(May 12, 2007). Frank Sudol, who died December 15, was not a proponent of organized religion and so chose to have a Memorial Celebration of his life in the Paddockwood School rather than a funeral. Bishop Burton was one of fifteen people who spoke this afternoon at the event. This is the text of his address.
Lois told me about the list of speakers, so I knew that Frank, in his many sides, involvements and interests, would be well covered: Frank as the Dean of Woodturners, Frank as President of Christmas Tree Growers, Frank as Involved Citizen and advocate, Frank as Artist, Frank as Schoolteacher, Frank as Naturalist, Frank as Friend, Frank as Husband and Father—and so forth.
At funerals and memorial services I normally speak as a representative of the Church but I thought this afternoon, I would speak more particularly on behalf of my family, and even on behalf of my two children – Caroline, who is 12, and Peter, who is 10. I thought I would begin by talking about what from their perspective was the main and most important thing about Frank Sudol which was Frank as Santa.
The custom of going out to that wonderful log house; having a sleigh ride on a sleigh festooned with red bows (and recently with Rube Goldberg hydraulic steps) on the way to pick out a Christmas tree; having Frank saw it down for you and then take you inside for hot chocolate and home-made cookies, was not an ancient tradition. But as far as my children were concerned, and as far as the countless others of their age who made the trip, it was a tradition from time immemorial, a tradition so magical and true, so enjoyable in the anticipation and satisfying in the experience, that it was for them as much as part of Christmas as the Magi and the baby Jesus in the manger and Christmas pudding with hard sauce. It was a gift to those children: a first experience of pilgrimage and homecoming, which enriched their young lives, and the telling of which will enrich the lives of their own children and grandchildren.
They still keep a parking space for me behind St. Alban’s Cathedral. It is in front of a little rectangular wooden hatch about three feet tall, which I suppose covers what was at one time a coal shute. To show that it was my parking spot, they have screwed a sign to the hatch which says ‘Bishop’. Last year I drove up to my spot and discovered that a wag had skillfully attached a doorknob to the hatch, making it look like my Lilliputian private entrance. It was the work of Frank Sudol.
I always felt there was a strong sacramental instinct in Frank’s view of things: his restless creativity and desire to illuminate the spiritual connections between the land and its people. Everything he made had a story and usually a moral point that had to do with living in a right relation to something sacred, to preserve what God had given and to reconcile historic wrongs.
I first heard his name when I started work as priest at St. Alban’s Cathedral where, in the small chapel, there is a beautiful box of various woods that Frank had made – a tabernacle for the Eucharistic body of Christ, symbolically a home for God, a House of Bread, a Bethlehem. It is my prayer that God had returned the favor, and that Frank who with Lois welcomed so many into their home, has himself been welcomed into his true and eternal home, with the Father of Lights, in whose house are many mansions.