Carol Ann Exley’s life celebration at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church had two to three hundred people in attendance. She was married for 30 years to Rev. Chuck Exley, pastor at St. Luke’s.
The 23rd Psalm was printed on the cover of the program, superimposed over a peaceful picture of green grass and a flowing stream. Photo montages of Carol throughout her life were on display in the lobby, and a large portrait photo sat at the front of the church’s sanctuary.
There was a procession of the family into the sanctuary, with a Crucifer carrying a cross in front, two Acolytes carrying candles on poles, and the Officiant. Rev. Exley carried Carol’s cremated remains in a light toned wooden box to the front, where it was draped in a white pall trimmed with gold. After a greeting and prayer of the day, Carol’s daughter-in-law, daughter, and husband provided remembrances.
They painted a picture of a woman who was smart, caring, organized, beautiful, an intense listener, loving and proud of her family, and protective of her husband. He said he was privileged to be her partner, and that their marriage was a true partnership. She was an impressive woman whom he loved and admired. Carol had chronic autoimmune disease, starting with diabetes, which robbed her eyesight, then other diseases, including severe pain and bone cancer that led to her death at the age of 66. Yet, through it all, he said, she never indulged in self pity.
Chuck Exley chose to schedule the service on October 31, Reformation Day in the Lutheran Church, a time for celebrating change. “All things will be changed and made new, even Carol,” he said.
The service included the reading of Psalm 121 “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth…”; from Revelation 21:1-5 “A new heaven and a new earth…”; and the Gospel of Luke 10:38-42, the story of Martha and Mary with Jesus – Martha was busy, while Mary listened, and Jesus said that was a good thing. As Carol’s health issues made her less a doer and more a listener, she moved from being like Martha to Mary. As Pastor Elizabeth Purdum said, “The song of eternity calls us out of this life and into the community of saints. Trust that Carol has found her voice again and sings a new song to God.”
There was lots of music in this event – Carol loved music. The organist was kept busy throughout, opening with J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, and closing with a thundering Ein Feste Burg. Three hymns were sung, including Carol’s favorite, Earth and All Stars. A soloist beautifully sang In Paradisum, a song of farewell.
The liturgy closed with a benediction and dismissal. The family exited following the cross and candles. As the others in attendance began to leave, I overheard one man declare, “This was a great service!”
May Carol Ann Exley’s memory be a blessing.