Now, I'm going to speak the truth here, and, as such, we'll give this pastor a fictional name. Why don't we call him John, as in John Wesley.
John went to seminary the same time I did. He was younger than I. I'd taken a tour of the world at the expense of my Uncle Sam before entering the seminary. John and I were not friends. We just didn't run in the same circles.
I, at that age, tended to be clinging to physical exploits. I ran marathons, played on an amateur soccer team, all those macho things of one in a perpetual struggle to defy aging.
John was never seen running. John was never seen participating in competitive sports. I'm not sure what John did, but John appeared to be less than motivated to break a sweat.
I don't know what kind of student John was. He never said much in class; in fact, I don't recall him ever saying anything in class. But when our time there was done he marched across the stage and received his diploma.
John was sent to his first full-time appointment. He when with an eagerness that matched his permanent smile. His appointment was a three church circuit. He rode that circuit with the determination of an eighteenth century circuit rider. He lasted two years there. Eighteen months into that appointment the folks asked for a new pastor. They were not without reason. John, you see, couldn't preach his way out of a wet paper bag.
I remember talking to John just before he went to his new church. He was happy as a lark. The bishop, he told me, had given him this new opportunity and he and his wife couldn't wait to get there. And then he told me how lucky the pastor who was following him was, how great those congregations were.
It wasn't more than three years that the cycle repeated. Did I mention John couldn't preach his way out of a wet paper bag? Once again he was delighted at having a new opportunity for ministry. Once again he was happy for the lucky stiff who was following him. And not once did he complain.
That pattern went on throughout John's entire ministry. For about four decades he moved from one pastoral charge to another with amazing frequency. When he was moving to his last church he once again was delighted to be going there.
Folks weren't impressed with John's preaching. They weren't impressed with his passivity. And yet …
Whenever someone was in the hospital, John was there. Whenever someone's relative was jailed, John was there pleading with the Sheriff for some consideration. Whenever someone lost a loved one, John held their hand. And whenever someone was in pain, John cried with them; John cried real tears of empathy.
I happened to be present on two occasions when John was asked to open a meeting with prayer. You know, we pastors pray all the time, at lease publicly we do. But John, oh, wow, when John prayed it was something different. I think John and the Lord were well acquainted. I think, if anyone does, John knows God's middle name. They talk a lot.
John and I, over the years, knew who each other was. We spoke to each other at gatherings of the brothers and sisters. I like John. I think John likes me. But it was only occasionally, after seminary, our paths crossed.
Nevertheless, when Ms. Parson died, John was there. John drove halfway across the state to just sit in a pew and share my sorrow. He hugged me after the service and whispered in my ear, “I will pray for you twice a day for the next year.” John didn't say “I'll pray for you.” John told me he'd do it twice a day and for how long. It may well have been John's prayers that got me through it.
Did I mention John couldn't preach his way out of a wet paper bag? He couldn't. It's not bragging when I say I can preach circles around John. But John has one up on me. John and Jesus are best friends.