West Tisbury: 10 years as minister


The fair is over. It’s been overcast the past couple of days, with drips and drabs of not-really-rain. Nelson, our cat, was wet when he came in during the night. The garden is depressingly dry. I am grateful for the coolness, though. I went to a party Sunday evening where everyone was wearing sweaters, and grateful to be so.

The party was for the Rev. Cathlin Baker, celebrating her 10 years as our minister. “Minister” is a small word for the impact that Cathlin has had on our town, our Island, our church, our individual lives. The party, held in a tent in Libby and David Fielder’s gorgeous yard (both are amazing gardeners, vegetable and decorative), was perfect. Our way in was lit with fairy lights, the food was plentiful and delicious, all attending kept conversation and tributes flowing. The guest of honor greeted each person as though he or she was the one Cathlin most hoped to see.

Jana Bertkau, church council chairwoman, gave the first welcoming speech, followed by the visiting Rev. Raphael Warnock, Minister of the First Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, former seminary classmate and longtime friend of Cathlin’s, and the Rev. Eleanor Richardson from MAUCC, who delivered accolades from that statewide organization. The speeches were interspersed with music by the church choir and a very funny musical poem written and sung by Molly Canole. When Cathlin finally stepped onto the Fielders’ raised deck, our symbolic pulpit for the evening, she addressed us in typical Cathlin fashion with warmth and all praise for the congregation and the community, rather than for herself. The applause she received was enthusiastic.

I have never known anyone like Cathlin. She is all that any congregant of any denomination could hope for. She is kind, welcoming, learned, nonjudgmental, hard-working, devoted to her mission, her ministry, her congregation. Every one. She always has time for anyone who approaches her for a conversation. Her husband, Bill Eville, writes headings to the online version of the Vineyard Gazette that often describe bits of family life, giving glimpses into Cathlin’s private self. We have all watched their children grow into healthy, happy, ever-taller selves who seem to embrace the world with much of the openness, curiosity, grace, acceptance, and humor they have observed in their mother’s example.

Jana ended her remarks saying, “And so now we pause … to celebrate the past and look to the next 10 years. You won’t be surprised to know that Cathlin has plans! We can’t wait.”

I add my own thanks for the gift of knowing Cathlin.

That was Sunday evening. The day before, I attended two gatherings, both somewhat symbolic in different ways. Much as the party for Cathlin Baker honored her at the mid-point of her life and career, the other two marked lives at the beginning and end of the continuum.

The first was a birthday breakfast for Iyla Grace Bohan’s second birthday. I have had the joy and honor of watching ”my darling Iyla” pretty much from the day she was born. I have pictures in my mind of holding her in my arms, first as a tiny newborn, rocking her and singing to her, rolling a red and white ball across the floor to her sitting up on her own, reading stories as she watched my mouth and mimicked every sound I made, as she pulled herself up, as she tottered across the floor she now races around, faster and faster, yelling and laughing, as she draws pictures, makes up stories, accomplishes new tasks every day. Thank you, Steph daRosa and James Bohan, for making this lovely child and for allowing me to be part of her world.

Second was a memorial gathering at Abel’s Hill cemetery to celebrate the life of Lisa Kimball, who died this past November at her home in Washington, D.C. She had an ability to network, attracting and getting together people from all different places and disciplines who she believed would have something in common, who would share some personal or professional connection. Many of those seemingly disparate friends were standing together Saturday morning at Abel’s Hill with stories to share.

Lisa was devoted to technology right from the start. Networks in the broadest definition were her passion. She was also political — astute and opinionated. Dinners with Lisa and her husband, John Cooney, could get loud. They were always fun and often educational. Same with our “chicks eat out” breakfasts at the Plane View. Same agenda, but only women friends allowed: Lisa, Julie Kimball (second wife of Penn, Lisa’s father, for whom the word “opinionated” was too mild a description), Laura Kimball (Penn and Julie’s daughter) as she grew older, Brook Urban, and whichever of her daughters, Lizzy and Katherine, was here, Brook’s sister Jane Rainwater, and me. What an august group.

The Island was where Lisa was happiest and most relaxed, especially in Chilmark at their camp at the top of West Meadow. There were rituals to be followed. Daily swims whatever the weather. Always the fair and the fireworks in August.

Three Vineyard lives. Paeans to each of you.