By J. Hogan
Our friend Ben Perez passed away.
It was unexpected and we don't have medical report, but even if we had more answers, it would still be jarring.
Ben was a member at Faithbridge and played guitar with the worship band, and he was doing a nice job.
That hadn't always been the case.
Ben suffered from schizophrenia and could be difficult.
Some folks found him a bit scary sometimes, although I think Ben sort of enjoyed toying with folks to get a rise out of them.
Even at his worst, his bark was way worse than his bite.
One of the things that really stings is that Ben hadn't been at his worst in a good long while.
Many months ago he was assigned a new case worker team and they worked real hard to help Ben, and it was bearing fruit.
When Ben first asked if he could try playing with the band, I said we'd give it a shot and see how it went.
The first rehearsal, well, didn't go well at all.
"Ben, you have to tune your guitar to the same tuning as the rest of the band."
"No. I use my own tuning."
"That won't work. In an ensemble, all the instruments have to be in tune with each other."
Ben walked off the stage and left.
But he was back the next week and, having worked it out in his head, he tuned up correctly and joined in.
Over time, he began to add nice things to the music and became a real asset to the team.
It wasn't just that,though. Ben became more involved in our Man of God bible study, more active in church activities, and more openly engaged with others in conversation.
In his last weeks, which we, of course didn't know were his last weeks with us, Ben had great discussions with many folks at the church.
He discussed more and more his faith in Christ and his joy at belonging within the church.
And then his landlord called and said he was gone.
Having seen what God had been doing with Ben in the last year, we were shocked and surprised, and saddened that we aren't going to keep watching Ben make gains.
Of course, we trust Ben is gone from us but present with God, and we'll see him again.
Next time we see him, it will be the completed version, standing in God's reflected glory.
We look forward to the day.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.