Edith lived along the highway a few miles down from the church. With her in the modest frame house was her infirm husband who had been ill for some time. She was an authentic “shut in” in the ecclesiastical lingo of that rural church, confined to her home because of the condition of her husband who needed constant care.
Would it be immodest if I said that I, the new pastor and latest in a string of short term ministers, was her favorite?
My occasional visits would be brief but sprinkled with her effusive praise like, “We’re so lucky to have you” and “You’re the best pastor we’ve ever had.”
Modesty demanded that I respond with appropriate humility and change the subject. “Well, ma’am, thank yuh, thank yuh very much, and how have you been doing?”
We would have a short visit. She would share some stories. Sometimes I’d heard them before from her, maybe even on my last visit. No matter, it meant something that her pastor had come to visit. It didn’t offend her when I would bring the visit to an end by saying, “Edith, I want to pray with you before I go.” Short visits are best and this was a good way to wrap it up.
She got into a pattern early on, though, of offering me a Coke after I prayed.
“Sure, I’d love one,” I replied on the first such occasion.
“Well, come with me preacher” and we would go out of the house and walk to an old store building a few feet away. She and her husband operated this tiny country store but it had been closed for years. The small, one room building was cluttered with junk and used for storage, except for an old, 1950s vintage chest Coca-Cola cooler, the kind that had metal rails and where you would slide the bottled drink between the rails and take it out. The unit had an old style bottle opener on the side. To my surprise the cooler was plugged in and working and was filled with six ounce bottles of Coke. No Diet Cokes, Fantas, or Sprites. Just real, sugared Cokes in those small, thick bottles for which you had to either pay a deposit or return. Southerners, especially Georgians, will always declare that six ounce Cokes in the heavy glass reusuable bottles are better than any other sizes or flavors.
She trusted her beloved pastor and didn’t make me pay the two cent deposit, confident that I’d bring the empty with me on my next visit. Perhaps she planned it so that I would have to bring the bottle back.
In time, her husband died. I ministered to him while he was sick and in the hospital and conducted the funeral. A new church called me soon thereafter and I ended my ministry and moved some distance away.
A couple of years later, there was an event for which I was invited back. It was good to return and see the folks and worship with them once again. I recall standing in the center aisle of the sanctuary and seeing Edith coming in the main door. It would be good to see the sweet lady. No doubt she would be happy to see her former pastor that meant so much to her.
I took a step and was going to greet her by name when without a hint or a nod of recognition, she blew right past me, headed for her current pastor. The new favorite.
I had a chuckle over that reminder that maybe the beloved pastor should not to think more highly of himself than he ought and that whatever extraordinary gifts, personality, and skills you have that you think uniquely endear you to the congregation, once you’re gone the next guy will likely be just as good and just as appreciated.
On reflection, I’d conclude that Edith had it right. Your favorite pastor ought to be your current one. And, conversely, brethren, your favorite church ought to be the one you currently pastor, not the last one, not the bigger and better next one.
…but I wonder if she gave the new guy those six ounce Cokes when he visited?