Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Plush Grass and Polished Granite

Fresh out of seminary, I was "trained" to be the "pastor" of a "church." I was now in "professional ministry." This was my first "charge."

I must admit that it was cool for me to see my name at the bottom of the marquee (curious theater term). There it was: "Jeffrey A. Stewart" with "Pastor" in smaller letters below. I even took a picture of it.

I went in like every other newbie out of seminary does. 8 years of schooling and now I'm ready to ascend the ecclesiastical ladder so that I may end up as the Senior Pastor at one of the denominational biggies.

First things first. This little church will grow, under my capable leadership. I don't care that the average age is 71.78. I will overcome the fact that this little blue-collar town has no major industry left in it. We will flourish and the denomination will take note of it.

Within one month, I would begin to excel in an area I really wasn't ready for. It began with a phone call after I got into my "study" not long after the sun arose, on a warm autumn day.

"Pastor Stewart? This is ___________ of _________ Funeral Home in ________, FL. I suppose you've been informed of the death of ________ _______-son, yesterday afternoon?"

"No. I haven't been informed. Who is ________ _______-son?"

"He was long-time member of your church and former church chairman. He and his wife moved down here about 23 years ago."


"His body is being flown to Pittsburgh today and will be taken to (local funeral home). The family wants you to do the service, which will be this Saturday. They'll probably be calling you today. I thought they already had."

"Okay. Thank you for calling."

"It should be a well attended service. He was pretty well known in that whole area."

"Okay. Thank you for calling."

"Again, the family will probably be calling you pretty soon."

"Okay. I'll expect to hear from them - er ah, anticipate hearing from them. Thanks for letting me know."

"You're welcome. That's it. Thanks."

"Thank you. Bye."

"Good bye."

I swiveled my office chair in my tiny confines to the bookshelf behind me. I quickly found my seminary graduation gift, official denominational book of worship, with my name embossed on the front and denominational president's greeting bookplate on the front inside cover.

I flipped through it for the funeral section. The pages were crisp and new - but that would change over the course of 40 months until the book would fall open to this section.

This was the very first funeral I had in my "career." The Florida funeral director was accurate in his notion, as the service filled the venerable church building.

In 3.5 years, I had 17 funerals (all church members). I actually buried 4 married couples before I married 4 couples. To this day, I have the words of committal at the grave site memorized.

This serves as a backdrop to what I learned and became confronted with, as a young, energetic spiritual leader.

At one of the several committals I had over the next months, an elderly congregant looked around the grassy premises and remarked: "Many, many friends up here, Pastor." All I saw was another cemetery - a beautifully manicured lawn with hundreds of shiny name-engraved head stones.

Now I am at the age where more of my friends have died, slapping me with the open hand of mortality - and a majority of them from "natural causes." My face has lingering finger welts on it.

This life is a vapor full of varying types of splendor.

1 Corinthians 15
37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.