Let not our hearts be troubled: Reflections on the Life of Jim Bartelt

Yesterday, Grace Church, his friends and family celebrated the life of Jim Bartelt, who died last week. These are my remarks.Let not your hearts be troubled. The words of the Gospel Carol read are words Jesus spoke to his disciples at the last supper, a few hours before his arrest. Jesus was trying to prepare his friends for the events that were to come—his trial, torture, and execution, but they had no idea what would occur. He was offering them comfort and consolation in advance of the despair, sadness, and fear that they would experience in the coming days.

“Let not your hearts be troubled.” We heard these same words proclaimed six months ago at Mary Ann Bartelt’s funeral and we have watched, many of us, as Jim suffered from a troubled heart since her death. We could see the effects of the hole opened in his heart by the passing of his wife, friend, and companion and many of us did our best to comfort and console him as he walked through these days of desolation and loneliness.

“Let not our hearts be troubled.” These words seem empty today, a meaningless platitude, in the face of the hole that has opened up in our hearts and lives. For Jim’s children and grandchildren, still grieving Mary Ann’s loss, now have another blow, another loss with which to reckon. The father and grandfather they’ve always known, who’s always been there, is gone, leaving behind a world that seems diminished and a wealth of memories and stories.

For us at Grace, we too will experience a hole—that spot in the pew where Jim and Mary Ann, then Jim alone, always sat. There will be a hole on Tuesday afternoons. Jim worked that shift in the fishbowl—our reception area—over the last years, including the Tuesday immediately following Mary Ann’s funeral. We will miss his wry smile, the twinkle in his eyes, his bowties.

I’ll miss Jim. I tried to spend a few minutes with Jim each Tuesday. Since Mary Ann’s death, I had a goal of trying to sit and visit with him each Tuesday. There were times that it didn’t happen, of course, times when my schedule prevented a chat, but over the months and years I had come to relish the time we had together. He always had a story or stories. I learned a great deal from him about post-WWII politics in Wisconsin. He had anecdotes about Joe McCarthy, John Kennedy, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire. His stories helped me understand the background of the current political divisions in our state.

He also had stories about Green Bay and the Packers. Often, he would have a newspaper or magazine article for me to read. He would pass on books to me. Just a couple of weeks ago he gave me the memoir written by the Rev. Robert J. Cornell, a Roman Catholic and member of the Norbertine order, who represented Green Bay in Congress during the 70s. And this election season brought out even more stories. I heard about his experiences covering the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 as this year’s conventions were occurring.

We will miss him. We already miss him. For us at Grace, he becomes another in the long list of ordinary saints who have graced this place, people who have worshiped and volunteered here, lived, and died over the last century and a half. It will take some time before someone begins to sit regularly in the Bartelt pew. As a staff, we have begun to wonder what we will do without his weekly presence in the fishbowl on Tuesday afternoons.

For his family, his children and grandchildren, the grief, mourning, and loss will go on. Life will never be quite the same. They will find themselves in the coming months and years in situations where they will wonder what sort of story Jim might have had for the occasion. They will wonder whether something that happens to them might have become a story that would have coaxed a smile, or even a chuckle out of him.

Let not our hearts be troubled. We are filled with grief and sadness even as we know that Jim has entered the nearer presence of God, and that his grief and loneliness have given way to peace and joy.

Let not our hearts be troubled. We cannot not grieve; our sadness is real. Let us honor those emotions, allow them to speak to us. But at the same time, let us hold fast to the love we continue to have for Jim. Let us also hold fast and embrace those memories of him. Let us rejoice that we were privileged to walk with him, and sit alongside him, in this life.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Jesus spoke those words as he looked forward to his own death, offering his followers and friends some words of consolation in advance of the dark days to come. We live on the other side of those dark days. We live in a world transformed by Jesus Christ’s resurrection and his continuing presence among us. We live in a world in which our own faith bears witness that the deaths we experience are not the end. As we go from this place out into the world, let us lift our hearts in joy having known Jim. Let us go with hearts filled with love, love for Jim and our memories of him, a love that is a sign of the Risen Christ’s love for us and for the world. Thanks be to God.


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