In the year before he died, Tacoma pastor Ron Vignec tried to lay down the rules for his own memorial service.
“He made me promise,” said Vignec’s son, Lauren Jean-Louis Vignec. “He said he didn’t want bad theology.
“And he said, ‘Make sure there aren’t a lot of people who stand up and talk about what a good man I was.’”
That wasn’t exactly how things went Thursday, but it was close.
At the memorial service for the unconventional Lutheran minister and champion of the poor on Tacoma’s Eastside, none of the hundreds of residents Vignec helped over the years had the chance to offer testimonials, and there were few tears.
Instead, the 750 people who packed Urban Grace church in downtown Tacoma found themselves at a more or less standard Lutheran church service, where the theme was the universality of God’s love – a theme those who knew Vignec say guided his ministry and personal life.
In a sermon, Michael Poellet, Vignec’s friend and a professor of philosophy and theology at the University of Saskatchewan, said of Vignec: “He believed that gangs and drugs and guns were not the last words for the people of the community.
“To him, Saliashan was not an overgrown, wild and worthless place of land but a community with hospitality and generosity.”
Lauren Vignec came close to breaking his promise to his father.
“A great number of people have come to us and said, ‘Thank you for sharing your father with us,” he said in a short address. “The fact is, we never shared Ron with anybody. The more Ron loved, the more he had to love. And the more he loved, the more he lived.”
Vignec, or “Pastor Ron” as many knew him, died Nov. 10 of internal bleeding from a stomach ulcer. He was 70.
The closest thing to a testimonial at the service was a videotaped interview with Vignec himself, conducted by students at Lister Elementary School in the Salishan public housing area, where Vignec founded the Salishan/Eastside Lutheran Mission in 1985.
In the video, Vignec, looking like a road-weary Santa Claus in his flowing white hair and beard, spoke movingly about his call to the ministry and his appreciation for the people of Salishan, who included many refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
Vignec’s daughter, Nicole Aimee Vignec, of Bellingham, read a short biography of her father.
She drew laughter from her mother, Nancy Vignec, and other members of the congregation when she said, “Ron was a provocative preacher. His sermons could be lengthy. The lure of pursuing yet one more tangent or related idea frequently prevented him from reaching a conclusion.
“On occasion, his wife Nancy would call out, ‘Bring it home, Ron,’ or ‘Amen’ in a typically futile effort to bring the message to closure.”
Poellet suggested Vignec’s personal struggles with alcohol, depression and a broken home as a child made him more accepting than most of other people’s frailties.
“Pastor Ron was not the sinister minister,” he said. “Ron’s ministry was one of absolution.”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693