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My Friend Carl and Me

By Sue Turley

Reverend Carl Yenetchi and I were friends for forty-three years before his passing on March 2, 2023. He was an intelligent, funny, and spiritual man with a huge heart and calming presence. Carl went through a lot in his sixty-nine years of living. But his story is not mine to tell. I hope you get an understanding of who Carl Yenetchi was through my eyes and appreciate all he gave to others. For you can be sure by hearing how he was a friend to me is how he was a friend to many.

I met Carl when we were both attending the Swedenborgian School of Religion in Newton, Massachusetts, at that time more commonly referred to as the SSR. (Now the Center for Swedenborgian Studies in Berkeley, California). He was from Massachusetts. I was from Washington. Carl was one year younger than me, about a foot and a half taller, both in our early twenties. He smoked a pipe. I smoked cigarettes. I suppose that’s how we accidently came about spending so much time together. We went to the same place for the same reason when on break in-between classes. 

I was an angry young woman back then. Angry at the world. Specifically, I was angry at men. The Women’s Liberation Movement, Civil Rights Movement, and anti-war protests were in high gear. I read everything I could about it all and watched the news religiously while in high school throughout college and into seminary. I participated in some protest activities. Carl was very aware, too. He was well educated, a history buff, articulate, and, amazingly to me, he listened without judgement. 

And listen he did. I vent, a lot. I had a lot to vent about. It was difficult being in the first group of women attending SSR. Out of the five of us, only two graduated and got ordained. I was one of them. The more crap I got from the church, the more I became determined to not give up. There were no classes on the women in the Bible, women’s theology, or Liberation theology. I was told I should go to the nearby theological school, Andover Newton, if I wanted to learn about those things. The time came for me to get my Master of Divinity degree from a theological school certified by the Board of Education, but suddenly the SSR didn’t have any more money to pay for it. I was the first student they refused to cover the tuition for the M.Div. So, I watched all my male counterparts get the masters of their choice for free. I left the seminary for a year to earn my master’s in education in the event it didn’t work out in the church. It was a good thing I did because, that is exactly what happened much later for both Carl and me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. While dealing with all the sexism and anti-women in the ministry sentiment, I worked my way through seminary and the extra year to earn my master’s in education, while my male counterparts somehow managed not to work a day outside of school. More anger. More venting. More Carl listening to me without judgement. 

Like I said, I had a lot to vent about. Most of my other male colleagues gave me a wide berth. They couldn’t handle my anger or want to hear what I had to say. They blamed and shamed me, argued that my perspective was wrong as well as my personal experience. How could they argue my personal experience wasn’t true? They didn’t live inside my skin or walk in my shoes. Their arrogance and lack of willingness to learn from me made me even more enraged. More venting. More Carl listening to me without judgement. 

Carl was the exception to the “male rule.” He listened with compassion and understanding. We’d be outside smoking like fiends or, should I say, like friends. He’d lean his head slightly to one side looking kindly in my eyes while puffing on his pipe. He quietly listened and nodded from time to time indicating he heard and understood. I had, and still do, a wicked sarcastic sense of humor. He had a soft subtle way of sneaking in a joke that made me laugh out loud. He’d crack up quite a bit at my jokes and I at his. We laughed a lot and that made me feel better. Carl was not without his struggles, too. I, in return listened without judgement, with compassion and understanding. Our mutual support saved us from going under. 

Carl indeed was a funny guy, and his sense of humor endeared him to many, especially the kids to whom he devoted his ministry. After several tries at parish ministry both of us eventually went outside the church and entered another path of ministry. I went into hospital chaplaincy, Carl worked with special needs and at-risk children, who had additional challenges. He was effective and they adored him. He truly was a gifted teacher, counselor, and father-figure, who became a healing presence with kids of all ages. Perhaps that is why he was so healing for me. My inner child was very wounded, and as an adult it came out in anger targeted at anything having to do with masculinity. He was not afraid, deterred, or offended by my rage. He was concerned, curious, respectful, and understanding. He often quoted scripture, asked questions about my faith, and helped me deepen my relationship to God. I learned forgiveness and self-respect.

Cover of the 1980 Convention Issue of the Messenger showing the ordination of Sue, Gertrude, Gladys, and their dear friend “Almost Woman” Carl. (Find this issue and others on the Messenger Archives page.)

One day, Carl and I were walking down a pebbled road. I believe we were attending an annual church Convention. We were smoking and talking. Well, truth be told, I was talking, and he was listening. We walked slowly, as that was Carl’s pacing. That worked for me as for every step he took I had to take at least two. We were like a Great Dane and Dachshund walking side by side. I was ranting on about legitimate issues women have to deal with in a patriarchal world. He was attentively listening, as usual. He stopped and turned to me and said, “Sue, can I ask you something?” Oh no, I thought, here it comes the male lecture about how I need to get over myself. I said, “Sure.” Then he stopped, turned to me and with such innocence and sincerity in his eyes it melted my heart, asked, “Why do you hate me so much?” I was stunned and stopped in my tracks. Tears came to my eyes. Hate? Carl was my best man-friend. How could he possibly think I hated him? I looked him square in the face, eye to eye and said, “Carl, I don’t hate you. I just hate all men.” A poignant moment of silence filled the air. We both looked away with thoughtful expressions on our faces. Then we turned and looked at each other and broke into fits of laughter. Ah, the absurdity of it all. I believe in that moment our friendship was sealed for life. 

