May 30, 2020

Peggy Spencer Head 1937-2006

peggy.jpgMy half-sister, Peggy Ann Spencer Head, passed away this week, and our family just returned from the funeral. Peggy was more like an aunt or a cousin to me, but we always had a warm relationship. Her oldest son, David Head, has been a wonderful friend and colaborer in ministry for many years. I was honored to attend the service and I grieve with and for her family. I especially grieve with her husband of 49 years, Leo, whose genuine, unashamed grief is a reminder of the truth of Christ that lives in the oneness of marriage.

Peggy was more than 20 years older than me, and the fact that my father was the father who had left her as a girl made it impossible for us to have a relationship in anything other than distant terms. But Peggy was the pianist at my home church for 35 years, and her family was deeply involved in everything about the church as I grew up and entered ministry. So we spent much time around each other, and shared a relationship in the church that I’ll always treasure.

Peggy had a major heart valve episode this year, and was bedridden and in mortal danger for many weeks. She survived valve replacement, and when I saw her at Noel’s wedding and my mom’s funeral, she was as buoyant, beautiful and joyful as I had ever seen her.

So it was sad to hear that a massive hemorrhage came during the night a few days ago, and she never regained meaningful awareness in this world. Despite valiant efforts to give her the chance to recover, the damage was too serious. She was 69, leaving behind a husband, two sons, a brother and sadly, her mother. The sight of her mother and husband weeping together is etched in my mind. To love is to prepare to lose, and to die first is a cruel mercy.

Peggy had planned her funeral and placed it in her Bible. It was simply an incredible service. I was deeply struck by the powerful tone of uplifting Christian hope in the music. It was not a cheesy, shallow optimism, but the depths of the vision Christians share that life has its ultimate reference in the being of a God whose greatness, amazingly, does not erase us, but gives us significance and meaning.

At the heart of the service were several scripture readings, and one text in particular powerfully focused our memories:

Phil. 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Peggy’s life was, as Paul envisioned, a text to be seen, heard and imitated. Her character, her conversation, her commitments- all were Christ shaped. In her, Christ was formed in a most communicable way.

She was an uncompromising servant of every church she attended. She did not know how to be a spectating member. When she put away her music after 35 years and changed churches, she became the center of the greeting ministry. Her pastor said that she and her husband were the perfect greeters, with the kind of warmth that could melt anyone who found themselves in worship with an ax to grind.

I was always impressed with her energy and laughter, and most of all, with her musical humility. She didn’t have a trace of the “diva” mentality that is so common in immensely talented people. She chose to work outside the home in the public schools, and thousands of students knew her smile and helpful ministry as a servant.

In the times that I was with her, I grew in my appreciation for her capacity to treat my family with grace and kindness. She was a genuine light in my mother’s last years, and I hope I was able to convey to her how much her genuine interest in the woman who married her dad spoke of God’s great forgiveness to us all.

Peggy will be deeply missed. She is the second “aunt” I’ve lost this year, suddenly, unexpectedly, leaving devastated husbands behind. But the service today reminded me that when a person finds Christ, they do, indeed, find what Paul called a treasure that rearranges all earthly values. The last enemy, death, seems to have the last word, but Paul said we also know Christ in the power of the resurrection, and so we do not live- or grieve- as others do.

The minister today described Christian hope this way: We reach into God’s future, take hold of the Kingdom of God, pull that hope into the present- and then live in it. Peggy helped us all do that in her life and in death. Now we wait for hope to give way and for God’s future to become our possession.