In Memoriam: Celebrating the Life of Peggy Turnquist
September 11, 2019
Scripture Texts: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Psalm 23
The words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes direct our attention this morning to an often overlooked but nonetheless vital feature of our existence. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” And again, just a little farther on, the Teacher writes that God is the one “who “has made everything suitable for its time.” This is put to us as neither blessing nor curse, neither good nor evil news. It is simply a fact, a basic truth about the nature of the reality we find ourselves in as human beings. The question for us is: what shall we do with this fact—especially here, especially now?
In the recitation of what God has suited for its time, the Teacher lays before us the whole span of human experience—from beginning to end, in the mundane and the exceptional. The author Virginia Woolf once wrote that reality is “something very erratic, very undependable—now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the sun…But whatever [reality] touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what is left of past time and of our loves and hates.”
Perhaps Woolf had this passage from Ecclesiastes in mind, because a little farther on, we read that “Whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.” Even the changing seasons of life, the undulating succession of high and low moments, spectacular and banal, comes to be, in the fullness of time, something lasting and permanent. This is the power of God over this world: the power of a sovereign Creator and Sustainer to make with us and for us and in us a reality that, however commonplace its apparent origins, is valuable beyond measure.
The life of Peggy Cox Turnquist testifies to the power of God to magnify the ordinary and render it extraordinary and enduring. From her humble origins, born in poverty in rural North Carolina in 1937, Peggy was blessed with the faith and courage and resilience to live a life of extraordinary significance. Her path led her to the halls of power in Washington D.C. fresh out of high school in 1956. It led her to a double date where she just so happened to run into a young man named Nelson Turnquist who happened to have a car at just the right place and right time. Of course, he was immediately smitten with her. Their wedding ceremony in 1959 was a small affair, unremarkable by the extravagant standards for weddings these days, but how remarkable was their marriage, and the life they built together over the next sixty years! Through the birth of her sons, their moves to Rhode Island and Michigan, and eventually to East Walpole some 48 years ago, Peggy lived her life with a steady conviction in the Providence of God, by which every season was noted and blessed.
We would be remiss if we did not dwell for a moment upon how Peggy served this church with such skill and strength and faith for 18 years. Since her time at the FBI, she had always been the kind of person who could get things done. Never aloof, never out to make anyone feel foolish or insignificant, Peggy navigated the changing seasons in the life of this church from 1973 to 1991. In that time, she and Nelson and her boys became an integral part of this church family. Friendships forged in the life of the church, and deepened through vacations together to New Hampshire, the Cape, and Florida, would endure for decades, a permanent and lasting testament to Peggy’s ability to connect with and care for other people. Even after she retired from her work as church secretary, Peggy continued to serve in the ministry of care as a Deacon, and eventually Deacon Emeritus, a title that honors her legacy of faithful service in the Lord.
On our best days here at Union Congregational Church, we are a community that is humble and caring, capable and strong. And we are these things because of the commitments and contributions made over the years by Peggy, and others like her, to our still-unfolding story.
This morning, however, we gather to face a new reality: one of absence, one of loss, as though a piece that was so utterly fixed and permanent in the fabric of life has been torn away. Though I only had the honor of a brief acquaintance with Peggy, even from our few moments together it was evident to me what so many have attested to and will remember her for here today: that she was a woman of tremendous character, strength, poise, and grace—a precious and irreplaceable presence.
When she came into the season of dying too, too soon, Peggy held to her faith in her Heavenly Parent, and held on to her love for her earthly spouse, Nelson. Sensing that her earthly journey was coming to an end, her only concerns were for Nelson, for her children, and for all those beloved friends she would leave behind when she went on to Glory. But there is blessed assurance for them, now, in the promise of the Gospel for those who mourn, that they will be comforted. And Peggy? She is surely is on her way up yonder, leaving us all with the best of her spirit, the fulness of her life and all its seasons to hold on to.
The philosopher and social reformer Felix Adler once wrote, “The dead are not dead if we have loved them truly, if in our own lives we give them immortality, take up the work they left unfinished, preserve the treasures they have won, and round out the circuit of their being to the fulness of an ampler orbit.”
So this is our charge, here today: to remember Peggy, whom so many have loved, and who loved so many through the power of kindness and faith. We are to take up the work that she has left to us: to care for one another, as she did. We are to preserve the treasures she won in life, those moments both small and grand that constitute her enduring and permanent contribution to the unfolding of God’s Good Design. And lastly, but certainly not least, we are to tread the path that she walked so faithfully, following the circuit of her being, circling outwards into the love of God and neighbor, drawn on by the spiritual ties that bind us all in faith. We are to follow the lead of the Good Shepherd, to take a closer walk with the God of the whole universe, who knew Peggy and loved her, and upon whose mercies she leaned all the days of her life.
So let us find that presence of God in our day-to-day activity, as we go on living. Let us be guided by God’s gentle touch down paths of righteousness, to verdant pastures and crystal ponds. Let us be comforted and nourished by the Spirit of God in every season. For God is with us: the spirit of Chris abides among us to bless those who mourn, to seek out the lost, and to call them home into the Glory of God. This is the promise of the Gospel: thanks be to God.
To read Peggy's Obituary, please click here.