fed and where birds sang. That home, reflecting the heart of its owners, is an authentic place of welcome, nurturing care, and love. Callina loved that home, especially the porch. On that porch, she always marveled at the peepers, and the color and song of spring.
I was honored that my work as associate pastor of LUMC intersected with Callina’s work here. I was honored that the friendship Callina, Tim, and I built during our times working together here lasted long after I left. Callina and Tim visited, and sang in my church in Ona, Bethesda UMC. That little church between Milton and Barboursville, just this side of the Mud River outside Huntington, loves Callina too, and was blessed by her gift of song. We all met at Tamarack for lunch a few times over the years in between longer visits at home. As badly as she was beginning to feel, Callina still played for Kelly and my wedding, and she and Tim sang a song for us. We will always be grateful. We will always cherish that memory: Callina’s gorgeous playing, and the sound of Callina and Tim’s voices in sweet harmony together.
I will forever remember Callina as the sweet lady who made a silent piano sing again. I will remember Callina as the good soul who was always listening to others, always encouraging others—even me—to not be afraid to sing. It wasn’t performance. It wasn’t a show. It was worship. It was love. Every note, every word, every melody, every chord was to, and was for, Christ.
Now, those are my words for Callina.
Now, I want to share a few of Tim’s words. Then we’ll close with another couple of special words.
As I mentioned to you a few moments ago, Tim blessed me over the last week with words he wrote about his beloved wife, Callina. For Tim, I know this writing was cathartic; it was an emotionally healing process, and a labor of love. I thought about weaving some of Tim’s words among my own, but I finally decided that I wanted Tim’s words to stand on their own. A good man, a good husband has the right for his words about his beloved one to stand on their own.
About Callina’s gift of music, Tim writes:
Music was her JOY, her “direct line” to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For her, music was a solace, an inspiration, a solace, an anodyne for hurts caused by life’s pressures and injuries; and as important as it was for her personally, it was that service to God that drove her to do the best she could do, offer her own inspirations, to wrap the new in something comfortable, the old in something fresh, and to help provide the seamlessness of effective, corporate worship in loving and creative ways. She worked tirelessly, and recently, against the assaults on her energy and health to study, research, to arrange, play and even to compose music to best achieve an offering of types and styles of music, and to best deliver God’s Word and Love in song. She didn’t think that she was doing anything special—she saw it as “what she was supposed to do.”
Music for Callina was also the common language of Christians and other believers that she felt would make the world a better place, and which positions us in healthy associations, and the ability to all sing in the language of love.
Tim noted that Callina fell in love with music early in her life, and music took Callina to incredible places. In the magical city of New York, Callina worked in Harlem with the Boy’s Choir. Earlier in life she played the violin and was the fiddler in Fiddler On The Roof. She also taught at the Bridgeton Academy in Maine, and Tim once got to meet one of Callina’s former students, then a professional opera singer. Callina’s sister Sheryl said that when Callina played piano better than her after Callina had only been playing for a year and she had been practicing for ten years, “it pretty much showed the difference between art and skill.” At the piano, Callina was an artist.
Writing so beautifully about their courtship, Tim writes about how he and Callina met, through Callina’s work as the accompanist and choir director at a small Methodist church which Tim attended with his first wife Cassi. Callina was a friend to Tim and Cassi. When Cassi died, Callina was there to support Tim, along with the rest of the church. I’ll let Tim pick it up again from here. He writes:
After a respectful period, Callina sent me a card inviting gme to dinner and to sing, so I (since I don’t enjoy eating out as most folks do) invited her to bring her keyboard, and let me cook. That was it for me…I was praying to find someone and be spared the trauma of dating. She was praying to either be made happy to be single, or to find a man who wasn’t a ‘jerk,’ as she put it. A mutual friend was explaining to God how good it would be to put Callina and Tim together.
I know we are all grateful to that mutual friend, and her or his way of ‘splaining things to God.
As God brought Tim and Callina together, so God—our God of love!—brought Callina into Tim’s loving family. “She inherited the older boys at more advanced ages, and didn’t get to see them in infancy. As with the older boys, she and Ayden became fast friends, especially when she would get down and play cars or ball…or just patiently listen to the youthful explanations of life in general.” Thomas and Joseph spent lots of time with Callina doing arts and crafts, going to ceramic shops, and becoming experts in the board game, Sequence.
To her newfound daughter, Melanie, Callina helped further enrich a love for music, and for music theatre.
Callina came to her new relationship and deeply enriched my life and the lives of my family,” Tim writes. She was always able, throughout her journey to now, to find ways to keep the music going…
Keeping the music going. That is indeed what Callina did, and now in Christ’s heart and in Christ’s heaven, does. Callina keeps the music going.
Now, in closing, I want to share with you some other special words. As special as Tim’s words are, these words are even more special. They are Callina’s own words, in a testimony she gave here at LUMC, back in November. I was not able to be at worship that morning, although I desperately wanted to be, due to commitments and plans in my own church. I was able to be a part of it though, because Callina sent me a copy of her manuscript. I was honored when she did so. I am so grateful now that I forever have Callina’s written words for myself. Let us here again, in my voice, Callina’s voice:
She describes her love for her coworkers at Mountain View School, and she speaks of a bookmark a friend gave her, with the words of Proverbs 3:5 stitched on it. “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” That is how I have tried to live each day, trust the Lord with all my heart. What if this is not an earthly healing? Am I ready to die? One step in front of the other, no matter how tired, sick, or brain fogged. One foot in front of the other and trust that good will come out of this illness. Trust that God in some way will be glorified. To not trust God after all the blessings he has given me would be a rejection of Him and all he has brought me through in my life, and would be a great rejection of Him and all He’s given me. Not trusting God will only bring despair to me. I have to trust as his Beloved child that all he wants for me is good. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future, and a hope.”
Callina closed her testimony with an authentic, loving message that God loves us. “You see, I think that this life is a school, with one lesson to learn—how to love,” Callina wrote, and said that day. “I will trust God, because I know that I am his beloved child. I am loved by God!”
With her words, both written and played, Callina’s life was, and is, all about keeping the music going.
This evening, I close with words of peace and love, for you, for me, for Callina, for the world. These words are Callina’s, from her song, “Rest In The Arms of Jesus Today.”
Rest in the arms of Jesus today.
Rest in his peace, its just a moment away.
Today may be easy, or filled with dismay,
Just take a moment, and rest in the arms of Jesus, today.
In the name of ou