Some pastoral duties carried me back down memory lane recently. That lane transversed the state from east to west. The first stirred memory was my first parish, down in Wilkes County, Georgia. Apparently, the bishop thought I was a really capable and upcoming pastor. That was apparent, it seemed to me, in that my first assignment was to pastor three congregations simultaneously.
I remember my first Sunday there. The first worship service was at Pope’s Chapel, the oldest, still functioning, United Methodist church in North Georgia. I stepped into the pulpit and as I started to place my Bible on it I saw the plaque. “Francis Asbury, first Bishop of the Methodist Church, preached from this pulpit in 1805.” I was humbled. I was thrilled. I was scared to death. I made it through the service, hopped into my car and headed to the next church to preach. That church was named Independence. It took less than a month to ascertain that they certainly lived up to their name.
Those pastoral duties, referred to above, took me past those first churches I served. I stopped at each, got out of the car, walked around. At Independence I discovered the door unlocked and went inside. Nothing had changed. I wandered the cemetery at each church noting the headstones of those who had so graciously allowed me to be their pastor. I prayed a silent prayer that their lives had been full of joy.
My journey took me back toward Atlanta. There I passed by my home church, that place where I began my spiritual journey, where, as a teenager, I became intrigued with the possibility of ministry. Again, I parked, got out, walked around and remembered. Most of my attention was taken by a smaller building. It was the church when I was there. Back then it was a large church with probably many hundreds of members. Now, its grown to a megachurch sitting on ten or twelve acres where the cathedral like sanctuary dwarfs the smaller church I remember.
As I walked about, I remembered all those pastors who had shaped me. Most of all I remembered Clyde Calloway. Clyde Calloway was a power in the United Methodist Church. He was a one-of-a-kind, a most-unforgettable character. He was my confidant, my mentor, my prayer partner. He’d kept in touch with me during the time I traveled the world for my Uncle Sam. He’d encouraged me to go to seminary.
The day before I headed to that first church, he summoned me to his office. Arriving, he instructed me to sit. He placed his pipe in an ashtray. Smiling, he said, “I’ve got two presents to celebrate you going to your first church.” He reached into a drawer and withdrew a gift wrapped package. I opened it. It was a leather bound Bible with my name on it in gold letters. It was the first time I’d seen “Reverend” in front of my name.”
I thanked him profusely. Then he reached under his desk and removed another long rectangular package also gift wrapped. I opened it. I was the second time I’d seen “Reverend” in front of my name. This time it was burned into the handle of a plumber’s helper.
I looked at Clyde confused. He said, “Now, tomorrow you’re going to start serving churches. You’re a smart young man, educated at really good Methodist schools. It’s possible you could get by without that Bible.”