Learning, Loving, Including: Seeing the Face of Christ


by Rick Rough

A chance encounter at the Wilmington, N.C. airport five years ago led me to Holy Communion. That, in itself, is worthy of another blog about God’s hand in our lives, but suffice it to say that I met Mandy Rough (then Yandell) at the airport while I was on a golf trip and she at a family reunion. We began long-distance dating, with me in Ashburn, Va. and she in Memphis.

In one of our phone conversations, she mentioned the importance of religion in her life, and Holy Communion in particular, which I admired. I was raised in the Methodist Church but had not attended for many years and was thinking about finding a new church, not sure what I was looking for. She suggested I try St. Anne’s Episcopal in Reston, Va., and from the beginning, I knew I had found a home.

What I noticed initially was the diversity of the church family and the welcoming environment. What I also found inviting was that "you don’t check your brain at the door," as Robin Williams once said about being an Episcopalian. This was a place to learn from the scriptures and from each other. I eventually became an Episcopalian and a member of St. Anne’s.

It soon became apparent to me that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with the woman who had guided me to the Episcopal Church. In 2012, I retired from federal service, moved to Memphis and married Mandy in Quilling Chapel at Holy Communion. The Holy Communion family immediately accepted me as one of their own and I have benefited beyond measure because of it.

Indirectly, Mandy also brought my son Chris into the Episcopal Church and to Holy Communion. Chris is 29 years old and has Down’s Syndrome. Chris also became Episcopalian and a member of St. Anne’s with me. He visits Memphis from Herndon, Va., about six times a year and, as he says, "Memphis is my kind of town." (Move over Chicago!)

In Herndon, Chris lives in a group home and works in a bakery. He’s active in Special Olympics (including power lifting!), dance classes, social club and hiking, and eagerly takes on the everyday challenges of life to become more self-sufficient. He is thriving in his newfound independence and proud of his accomplishments, particularly traveling to Memphis on his own.

When Chris began visiting Memphis, Holy Communion welcomed him with open arms just as it had me. The Holy Communion family accepted him and included him as a member of Christ’s church. It is quite apparent to me that Chris senses that inclusion, that he is perfectly aware of being part of something much larger than himself, and that in this community he is just like everyone else.

Inclusiveness can provide many unexpected benefits. When you tag along with Chris for a day you enter a world like no other, a world that puts into practice the golden rule.

It is the physical aspect of Chris, the physical characteristics of Down’s Syndrome, that people notice first. Those with Down’s Syndrome have a well-earned reputation of being loving and kind and Chris is no different. Most people will, at the least, smile at him and often times do extraordinary things for him, in that moment forgetting themselves and focusing solely on helping him, little realizing that it is he who is helping them. All barriers seem to fall by the wayside as they interact with him, as they put into practice "loving thy neighbor." Few of us are fortunate enough to live in such a world but through Chris I have witnessed the best of humanity.

Chris is also a teacher. He has taught me to be more patient, particularly as I see his determination in meeting the challenges of daily life that we take for granted. He taught me about unconditional love and how that perpetuates and energizes love in others. He has taught me about recognizing God’s blessings in the day-to-day things -- a meal with friends and family, a walk in the park, petting a dog -- daily events so often overlooked, yet full of pure joy, if only one takes the time to celebrate them.

Chris is just one face of inclusion. In some ways, he is fortunate to have physical characteristics that identify him as a loving and kind person. However, we often pass over those who are not so readily identifiable. That is why the open door of Holy Communion is so important, that we not lose the treasures others may bring to our church, nor our desire to help those in need. Like Chris, we may learn more from them than they could ever learn from us.

Through various paths we bring our stories to Holy Communion. Sharing these stories among each other not only provides us support and guidance but also strengthens our love for one another. Our stories would not find a home at Holy Communion were it not for the inclusiveness of the church, the open door that draws us in, accepts us for what we are and helps guide us on our life’s journey. The open door proclaims that we, as a community of Christ, can benefit from each other in our spiritual growth.

One of Chris’s favorite parts of the Rite II service at Holy Communion is standing up, shaking hands and saying, "Peace of The Lord" with as many people as he can, and then sitting down, quite pleased with himself. I believe that he senses he has found a new home and friends who will always be there to help him, but doesn’t quite realize the impact his life has on so many others.

Rick Rough is blissfully happy in Memphis being married to Mandy Rough. His only struggles have to do with his guitar playing (and some may say singing) and golf.

Rick grew up in southern California, the son of an aerospace engineer and homemaker. Southern California in the 1950’s-60’s was an idyllic place where he could more readily pick an avocado or orange off a tree than go to the grocery store, and where he could ride a bicycle all day, just show up for dinner, and walk into a house where the doors were never locked. It was also a place where he found respect for nature, hiking and fishing in the High Sierras and surfing the waves at the great California beaches.

Rick graduated with a B.A. in political science and after graduate school in public administration was selected for the Presidential Management Intern Program (now Presidential Fellowship Program), which took him to Washington, D.C. During his internship he worked on Capitol Hill and in the Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President. After the internship, Rick remained in the federal government, eventually serving as budget director at three federal agencies over his 35-year career: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Rick found federal service fulfilling, challenging and sometimes frustrating in a continuous struggle to fund and manage federal programs that assisted the poor, improved the safety of automobiles and ensured the safety of nuclear power plants in the midst of a highly charged political environment. He retired in June of 2012.

Rick has three sons: Jon, who is married to Kaitlin and with her has a daughter, Ainsley; Chris, and Alex, all who live in northern Virginia. Now he’s also getting to enjoy daughters, as Mandy has two: Dr. Abby Talbot, who lives in Memphis with her husband Henry, and Corinne Lewis, who lives with her husband Daniel in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Posted by Cara Modisett at 9:21 PM
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