Bernice Greer was a real life Church Lady, and I say that with the greatest admiration. Bernice was a lifelong member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) and worked as the secretary at the Albuquerque Central SDA Church for many years.
At the memorial service, Bernice’s daughter Carolyn Mata welcomed me at the door to the funeral home chapel. The pews were filled with church members and family gathered to remember and pray. A photo montage cycled on the video screens as soft religious tunes played over the speakers. The video collection ended with the statement “Until We Meet Again on That Glorious Day!” Photos and a photo board were also set up next to Bernice’s urn at the front of the room.
Pastor Don Gibson thanked everyone for coming. “We all experienced Bernice in different ways, and we’re going to share our stories tonight. I remember first meeting her when I was a new pastor at Central and she was the secretary. She showed me the ropes there, and for that I will always be grateful.”
For those unfamiliar with the religion, Seventh Day Adventists’ Sabbath is on Saturday, as opposed to most Christians’ day of rest on Sunday. Many Adventists are also vegetarians of differing degrees. They believe in Jesus as the Savior and in life after this earthly life.
Pastor Don offered a prayer of thanks to God. Then, following the bulletin as they do in church, Addriene Rhodes sang a beautiful rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” over an orchestral background.
Pastor Don started the eulogy saying, “It’s hard to think about Bernice’s entire life on one piece of paper. One day of her life could be a whole book, her life could fill volumes. She was a gracious, gracious person.”
She was born in Texas cattle country near Hereford. She had lots of siblings and grew up doing hard work on the family’s ranch. She went to secretarial school and worked as an administrative assistant at SDA churches in California, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I walked in the door and she said ‘I’m quitting,'” joked Pastor Don. “I’m glad she didn’t, because she knew everyone and everything about Central Church.”
She and her husband Milton loved to travel around the country. They had a beautiful farm in Corrales. Milton died in 2008. They were always loving and hospitable. She loved sitting at home on Sabbath evening, watching the sun set and eating popcorn or home made ice cream. She was famous for her brownies and could make the best vegetarian dinners. She and daughter Carolyn were “partners in shopping.”
To Pastor Don Fortner, she was Aunt Bernice. He welcomed attendees to come forth with remembrances. At the church, she had more energy than women half her age. A church member read a poem about the seasons of life – spring, summer, fall and winter – and the hopeful second spring of cleansing and rebirth that will come.
Her brother Wayne told stories about Bernice giving him a red bike when she lived in Clovis and how he got in trouble with the local law for riding his bike on the sidewalk. He also talk about a trip she and Milton took with him on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska. It was not a luxury cruise. They didn’t change their clothes for three days. But that didn’t faze Bernice. She said, “My clothes are so stiff they’re holding me up.”
Patrick Redmond, the elder of the SDA church in Belen offered thoughts on his own mother’s passing. “Moms – when we’re bad they forgive us, when we do good they’re proud of us. There’s a special place in heaven for Moms,” he said. “No matter how old they live, we want them to live longer. When the pain gets too great, Almighty God comes and takes us home. We’ll be reunited in Paradise.”
He offered a prayer for Bernice, saying, “Lord, you are in control. When you take someone from us it’s heartbreaking. Lay your hands on our hearts and provide the healing only you can provide.”
Another man spoke to Bernice’s two daughters, saying, “She was the mother hen who held the chicks together. You don’t have her now to do that. Make a point to stay in touch.”
Bernice spent her last three years living at Brookdale Senior Living. She was very mad when she first moved in and wanted to get out of there. She looked forward to her brother Wayne’s visits and would get excited over a chocolate bar.
Many of the speakers prompted replies of “Amen!” from the audience. Pastor Don Fortner provided his own memories of Aunt Bernice – sitting in her lap at church as a child, playing with the buttons on her favorite suit, helping at camp meetings and vacation Bible school, playing with the kids and making crafts. Family, food and fun were important – especially having fun. She was always interested in others and interested in seeing pictures of family and friends.
He spoke of how the Sabbath afternoon was a special time for their family, when they would talk about how world events fit in with prophesy. They would talk about how the family planned to be together in God’s Kingdom. His sermon covered many of Bernice’s favorite texts: John 3:16, Romans 3:23 and 6:23, John 14:1-3, First Corinthians 15:13, Thessalonians 11:4-13, Hebrews 11:40, and from the Book of Job: “For I know that my Redeemer lives…”
“It doesn’t matter whether we’re cremated or decay in a casket. God knows our DNA and will recreate us both physically and spiritually,” he said. “Comfort each other with the hope of Jesus Christ. He brings everyone together with his amazing grace.”
With that, Suzanne Lutz lead the assembled in an a capella version of “Amazing Grace.” Everyone singing made a beautiful harmonization with the four verses.
The service closed with a prayer for the family and meditation music. Everyone was invited to a reception across the lobby of the funeral home. If you have memories or stories about Bernice you’d like to share, please post them in the comments section below.