“The most intimate talk between friends is talk of God,” observed Janet Burk. “Not only are you disclosing your faith, which is intimate,” she continued, “but you are sharing your intimacy with God with another person.”
Janet has sought opportunities throughout her life to grow her faith in the company of others, whether in small gatherings of friends or in formal courses, seminars and retreats offered by the Catholic Church. “Knowing more enhances my relationship with God,” she said.
A former member of St. Mary of the Lake parish in Medford, Janet founded a prayer group there that was open to all. “We always told anyone who wanted to come that there was no need to say a word. It was fine to share and it was fine to be silent,” she said. The group, which called itself the Friends of Christ, attracted one of the parish priests as a member. Father Charles Muorah came to the meetings every week. “One day,” she said, “he told us we needed to change our name—to the Joyful Friends of Christ.”
For 25 years, Janet was a member of a Bible study group that met at St. Joan of Arc Church in Marlton. She was so drawn to that experience that she continued to attend even after she and her husband moved permanently to Ocean City fifteen years ago. She also benefited from a year-long lay leadership course offered by her diocese, a course that covered many aspects of theology and faith formation. As a final project Janet, who had been a Catholic school teacher and religious education teacher, wrote a lesson plan on the Beatitudes. Janet has had some of her most profound religious insights in the midst of her study groups. Listening once to Father Quinton Walsh talk about eschatology, the end times, she looked up and realized, “It’s personal, isn’t it?” When Father Walsh nodded, “that really opened me up,” she said.
Although Janet lived most of her 73 years in communities other than Ocean City, her connection to this city and parish goes all the way back to her teens. As a student at Camden Catholic High School, Janet visited Ocean City in the company of her friends for weekend recreation in the summer. Without any parental prodding, she and her friends would attend mass at St. Augustine Church. “Sometimes we would have to kneel on the curb outside because the church was so crowded,” she recalled.
These days, she attends Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. “I love all the homilists,” she said of her current church community. “I have met many lovely people who have encouraged and supported my faith.” Not surprising, she added, “I love how we talk to each other.” Her parish connections became especially important recently when a complicated illness required a three-month hospital stay followed by a challenging physical recovery. “So many people sent me cards and well wishes,” she explained. One card was from someone she didn’t know. It was signed “from the woman with the brown hair who sits behind you in church.”
In the living room of Janet Burk’s home hangs a small replica of Henry Tanner’s 19th century painting of the Annunciation, the original of which is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Janet appreciates Tanner’s realist style—Mary sits on her rumpled bed in ordinary clothes as she grapples with the communication from Gabriel, who appears only as an atmospheric light to one side of the painting. “I have spent a lot of time in front of this painting,” Janet said, as she pointed out more details that help the viewer relate to Mary as a real person.
To know Janet Burk is to know someone with a frank relationship with God. “You can get mad at God sometimes,” she said. “That’s what happens in any real relationship. But I know God is always with me no matter what.”