THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD for Mitties McDonald DeChamplain, priest, will be offered on Saturday, June 2, at 10:00 AM, in the church of St Mary the Virgin in NYC. The Right Reverend Andrew M. L. Dietsche, bishop of New York, will be the celebrant. The Right Reverend Allen K. Shin, bishop suffragan, will be the preacher. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow the liturgy. Mother Mitties’ ashes will be interred at a later date at Saint Athanasius Episcopal Church at the Cathedral Center of Saint Paul, Los Angeles, California.
Because we will be at my daughter Lisa’s wedding this weekend, I will be unable to attend Mitties’ funeral. I was asked to write a piece for the service bulletin, which I share here before we get on the plane.
The Rev. Mitties DeChamplain was passionate about three things: her students, animals (especially her kitties), and the church. In the church, her most prominent role was preaching and teaching preaching. One of the things she emphasized to her students was having a high “Jesus Count” in your sermon. That’s basically a shorthand for the theological responsibility of the preacher. A sermon that has a high Jesus Count is focused on our Savior, not the preacher, and it’s concrete, rather than indulging in vague sentiment or doctrinal abstractions. Most important, it’s grounded in the human and humane, which came directly from Mitties’ appreciation of life and her desire to encourage each person to discover their own voice and speak in their own way.
Mitties loved cats, and she was always finding a way to love one or two more. I remember her crossing barriers into an off-limits area to rescue a kitten from a construction zone. Every year in observance of St. Francis Day, she would bless the animals at General Seminary, both those resident on the Close and any from the neighborhood that came. We still have a photograph on our refrigerator of Mitties in a red and gold cope cradling our white bulldog Thekla’s head to give her a blessing. For us, it epitomizes Mitties love of God’s creation.
Mostly Mitties loved her students – being with them gave her life and she dedicated everything to them. She nurtured them as future ministers of the Word and as friends. She counseled them and was consistently there for them. Mitties was very gentle, even retiring, but if the time came to stand up for her students she was fierce, whether with the administration or with the operators of jackhammers outside her preaching laboratory sessions. She travelled all over to support students at their ordinations; more than anyone I know. That love continues and it’s clear that those students return that love for Mitties, and also to their congregations.
A few weeks ago, we found out that Mitties was in the hospital again and that her condition was grave. A group of us gathered in her room in the ICU to be with her as life support was removed – colleagues and students and parishioners from St. Clement’s, St. Mary the Virgin, and Trinity Morrisania. We prayed and sang hymns and talked to her and to one another about our feelings for her. The next day, my wife Paula and I visited in the late afternoon. We prayed and read psalms. Paula started reading Facebook posts to Mitties, describing how her friends and family loved her, and showing her pictures that people had posted. We can’t know if she heard us, but her breathing became slower, gentler, and, eventually stopped.
Mitties died in the midst of the church that she loved so much and to which she had dedicated her life. “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; … May your rest be this day in peace and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.”