Bring him home

I met Jim Croom on a cold rainy Sunday in late November of 2016. Donald Trump had recently been elected president and after a few weeks of almost comatose like despair, I decided I needed to do something. Anything. So, I went back to church – a place I had not been in a while since leaving my old church when I moved from Greensboro to Winston Salem. My wife and I had been searching for a new church and we had never been to St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. They were welcoming a new interim rector that day – enter The Rev. Dr. James Croom.

Father Jim – yes, that’s what we called him because I couldn’t imagine calling him anything else – looked like he walked out of central casting for Anglicans in America. He was in his mid-60’s, an elegant and graceful man with a warm smile and a clever sense of humor. He was slender and slight, and he walked with a cane that first Sunday, but his voice carried into every corner of the church. We would later learn that he spent thirty years as a professional opera singer before being ordained – which made sense after hearing him beautifully intone part of the service. He celebrated communion with a euphoric reverence. And he read some of the liturgy in perfect Spanish. We were smitten from that first Sunday, but we admonished ourselves to not get too attached because he would be leaving in less than a year. We were able to hold fast to that promise for about 20 minutes until we heard him preach for the first time. We were goners.

That Sunday Father Jim delivered the sermon I didn’t know I needed to hear. He talked about his own pain about the recent election – his own tears, his own disbelief over what had happened. And he dared to ask the question that I had been struggling with every day since election day – “Where was God in all of this?” I will never forget his answer. He said, “God is here with us, the real question is where are we in all of this.” I have come back to his words time and time again over the past four years – most especially when unfathomable things have happened in our world. On that Sunday he didn’t sugar coat our challenge – he said it would be terribly difficult at times, but our charge was to “be the grace of God in the world.” So much for that eye for an eye mentality I had been hoarding. His words draped over me that day like a shawl that I kept clutching more closely.

Father Jim would preach many memorable sermons at St. Anne’s – often sitting on a stool in front of the congregation. He was a formal man, but so accessible and generous with his spirit. I loved so many things about him but none more than his ability to be so vulnerable in the moment. Often while reading the Gospel, he would be so moved by a passage that his voice would crack, and he would stop speaking and gently rest his hand on his heart while he regained his composure. He cried easily without shame or embarrassment. He was a saintly Velveteen Rabbit – and he became more real the more we loved him – and we felt his love in return. He embodied authentic kindness in a manner I have rarely encountered, and I always felt a bit lighter when I would leave him – as if he had somehow absorbed some of my burdens.

Father Jim gave us a going away present before he left – a mini concert. He sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables. If you are not familiar with the Gospel According to the Tony Awards, this song is performed by the musical’s main character, Jean Valjean, as he pleads to God to save another man’s life. It is a show-stopping prayer and let me just say with all due respect that Hugh Jackman is no Jim Croom. There was not a dry eye in the church. And we’re talking a room filled with Episcopalians.

God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there.

He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son.
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.   

Father Jim went home yesterday afternoon after a long battle with cancer. I will mourn his loss as will everyone who ever knew him, but I take comfort in one of the last messages he posted on his rector’s blog at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Monroe, NC.

“Thank you, dear Friends. As we enter the new year, please love as hard as you can, and know that my love for you grows every single day. May your days be fully and richly blessed. And know that I miss you.”

The Choirs of Angels just gained one hell of a tenor.

Amen.

14 thoughts on “Bring him home

  1. Dave & Patti Atkinson says:

    Thank you for your gentle and heart warming words. When Father Jim was preaching at Holy Trinity in Grand Rapids, Mi we were looking for a Church and a Cousin that attended church there asked us to come and hear this great Priest. Well, that is all we needed, was to hear Father Jim and continue on his Journey with him. We melted hearing him sing. Ava Maria, melt our hearts. We would have loved to hear him sing, Bring Him Home. One of my favorite songs. When I was in the hospital a few years ago, he sat by my bedside holding my hand and said, if you ever feel scared just say, The Lords Prayer. I to this day and forever, will never forget his words. As I go into surgery tomorrow, I will have Father Jim with me in my heart saying, The Lords Prayer. Until we meet again dear Father Jim, Rest In Peace in your new Heavenly Home. You are in our hearts forever❤️🙏

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your precious memories of Father Jim. I am making a note to say the Lord’s Prayer tomorrow with all good thoughts for a successful surgery. Peace to you.

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  2. Steve Clyburn says:

    A more heartfelt and touching description of our beloved Fr Jim is not possible…. thank you for this beautifully expressed and deeply shared sentiment. He interned during seminary at St Bede’s Menlo Park CA where my wife Gay and I knew and immediately got claimed by his loving persona and spirit, a true priest of the Divine. We retired back home to Monroe, and lo and behold, he was called to our St Paul’s!!! What a joyous time to have Jim and Stephanie huggable again… then alas, the time has been cut short, and I mourn the things we had planned to do, ideas realized, conversations anticipated, love and life to do together… yet he has accomplished his tasks in God’s great plan and timing, not ours, and that grief is my opportunity to be that better person I am for having him as long as we did. I know I keep very good company in this moment or sorrow…

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    • Oh my goodness, thank you for this. Your words are a balm to me today as I mourn Jim’s passing from this earthly life. And it has to be divine intervention that your relationship with him came full circle when you retired to North Carolina. Thank you again.

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  3. Linda J Jones says:

    I’m so honored to have known Jim in High School. Knew he would go on to do great things in his life. This is truly spiritually moving to read and such a blessing at the same time. Thank you sharing this about such a wonderful man. I know he will truly be missed. My condolences to his family and friends.

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  4. RAY and MAE LEONARD says:

    Truly a Disciple of God. Jim, you shall forever be in our hearts. Our prayers for the peace for your loving spirit and for your family. From Ray and Mae Leonard.

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  5. Dave & Patti Atkinson says:

    This is so beautiful. I wish I could have heard Father Jim sing, Bring him home. The first time I heard him sing was a small concert at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church-Wyoming, Michigan. We were Church hunting and invited to hear Father Jim at Holy Trinity. Right away, we found our church nest. We missed Father Jim and his beloved Stephanie. I know you are enjoying your new HOME, and someday we will all be together again.

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