Change Font Size:   A A A

May 10, 2011 | Bob Kinney

Faith Fuels Battle Against Cancer

Reid KirchemWhen a healing prayer practitioner visited Reid Kirchem soon after he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given three months to live in October 2009, she asked the cradle Episcopalian who should be in her prayers as they sat in his Austin home.


Kirchem began listing scores of his decades-old friends who had recently rallied to support him in what seemed then to be his waning months.


“Can I pray for you, too”? she finally asked. “OK, I guess,” Kirchem replied – much as an afterthought.


The 72-year-old Galveston native “has really wanted to help folks throughout his life,” said Portia Sweet, who met Kirchem at the first Camp Allen o
n Galveston Bay when both were young teens.


A successful insurance and financial adviser now retired, Kirchem helped ensure the financial well-being of thousands of persons and enhanced the parish life and endowments of three Episcopal churches, as well as the Diocese of Texas through his five decade work-life.


Many clients soon became his friends. “Reid is really good at making friends,” said Carol Price, a Kirchem daughter who lives in Austin. “Business is his ministry and faith plays a huge part in his life.” “Reid is a very giving person who is larger than life,” added Price’s spouse, Marty Robbins.


Kirchem and Madelaine – who recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary and first met at University of Texas Canterbury in the late 1950s – “did much to launch and grow Grace Episcopal mission in Alameda,” said Sweet, who is completing Iona School studies for the diaconate in the diocese.


The couple then began a 26-year life at St. John the Divine, Houston, where they took part in Stephen Ministry, brought communion to the homebound and made hundreds of hospital calls.


Moving to Austin in 2002 after selling his business to Ellen Mallay – who he had mentored for several years – the couple joined St. Matthew’s Church where Reid was an usher and active member of the parish’s Holy Smokers – a group of men who delight in grilling meat for church events.


His cancer diagnosis 18 months ago at first plunged Kirchem into a depression, recalls Mallay. She invited him to come to Houston in a few months when the Rev. Mike Endicott, an Anglican priest who advocates the power of prayer, would be speaking. “What makes you think I will be alive then,” Kirchem asked her.


Mallay then sent an 11 cd collection of Endicott’s talks to her friend. “Endicott urges you to get to know Jesus through the Gospels – instead of begging and pleading to Christ,” Mallay said.


“I was really sick back then,” Kirchem said. “Listening to the healing prayer talks was a great experience for Madelaine and me. We were was really taken by their power and simplicity.”


Kirchem began to bounce back. “Endicott’s talks about Expectation, Proclamation and Hope really spoke to me. As the Kingdom of God draws nearer with death should not miracles be a regular occurrence in life?”


“Our lives should be filled with Expectation. The Gospels talk a lot about meeting people face to face. As we plow the fields that are ready for us, we become filled with the Holy Spirit,” Kirchem said.  


“Reid’s tireless spirit began coming back. The Word of God ministered to him,” Mallay said.


Buoyed by his re-strengthened faith and resolve, Kirchem planned his funeral service in detail, flew to Florida to play in a golf tournament (and expects to do so again) and visited the Grand Canyon with a Panhandle friend who also was living with cancer. A week-long stay in Galveston, his hometown, is planned this summer.


“Trips have always energized Reid. He delighted in planning everything,” daughter Carol said. “We drove through every state in the country during summer vacations as I grew up.” When asked what his favorite state is, Reid quickly replies Hawaii “where we visited seven times.”


The Kirchems had to sell their oft-visited condominium in the Colorado Rocky Mountains when Reid entered hospice care. A stunning portrait of a mountain scene hangs above their fireplace in the living room.


Kirchem rides the stationary bicycle in his home ten miles every day and actively follows UT sports.


And, God continues to wake him up most nights around 3am. Noting this has happened  to him throughout decades, Kirchem uses the time to read about his favorite topic – Faith, work on an ongoing theological project, explore biblical texts like Ephesians, write in his daily journal or – infrequently – go back to sleep. Back during his work years in Houston, Kirchem would often take afternoon naps to balance out the wake-up calls. Retirement years now allow more flexibility.


His single-spaced journal recounts the day’s events and reflects on the joy of each moment. “As the Rev. Susan Barnes (Reid’s chaplain from St. Matthew’s) often reminds me,” he writes, “cancer is the gift of time – the gift of just one additional day to make the most of – to search for what God has prepared us for in the larger life of eternity … God’s steadfast Love never ceases and He has new mercies waiting for us every morning that never come to an end. What will it be tomorrow?”