r m p






Funeral Homily
for Robert Cornwell

December 10, 1991


We meet here, "in the bleak midwinter" as one Christmas song has it, to remember Robert Cornwell, and to lay him to rest. For myself, I can scarcely remember him as I did not know him. But the rest of you certainly did. I, as you know, am the pastor of the church he grew up in, though he had already reached an advanced age and lived elsewhere by the time I began attending.

Our presence here today represents different kinds of important continuity. You and I are living embodiments of the heritages left to his world by Robert Cornwell. In his day he was a son and servant of First Baptist Church of Montclair. He and his dear wife Dorothy shared the historic distinction of being baptized by the great Harry Emerson Fosdick, whose pulpit I am proud to have inherited. I can only envy them this honor.

By Robert Cornwell shouldering his share of congregational life, and simply living for many years as a member of our church, he kept breath and life circulating in that church. He kept it alive and well so that it would be there years and decades later to make a profound difference to me as I joined it and found new spiritual hope there. Robert and Dorothy Cornwell were married in the church on December 27, 1962, just as 22 years later, my wife Carol and I were married in the same sanctuary on December 29.  Later my life was changed in equally profound ways when I became pastor, pastor of the church that Robert Cornwell had served and helped keep going till I could get there.

You, on the other hand, represent another kind of continuity, a different heritage. You are what remains in the world of your father and grandfather. Science makes clearer today than ever before just how much of a person is passed on in his genes to his offspring. You not only share physical marks with him, but even personality traits, likes and dislikes, dispositions. I am quite sure of this despite the fact that I know none of you. It simply must be so.

But beyond this, you have been shaped and inspired by traits of the character he built in a long life. These are things which cannot be inherited, except by the force of a good example. And insofar as you have inherited his virtues, those creations of his freedom, you are keeping alive his greatest good; you are like living bookmarks, keeping the place he marked in the world.

A person is a point of juncture where several lines of continuity meet. For you and I to share this moment today is a witness to that. It testifies that Robert Cornwell was not only himself the product of many conjoining lines, but that lines of influence radiated forth from him as well, to form new webs of significance.

Let his death be the occasion for remembering the unique combination of influences he was, as well as the chance for us to catch for a brief moment how his own life continues to influence others, you and me, and our world. You will carry on his family heritage in new generations. I will do my best to keep his church a matrix of love and growth such as he found it. As long as we do this the echoes of this stilled voice will never die. Amen




Copyright©2009 by Robert M Price
Spirit of Carolina Web Design