From then on our friendship deepened in trust, endearment, and support. Along with our friends, Gladys Wheaton, a born in the wool Swedenborgian, charismatic, Black woman, and Gertrude Tremblay, an older intellectual from Canada, Carl and I were ordained into the General Convention of Swedenborgian Churches in 1980. It was a watershed time in herstory for the church. The first Black woman and the first two White women (to complete SSR prior to ordination), and our beloved friend Carl, who we respected and trusted so completely that we dubbed him the honorable title of “Almost Woman.” He loved it and so did we. 

In 1978, I married by husband, Clifford J. Moore, Jr., and gave birth to our son, Keith J. Moore, while I was in seminary. I was also working at Turley and Associates, my father’s counseling center, as a pastoral counselor and field placement for the Boston Theological School with other seminarians. Cliff was a stay-at-home dad, one of the first. Later, he worked as my father’s accountant. I got pressure to leave the seminary because I had a baby before Cliff and I got married by the state. That enraged me, yet again. I fought for my right to stay in seminary and Carl was a great support, along with my husband of course, and family. It was a stressful time for all of us but, somehow, we got through it all. 

Keith was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He opened my heart and my mind in ways I could never have predicted. I loved him more than life itself and would give mine up to save his in a New York minute. Keith was very jaundiced and could not keep food down. It took us a while to find the right formula, and in the meantime, he cried and hardly slept. One day when Cliff was at work, I was at my wits end and walked down the dorm hall with baby in my arms screaming, “Would anyone be willing to hold my baby for a minute so I can have a break?” All I heard were the men’s feet running into their room, doors slamming. Then I heard this soft, sweet voice coming from the back saying, “I would.” “Really?? Oh, thank you so much,” I said as I handed over with complete trust the most treasured person in my life to Carl, of course. He took Keith in his arms turned and walked back down the hall talking softly to him and rocking him ever so gently. It was then that Keith and Carl commenced a relationship that grew over the years into uncle and nephew. Later, Keith would bond with Carl’s wife, calling her Aunt Betty. In turn, Carl and Betty’s kids would call me Aunt Sue. We were each other’s chosen family and are to this day. 

Eight months after Keith enlisted in the Army, he tragically died during active duty in Iraq in 2006. It was the worst day of my life and the journey in grief has been torturous. Keith was twenty-eight years old, and I miss him every day.  Many people helped along the way, especially my family. Both Carl and Betty held me up all these years. For this alone, I will be forever grateful to both of them. 

Carl was a devoted husband, deeply in love with his wife, Betty. Betty and I became close friends and continue to be to this day. We were like the three musketeers. We spent hours and hours talking and laughing and praying and crying and laughing again. We talked about everything—our children, the church, world events, our spiritual journeys, our hopes and dreams, sorrows, and tragedies. Our friendship only grew and stood the test of time. We knew that whatever happened we would be there for each other. We were each other’s safety net. It felt good to be family. 

When Carl and Betty moved to Nevada a year ago and Cliff and I moved to Washington—I had made plans to go see them. Then one day Betty called me at a weird time. When I saw her name on my phone, I knew Carl had passed. My heart sank and then it broke when I heard my dear friend weep as she cried out, “What am I going to do without my husband?” 

I flew out to Las Vegas the day after Carl passed, officiated Carl’s Service of Remembrance on March 4 and spent a few days with family. Many tears and much laughter, memories, and moments with Carl were shared. There was a hustle to make plans for the near future, although the urgency to do so was perhaps more as a way to deal with our loss. It was a whirlwind of activity, sleeplessness, shock, and grief in the midst of this playland for adults. It was a strange dichotomy to be in deep grief and shock while walking though smoke-filled carpeted rooms crowded with the sound of slot machines and bad music. We passed the time by going to the Mob Museum and the Wax Museum, eating mid-west cuisine, and admiring the open blue sky with puffy white clouds surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains. I wondered how much being in a valley kept in the cigarette smoke. On one side of the town was wealth and luxury in excess. On the other were fentanyl overdoses, awful bands playing until 2:00 AM, the homeless, and everywhere despair and desperation. I kept thinking about how odd it is that Carl died in Las Vegas and wondering how he would see the spiritual significance of it all. Carl would have had much to say about it. He would have contextualized this duality in life in religious history and Scripture offering insights that would inform ministry and daily living. I miss his insights and interesting stories. I miss being with Carl and Betty. I miss being with Carl and family. I miss Carl and me. I miss Carl.  

Carl’s death was sudden and unexpected. These kinds of deaths make one ask the big theodicy questions. What is it really all about? Why, why now, why so soon? Why didn’t God spare me, postpone his death for at least a few more days if not years? Why did God abandon me and our children? What will life be like now without him? How will I go on? Will God be here to guide me?

In response to these questions Carl would say, “The answers will come from God. From one another. From deep within yourself. Therein, lies all the answers, love, and support you need. Take it slow. Go easy. Have faith. I love you. God loves you. All will be well.” And then he’d say something funny, which I cannot think of as I am not as quick on my feet or as witty as he. I wish as I write this, I could channel your punchline, dear friend. But for now, I will just have to remember our time together, you and me; you, me, and Betty talking, laughing, praying, crying, talking, and laughing again. I can almost hear your laughter now and it warms my heart and puts a smile on my face, just as it did when you were here. 

Rest well and be at peace dear friend until once again it shall be, my friend Carl and me. 

Read the full issue of the April 2023 Messenger

Meet Susan Turley

Rev. Susan Turley was among the first group if women to complete the SSR program and be ordained into the Swedenborgian Church of North America in 1980.