Joy and Sorrow and Old Friends

I met three old friends lately and had conflicting emotions.

First, I was happy. I’d not seen Joe and Jeanette in 40 years. They attended a church in western Birmingham in which the pastor had a severe heart attack. I’ve forgotten how the church contacted me, but I preached there a few Sundays in his absence. When the pastor’s recuperation period was extended, the church invited me to be their associate for a while. I was a Samford University sophomore accustomed to being in different churches each Sunday, so I only had about six sermons! Serving the church for six months and speaking three times each week was a great experience. The congregation was kind to their fledgling associate and I learned more about church ministry.

Jeanette joined the church at the time. Later she and Joe had a stillborn child. She reminded me of a visit I made to them and some kind things I said. I don’t remember much of this story but was glad to know I encouraged them. I was grateful to learn they’re active and happy in their church in north Alabama where they’ve retired.

But I was sad when I saw Luke. He was at a candidate forum and made a short speech on behalf of an office-seeker, who won on June 5, by the way. I intended to make a bee-line to him when we were done, but he quietly slipped out before the meeting concluded and I could talk with him.

Luke was staff minister at a church I served several years ago. The “long knives” were out to get him when I arrived. I was able to forestall this a bit, but I allowed their negativity to overtake me. I remember the sad evening when two committee chairs and I met with him and asked that he resign. Regrettably, I sat by silently and acquiesced.

I realize now that my job as staff administrator was to make him successful. I failed. I was so busy with the demands of a busy church that I didn’t encourage him to overcome the areas of ministry in which he fell short.

The Ministering to Ministers Foundation says that sometimes ministers need to leave, but they should always be treated fairly. I’m not sure Luke needed to go or was treated fairly. I regret the part I played. I wanted to share regret with him and wish him well in his new work.

I think we all view yesterday with conflicting emotions. We rejoice when God used us in his work, and we’re sad to know sometimes we messed up. But God’s grace and forgiveness, mercifully, gives us hope that we can do better tomorrow.