We gathered at Wortman Park on a misty February afternoon, to remember and honor the life of John Amos Casteel. John was homeless and had been living on the streets of McMinnville. It was on the streets that he died. His obituary said that he was 59 but looked decades older. It seems that his heart had simply given out from a life of hard living.
John wasn’t known to have a family, so those of us who knew him, decided that we were his family. So, we gathered as families do, under a canopy of Douglas Fir, to share remembrances of John and seek comfort in the company of one another.
The memorial service was simple and dignified. Friends who knew John from the streets, spoke of a man who didn’t like rules and lived and died on his own terms. People shared their sense of loss for a man who to the best of his ability, sought to be a friend to others.
Most people in the wider community, only knew John as that ‘ragged man’ who flew his flag ( held a sign asking for $) on the off-ramp from Hwy 18 near Lowes Hardware Store. John Amos was that person that most of us drive or walk past.
Yet, John Amos Casteel had a story and we gathered to remember his story and to acknowledge the intersection of his story with our own. The chaplain from the local Gospel Rescue Mission which occasionally provided John with a shower, bed and friendship, read these words from Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. v 1, 13 – 14
It seems that John died alone. Yet, the words of the Psalmist tell us that he was not alone, but loved and known by a God who knew John intimatley, even when in his mother’s womb…..Such a love, our faith teaches, was surely with John as he took his last breath.
As John’s family we gathered to ‘lift him up’ to God’s eternal love. We offered thanks for his time with us. And, we came away with a broader and deeper understanding of what it means to be a ‘family’. John Amos Casteel, taught us that. Thanks, John.