My dear friend, Charles Wood (catch his blog, “The Woodchuck’s Den” in my sidebar of recommended blogs) wrote a thought-provoking and emotional article recently that I thought I’d share with my readers. I hope it changes the way we view people in our own churches.
Recently, an email from my Brother, Bud, put me in a “nostalgia” mode. I am old enough now that I think I can get away with some story telling (Jesus did it all the time), and his email took me back to my childhood. What immediately follows is the result of my thinking about some of the good times of my early life, but it has pertinence to our day and special relevance to the subject of compassion about which I wrote yesterday.
We grew up in First Baptist of Hackensack, N. J. The church has been known in modern times as the place where Dr. Joseph M. Stowell Sr. was pastor for many years, and he came when I was a young teen. His predecessor, Dr. Harry C. Leach, was pastor for about thirty years (if my memory serves me correctly) and did a marvelous job as the Hackensack church was one of the largest in the area long before anyone thought of a bus ministry. Pastor Leach was the one who first stirred the idea of ministry in my heart (and Dr. Stowell helped to fan that spark into flame). Pastor Leach was a good and a godly man. For years, if I closed my eyes and thought of God, I saw his face.
The Leaches had started out as missionaries to Burma (again, I hope my memory is correct) but came back to the States because of health issues in the family. They had four children: Edward. Ava, Virginia and Marion. I don’t have any recollection of Edward other than that he died quite young. Ava and Ginny married pastors who ended up in the Southern Baptist Convention, but Marion stayed single. She was competent and efficient and became what we would call an Administrative Assistant to her father.
What Bud told me that I didn’t know was that Marion wrote a book, Crowded Pews; Lonely People. I don’t know at what point in her life she wrote it, but I have no doubt is was somewhat born of her experiences of being a single woman in the context of a local church where most of the women were married. Commenting on the book, Bud said, “One of the loneliest places in the world is in the pew at church. I have been there many times and know too much about that
subject.” Tragically, I think this is an all-too-familiar experience for many people.
What a contrast between that overly familiar experience and what Loraine found as a widow. She was a youthful fifty-six when O. J. died, and she had just moved back to Michigan after living in California for thirteen years. She decided to attend a church she had not attended before, and I think she somewhat dreaded being in church alone. But she wasn’t alone, as one individual and several other people determined that she would not be. Elly Gale and her great husband, Rod, decided to “adopt” her and make sure she had friends. A “small group” encircled her with love (and even came to South Bend after we were married to be sure that she was in a good place and being treated right). Elly allowed her to talk with Rod when she needed advice or a man’s viewpoint and never showed even a trace of jealousy, and he was incredibly helpful to Loraine with solid advice and godly wisdom.
Nice story, huh? But how does it apply? In several ways:
First, there are lonely, hurting people right around you in your own church. Second, single women should be objects of love and care, not the butt of snide ”old maid” jokes. Third, the Bible makes a special case for the special care of widows, Fourth, why not make a point of discovering someone in your church who is lonely and “adopting” them into your life and family? (Ladies, if you can’t allow your husband to be a Biblical friend to a widow, you’ve got a problem). Finally, don’t assume that because someone seems to be doing, or says, he or she is ok, that they are being truthful. I’ve learned over the years how to cover a lot of pain and internal struggle (after all the pastor just has to “keep a stiff upper lip”). I assume there are many others who have done the same. Maybe we ought to simply offer a word of encouragement instead of asking people how they are doing.
Dr. Charles Wood