By: Rev. Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
I can say with confidence that Frederick Baker was someone who knew joy. One of my first memories of Frederick is of him loudly and unabashedly singing praise to God during worship, proclaiming Hallelujah over and again, with hands raised, eyes closed, and an open-mouthed smile spread across his face. Frederick also liked to dance. Sometimes when our community was making music together, Frederick would stand and sway, and snap and sing along to the beat—a perfect exclamation of joy and praise. Frederick was like that—it was almost as if grace just burst forth from him and you might even have some land on you by accident. Most conversations I had with Frederick usually began with his exuberant drawn-out ‘heeeey, guuuurl!’ followed by some sincere compliment of my new hair or nail color or how beautiful my daughter was growing up to be. Frederick noticed things and was never ashamed to share a warm affirmation or offer a gesture of affection. Frederick could always make you feel genuinely good about yourself.
Despite his kind and often joyful demeanor, Frederick did not have an easy life. He struggled with long-term serious health issues and did not always receive or even seek the care he desperately needed. He was often in and out of the hospital. Alongside my pleasant memories of a cheerful Frederick are other memories of him wasting away before my eyes, wheelchair-bound, weak, and still sleeping on the streets. I have an image of Frederick I cannot erase from my mind, small and shivering, sitting in our old basement space, using my phone to make call after call. He was desperate, fatigued, and confused. Frederick had loving family members and friends who cared about his well-being. Over the years he had a number of case workers and health care providers who sought wellness for him too. I believe it is true that while many an individual cared after Frederick, it is also true that our systems are not designed to watch out for him or care for him in his particular vulnerabilities.
Despite the sobering truth that Frederick did not always have his basic needs met—the basic needs that should be afforded to any and every human being bearing the image of God—I find some small comfort in knowing that Frederick experienced a life of joy, companionship, and love. Frederick was not only loved by his creator and his family, but also by many others. There was seldom a time that I saw Frederick without his long-time partner (and often care-giver) John ‘Rambo.’ John almost exclusively referred to Frederick as ‘Sweetie’ and would light up at any opportunity to share a funny anecdote about their relationship. John also did the faithful and difficult every-day work of loving and caring for Frederick.
Frederick ‘Sweetie’ Baker was loved and will be deeply missed by our community. His life mattered. Like all of us, Frederick was a beautifully complex human being, and it was only in community that I was blessed to know him as such. That is one of the graces of community. Community allows us to see one another, value one another, and love one another, not by the measures of this world, but as we truly are—beloved. What an honor it is that Frederick found hospitality and home among our little community—we were blessed to know him and I trust that he is singing his exuberant Hallelujahs with Christ even now.