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'I see my life as a prayer'

Engaging the world with reverent attention.

Forrest Church didn't set out to be a minister. The son of the late Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, who was an influential politician on the national stage, Forrest Church dabbled in politics himself for a while. Ultimately, though, his interest in history led him to the history of religion, and from that concern to Harvard Divinity School.

"I, myself, was not active religiously, but I sort of believed in believers and believed in belief," Church told AARP's Carl Lehmann-Haupt. "It was only (when) completing my divinity degree that I had my Road-to-Damascus experience and realized that I had to be a parish minister. …I wasn't blinded in the streets, but I was certainly transformed."

After he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Church says he reflected on his 30 years at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City and grappled with the sentence given to him. "[There is a] dual reality of being alive and knowing we must die," he said. "We participate in the experiment of life that we ponder. We carry the life force that impelled us, that created us, and we carry it forward."

With his cancer spreading, he said, "At this point, I see my life as a prayer," elaborating, "Prayer is reverent attention; and before, I felt I had to take myself out of my life to be reverently attentive." As his health slipped, Church said, "I began to recognize that I could engage the world fully with reverent attention and make my life a prayer; not a perfect prayer—there's no such thing—but prayer-like."