Rev. Ken Edwards Baptizing Drew, 2004
MinistryMatters.org recently contacted bloggers and asked us to share our thoughts on a pastor or other ministry leader who has had a profound impact on our life in honor of Clergy Appreciation Month. The blog tour includes posts from some of my favorite writers like Matthew Paul Turner, Adam Hamilton and a new friend and author, Jessica LaGrone.
Initially, I thought being part of the tour would be easy. However, sharing how much each of the pastors, teachers, and other ministry leaders in my life have impacted me is more like a book and less like a blog post so I chose to narrow it down.
The day my husband and I were married, Rev. Ken Edwards was the incoming pastor of the congregation that weekend. He was literally moving into his office on our wedding day. My husband and I nor our parents had a large budget for the day. So, it was a fairly simple event with friends arranging the flowers and decorations. I was at the church getting ready for the big day. It was a hot July day in Tennessee and the afternoon wedding could not approach too soon. However, something happened that day that could have been disastrous for a simple afternoon church wedding.
All across the church, you could hear the words "please exit the building" being spoken very loudly in a computerized female voice. This very audible voice was accompanied by loud beeping noises and we quickly learned was part of the fire safety system. There was no fire in the building. Storms and lightning had triggered the alarm and it simply could not be turned off. My father and the brand new pastor (who was moving into his office) quickly devised a plan after every attempt to appropriately disarm the alarm. Now, I am not certain it happened the way I am about to describe. But, I am certain that my dad would be willing to do almost anything to keep his daughter's wedding day from being ruined. I am told that our new pastor and my dad were ready to cut the wires. Can you imagine you are the brand new pastor of a church and may soon be held responsible for cutting the wires of a very sophisticated system when you have not even met the head of trustees or delivered your first sermon yet!? I am certain that he would and could have followed through with this alongside my father. My panicked prayers were answered and miraculously, the alerts stopped and just minutes before the guests arrived, the quiet of the church returned and our church's new pastor continued his move. The day was a simple success as we were surrounded by loved ones and married by our Associate Pastor, Dr. Harold Martin, who was soon to be assigned another congregation. We didn't get to know Harold as well as we would soon get to know our incoming pastor, Ken.
In the years to come, my husband and I were asked by our pastor to serve on a debt reduction team. I'm not sure about you, but asking a young married couple to serve on a debt reduction team sounds like a pretty miserable offer. However, we were honored to be asked and were told by Ken that he saw leadership potential in us. This is either the right thing to say to get people to "sign up" or a very honest statement. We chose to believe the second part of that statement. We learned so much during our time on this campaign. We learned tremendously about the functions of the church, our denomination, and we learned a lot about the people. We connected with individuals in many different stages of life and we actually made a difference. That campaign was a success in the life of the congregation and has drastically brought our church's debt down in the past decade. Today our congregation is within reach of being debt free. Because our pastor believed in us, we were part of making a difference.
There were other ways that our pastor invested in our lives as a young couple. He and the staff invited us to begin a college age Sunday School class along with other opportunities for personal growth and service. They believed in us as individuals and encouraged us to grow into who God wanted us to be by using our gifts in service to the congregation. He played a large role in our spiritual formation as individuals and as a couple. Pastor Ken baptized our newborn son, Drew. Ken challenged us to think outside the box and also set a great example for living a life outside of ministry as a father and a husband.
While we were shaped by all of these, I believe the most profound impact of all was his presence in our lives. His presence as the new guy at our wedding was never forgotten. About six years later came the day my husband made the call to the church to inform them we were in the hospital and there was a mass on my brain. That day, Pastor Ken and others from our church staff came alongside our family. They prayed for us and slipped restaurant gift cards and cash into my husband's pockets. However, the most important thing from our pastor was again his presence. He was present that day we nearly had to cut the wires to keep the peace at our wedding and he was present the day they took me into surgery to remove the mass on my brain. He didn't offer up tons of verbal prayers and act all pastor-like or make any false promises. He was scared just like we were that day. He was simply present and helped the time go by on a miserable day of waiting in a hospital room for surgery to begin.
As I reflect on this pastor's role in my life, I cannot help but notice it wasn't about the sermons he preached (although they were good) or the deadlines and pressure he was under as a pastor to make our church successful or debt free. Instead, I remember the importance he placed on us as individuals, that he cared for us and was willing to be present when we needed his support (and maybe even cut some wires). He made a huge impact on my life by being a real person who just happened to be near my side when I simply needed his presence in my life.
In my own life and ministry, I'm reminded that my performance is not as important as my presence and that being a real person trumps being a perfect person. Plus, serving God may sometimes mean being willing to cut some wires!
Whitney R. Simpson
• author • yoga & meditation teacher • spiritual director • creating soul care resources for exploring the gift of God's peace with breath, body & spirit •
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