It’s not even my first Sunday yet, and I’ve already made my first hospital visit in the Central Vermont area. Last night I met Bob L., a retired pastor and, before that, a lifelong member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Montpelier. Bob taught language arts for twenty-five years and then was a pastor for another twenty, and so he has what he describes as a forty-five year career in simultaneous teaching and ministry. Bob had been ill for much of the summer, and preached what was presumably his last sermon at his home church in August, before his health took a radical downturn in the last week or so.
Although his energy is pretty scarce, Bob talked to me for nearly an hour about his ministry in both the school system working with kids in need of basic reading skills and equally in need of positive role models, and in the United Methodist Church, teaching and preaching throughout Troy Conference and toward the end of his career in Montana. He asked me about my calling to ministry, my childhood, my family, our settling in here in town. He shared insights from his journey and encouraged me to wear my clerical collar (which I was at the time, something he very much appreciated) and my robe, to convey the position and the mystery and at the same time to be myself so folks could see that the servant in that role was a person just like them. He introduced me to every medical staff person who came into the room, with no hesitation and with a trace of pride, as his pastor.
Bob knows that he is nearing the end of his time, and he says he’s anxious to go home, and “meet the Lord, and see if he’s the same one I’ve been preaching about my whole life!” He’s dying, with dignity and courage, and yet even at the end of his life, he took the time and the energy to share with a young clergywoman, four years into her ministry and four days into her ministry in Central Vermont, his experience, his insight, his wisdom. What a gift.
Who was visiting who?
After we each said a prayer, I took my leave. “It was wonderful to meet you, Bob,” I said, “and I will see you again.”
“Yes you will,” he said with what might have been a wink. “Here or There.”