ORR-With the flick of his wrist and the word “ki’htwa’m,” Pastor Joey Bailey began his last sermon. “There is no word for good-bye in Cree, instead they say ki’htwa’m, it means …
ORR-With the flick of his wrist and the word “ki’htwa’m,” Pastor Joey Bailey began his last sermon. “There is no word for good-bye in Cree, instead they say ki’htwa’m, it means again.” He continued, “Where I’m going, I will see you all again.”
“PJ”, as he is mostly known as throughout the community, has for the past twelve years tirelessly devoted his time between the two congregations of Calvary Lutheran in Orr and St. Paul’s Lutheran in Alango. Much of the emotional last service came full circle with songs that were first sung at his pastoral ordination service over twenty years ago. “I said I wasn’t going to cry, but I’m Irish. We fight hard and we cry hard.”
He liked to call locals living here in northern Minnesota the “Chosen Frozen.” He said, “I’m from the east, and when I came here I realized how hardy y’all are…stoic…and then when someone got sick you would hold a benefit for them. I never knew what a benefit was until I came here. And then you had one for me.”
Two years ago PJ was diagnosed with schwannoma, a cancer of the nerve sheath. The grueling treatments and medications have left side effects and taken a toll on his liver. Recently, the decision to stop treatment was made.
“There’s a lot of love out there. I wish you all could see yourselves and the love that radiates from you all. It’s powerful and I feel it.”
He looked out into the congregation, “I see some of my Confirmation students. I see some of you who I officiated your wedding, and some who I have buried your loved ones. I always say give me a good funeral over a wedding, any day. At weddings, everyone is worried about the flowers or the dress. At a funeral, nobody worries about that, people just want to feel God’s love.”
Many have said although they weren’t “church-going”, they were drawn to PJ because of his down-to-earth style, and that he made room for everyone. His sermons often included his own personal stories of his rough childhood, or of people he knew who felt they were outcast, or didn’t belong. “The island of misfit toys,” he would sometimes say, wanting to let everyone know that they were loved, and there was a place for all. He would admonish the mega churches that would turn away the homeless or those in need, and those he called “church people”, only showing up on Sunday to judge others. Often he would remind his congregations that church isn’t a building or a Sunday service, rather it was people going out and doing the work of Jesus.
He ended his last sermon as he had ended many of his sermons, with the words of Bob Dylan: “May God bless and keep you always, may your wishes all come true. May you always do for others and let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung. And may you stay forever young.”