Like Framed Menus on the Wall

It’s easy for me to read headlines and observe human nature to back up my […]

It’s easy for me to read headlines and observe human nature to back up my low anthropology. I only need to look in the mirror to find a human being who is selfish and who thinks too highly of herself. I’m often grouchy, and I am easily annoyed.


There are a few people who slide under my Grinch radar and find their way into my cold, skeptical heart. Angie and Stuart Kensinger were two of those people.

The Kensingers died in a plane crash last week, just one day after they celebrated Easter with their son at our church. My family and I, along with a great number of people in Houston and around the world, are devastated.

Stuart was on the search committee that brought my family to Texas five years ago. He was scheduled to travel to Minnesota to meet my husband, Neil, and interview him, but had to cancel at the last minute due to a dune buggy injury he sustained while out riding with his teenaged son. (Yes. A dune buggy!) With excessively good humor about his injury, when I finally did meet Stuart in Houston, he was smiling and gracious. In our home and in the Kensingers’ home in the years that followed, Angie and Stuart were the best hosts and the best guests. Their son babysat our kids, and told them how lucky they were that I let them eat warm brownies right out of the pan. These were the type of people who could make me forget — if only for a moment — my skepticism about my fellow humans. By reading the tributes that are pouring in for them from all over the globe, I know I’m not alone in my feelings about them.

Stuart’s passion was Jerusalem Peacebuilders, an organization devoted to bringing young people together from different faith backgrounds and creating an environment where they could form friendships and get to know one another. My husband and I were fortunate enough to participate in some of the Jerusalem Peacebuilders sessions, and Stuart was equally enthusiastic with the group of 12-to-14-year-olds as he was with the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem. He was genuinely glad to spend time with them, and he saw hope when a lot of other people saw only noisy teenagers. Angie also devoted her life to young people, as the women’s lacrosse coach at St. John’s School. She was proud of “her” girls, and mentored them off the playing field as much as on the field.

After Stuart and Angie died last week, I poked through my old texts and emails to gather memories of them. These are mostly scheduling emails back and forth, trying to get dinner on the calendar. In all of these emails, Stuart and Angie’s enthusiasm is unmatched. It didn’t matter what was on the menu or who else would be there, the Kensingers were excited about spending time with us, and they weren’t shy about showing it. In their kitchen, they hung framed menus from dinners they had hosted, with their guests’ signatures filling the margins. This felt like a nod to restaurants where celebrity photographs and autographs line the walls, usually with the celebrity shaking hands with the restauranteur. Except at the Kensingers’ house, we were all treated like celebrity guests, our signatures gracing the walls alongside those of more impressive guests. Every time there was a new dinner party, a new menu would be printed, signed, and framed, and they would squeeze the other frames together and rearrange to make space for the new one. There wasn’t ever a sense that they’d run out of room for more menus, even as the walls filled with memories — they’d simply make more room. I imagine that the young people in Jerusalem Peacebuilders and on Angie’s lacrosse teams felt the same way that I did — we all knew there was enough room in the Kensingers’ hearts for all of us. We all just squeezed together to make more room.

I imagine that the kingdom of heaven is not unlike Stuart and Angie’s kitchen, with its walls filled with signed menus. There will be someone who is always, always glad to see us and treat us as an honored guest. There’s no fear that the host will run out of room, and old friends will squeeze together to make room for new ones.

In this spirit, Stuart and Angie embodied the hope for the world that we, as Christians, profess. If we are all low anthropology but no hope, then we’re really just a curmudgeon smoking in the corner, complaining about Kids These Days. Stuart and Angie’s Christian faith allowed them to be curious about other traditions and people, and their security allowed them to challenge their own beliefs in the name of bringing people together. The work of Jerusalem Peacebuilders is a ministry of reconciliation. Even though they knew that the hope of reconciliation was an uphill battle in this broken world, they placed their hope in God, and used that hope to love the young people they surrounded themselves with.

It’s possible that my hindsight is wearing rose-colored glasses, but I really can’t think of a time when I wasn’t happy to see Stuart and Angie. (Unlike Stuart and Angie, I am not unfailingly enthusiastic, and so it is notable that I was always happy to see them.) I am wary of lionizing the recently departed, and I know that my grief is fresh as we mourn these two treasures. I’d like to say that their deaths will inspire me to be more cheerful and appreciative myself, but I know very well that I’m no match for their optimism. Mostly, I’m just sad that they’re gone. In our sadness, we are grieving with their son, whose foundation was the love that brought Angie and Stuart together.

Stuart and Angie embodied the hope that we all have in a Risen Lord. In the Episcopal Church, we pray after Communion, thanking God for assuring us that we belong to “the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou has prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.”

Heirs through hope. Good works as God has prepared for us to walk in. Assisted by God’s grace. This makes the seemingly impossible work of reconciliation seem possible, or at least worth walking into.

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4 responses to “Like Framed Menus on the Wall”

  1. DALE E KLITZKE says:

    Well, Carrie, you did it again—-brought me to tears in the first sentence. I cannot imagine a better tribute to a couple— ( although I am sure Neil and all of Palmer did their normal first class act for all involved today!) I hope Philip gets to read and keep this posting. Your writing is a comfort to many on this day.

  2. Linda Klitzke says:

    This is a wonderful tribute, Carrie. I feel like I know the Kensingers, and I will recognize them in the next life even though I never met them. Their love shines through.

    • Frank says:

      What a lovely story.
      I would be so happy to finish life being experienced as even a small fraction of the love they gave others.

  3. Patricia Veech says:

    Carrie, I am reading this in Cordoba, Spain. A sacred place where, for a time, people of three faith traditions shared a culture. It sounds like the kind of culture and community that Angle and Stuart strove to replicate. I know that you and the people in your community will look after their son and honor their memory. This tribute is a wonderful start. Hugs to you at this difficult time.

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