Memory eternal, Father Matthew MacKay

The blogosphere and the wider world of digital social media is such a strange, strange place. It has its own unique joys and sorrows. I am sure that most GetReligion readers have experienced that jolt of emotional electricity that you feel when you pop open a browser and, through Facebook or the taken-for-granted wonders of a search engine, you see that your inbox contains an email from a friend that you have not heard from since high school or college. Or you suddenly realize, by scanning your Facebook news feed, that some great joy or tragedy has befallen a faraway friend who, in hindsight, you realize has been a bit too quiet for several months.

Late last week, while jumping online for a new minutes in the North Carolina mountains, I pounded out a quick piece ("So is she a priest or not?") about a basic issue in Associated Press style. The question was how to handle titles in front of the names of clergy in the ancient churches that, as a rule, call their priests "father." With some segments of the Anglican Communion ordaining more and more women, it seems that "the Rev." is now the safe, pro-stylebook choice.

I posted the piece and then headed back into my telephone and wifi free hiding place.

Thus, I was stunned a day or two later when I got back online and ran into this comment from a reader:

... The Houston Chronicle this past week ran an obit on the passing of my parish priest at St. Joseph's Orthodox Church and titled him the Rev. Friar Matthew MacKay. Fr. Matthew was an Archpriest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. The church's website listed him as The Very Rev. Fr. Matthew MacKay.

Friars do not exist in the Eastern Orthodox Churches; they're a type of Roman Catholic monk. I would think that some very basic research could have corrected the problem before publication.

btw ... the obit has been somewhat corrected on the paper's website.

This came as a major shock, since Father Matthew was a friend of my own parish priest, Father Gregory Mathewes-Green and someone I greatly respected. I had not heard this stunning news and, there it was, in a comment on GetReligion.

For several years, my own family worshiped at St. Joseph's every year at the time of the glorious service of the Feast of the Nativity, since we were in Houston for Christmas festivities with my mother and other loved ones in Texas. My children called him our "Christmas priest" at our "Christmas church."

You can get a sense of the man, who has very proud of his Scottish heritage, in the top of the Chronicle obituary:

The Rev. Matthew MacKay, a pastor and co-founder of St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church on Houston's northwest side, died Monday. He was 54.

Born Nov. 18, 1955, MacKay graduated from The Citadel before joining the Marines. Through his friends in the Marines, MacKay met Lynn, his wife of more than 28 years. Just before his four years in the Marines began, the couple wed.

After the Marines, MacKay went to an Episcopal seminary and served as an Episcopal priest and Navy chaplain for seven years. They had two children, Patrick and Sean in 1989 and 1990. Sean was born while they were in Japan for the Navy.

After seven years, MacKay had a change of heart and moved to the Antiochian Orthodox Church because he felt it was the closest to the true church, Lynn said. He was ordained as an Orthodox priest in 1994. ...

"I was born an orthodox Christian," said Nouhad Bassila, a close friend of MacKay's for nearly 16 years. "Growing up we don't like converts as much. But because of Father MacKay I love converts now."

I appreciated the story's detail about Father MacKay's attention to detail as he studied Byzantine architecture in order to help design his parish's simple, but quietly gorgeous, sanctuary. I wish the reporter had heard about how the design incorporated a novel use of a chunk from a grain silo (I think that was the trick) as an affordable way to build the tower for the dome.

But what about the issue of Father Matthew's proper title?

Alas, the newspaper's website does not include a clear note explaining any correction that was made to the text and, worst of all, the cutline under the photo continues to say:

The Rev. Friar Matthew MacKay graduated from The Citadel before joining the Marines.

Clearly, someone thought that the church website's use of "Fr." stood for something other than the obvious -- "Father." Thus, it's time to add another correction to the online version of the obituary. This is important, I think, because these kinds of basic mistakes have a terrible bite to them when they show up in obituaries. It seems like the newspaper is being indifferent, somehow.

Still the story is worth reading, although I still cannot believe that he is gone at this age with so many years of service ahead of him (click here for images from his ministry) in a parish that he helped create and that he dearly loved.

Memory eternal, Father Matthew.

Top photo: Via the St. Joseph's website, taken by Douglas N. Burns.

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