The most fun I ever had in the ministry (part 1)

A friend challenged me to write an article under this title. She saw where I posted a number of possible subjects to get the creative writing juices going for preachers, and the one titled “write about the most fun you ever had in the ministry” intrigued her.

I told her I’d give it a try.

With the call of God on one’s life, a place to serve, great friends alongside you, and laughter in your heart, it hardly gets any better than this!

Now, fun comes in many shapes and sizes and varieties in the ministry.  Mostly, for me, the “fun” was of two types:  a) everyone enjoying one another and b) great things happening in the church.

This article is of the first type; the next article gives the second type of fun.

We were having the staff Christmas party at our house.  With spouses and everyone, we ended up with 25 people, all gaily dressed and each one bringing a gift for the tree.  During the evening, we drew numbers and chose a gift and opened it.  Lots of laughter and silliness.  As one staffer–I forget who it was–opened her present and headed back to her seat, I said, “Let me see that.”  It was a tiny slot machine with a lever.  Holding it in front of me, I pulled the lever–and got a squirt of water in my eyes.  Everyone laughed, but no one laughed harder than Christine Parks.  She said, “When we bought it, I told Doss I want Joe to get this.  He has to get this!”  Well, I didn’t, but I got the squirt in the eye, which was the whole point.  Divine justice?

 

In one church I served as a staffer, not as pastor, our coffee breaks were bedlam.  Someone would come in with a story, serious or silly, and everyone else took it from there–making funny comments, giving hilarious perspectives, inventing comedy routines on the spot.

Fifteen minutes later–or sometimes a full half hour later!–when we returned to our cubby-holes– we were exhausted from laughing.  It was the best fun of that type I’ve ever had.

Want to hear a couple of those stories?  The first one is on me and I blush to this day. But the office and ministerial staff at Jackson, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church made me pay dearly for my faux pas.

I need to say up front I was as pure as the driven snow. (At least this time.)

My small office was across the hall from the church office suite.  That morning, I was crossing the reception area on my way to the minister of education’s office.  A strikingly beautiful young brunette was standing at the receptionist desk talking to Lynn Marshall.  Now, curiosity had me in its grip and would not release me. Who was this vision? I was not going to be rude and turn and stare as I went past. So, I walked to the other side of the reception area, then turned around and looked back. I recognized her.

“Hi Linda,” I said.

“Hey Joe. How are you?”

Linda was a local television personality and a member of our church.

I said, “I didn’t recognize you at first, I was looking at your rear.”

She was going to let me get by with that, but not the receptionist. Lynn’s eyes bugged out. It was all she could do not to burst out laughing.

I stammered, “I’m trying to say, I didn’t recognize you because I was looking at your back side.”

That just made it worse.

One more try. “I was looking at the back of your head!”

Later when our team gathered for the afternoon coffee break, Lynn Marshall had told that story and they were all ready for me.  They ragged me, no one believed my pleas of innocence, and I never lived it down.

That was great.  Shared laughter–when no one is being hurt–can be as comforting as a truckload of hugs.

Another one.

When Pastor Larry Rohrman came to us, he brought alone his wonderful secretary, Elsie Word. (She later married Pastor Don Brown and they became missionaries to Israel.)  Anyway.  When the pastor and Elsie were both new and still learning the membership, an urgent call came to the church one day.  A “Mister Sullivan” had been killed in a wreck and they wanted the pastor to get to his home as soon as possible to comfort the family.  Elsie looked up the address and gave it to the pastor, and he headed out the door.

Fifteen minutes later, he was knocking at the door of the Sullivan residence.  Mrs. Sullivan opened the door. “Why, pastor! What are you doing here?”

It dawned on Pastor Larry that Mrs. Sullivan had not learned yet that her husband had been killed.  His work had just been made a hundred times harder.

“We had a call at the church that your husband was killed.  I am so sorry.”

“My husband? Pastor, there’s got to be some mistake.”

“No, ma’am. There’s no mistake.”

“But pastor, my husband was here in the house just two hours ago.”

Pastor Larry kept insisting.  Then the phone rang.

It was Elsie from the church office. “I’m so sorry, pastor. I sent you to the wrong Sullivans!”

Now, there is nothing funny in that story.  However, that did not stop our church staff from finding a hundred humorous angles to it.  For a long time, we were told, the pastor suffered from the embarrassment for himself and the pain for the Sullivans.  But gradually, he learned to laugh about it also.

Someone in the break room said, “Well, there is a good side to it. One of these days, when that Mr. Sullivan dies, the preacher knocks at the door and says, “As I was saying.”  Or, “I told you!”

Only church workers would find humor in that, I suppose.

The biggest laugh of all came, likewise at the pastor’s expense, came when Pastor Larry was new in the church….

He had opened the service by baptizing several new believers.  Then, ten minutes later, he entered the worship service which was in progress.  He seemed to be tickled about something.

When the pastor got up to preach, he was laughing. Halfway through the reading of the Scripture, he broke into laughter.  That’s when he said, “I can see now, I’m not going to be able to preach tonight if I don’t tell you what happened in the baptistery dressing room.”

“After baptizing, I was getting dressed and realized the zipper on my trousers had broken. It would not zip up.”

The dowagers in the staid old First Baptist Church of Jackson Mississippi went into shock. Did he just say “zipper”?

Larry continued, “Bill and Mickey Brunson were back there assisting, and it turns out that Bill and I are the same size.”  Pause. “I am wearing Bill’s suit.”  Laughter.

“And I’m standing here wondering what Bill is going to do.”

More laughter.

So, he went on with the sermon.  But halfway through the message, the congregation sees the front doors (to the side of the pulpit) open, and Bill and Mickey enter.  Bill is dressed in a nice suit–obviously the pastor’s–and he is carrying in front of him his raincoat.

The congregation erupted in laughter.

When it finally died down, Pastor Larry said, “Bill, we are curious as to how you solved the problem.”

Bill Brunson, always ready with a good comeback, simply said, “Curiosity is not my problem.”

We laughed about that over the years, but there is more.

One day when I was in their home, Mickey Brunson told me the rest of the story. Back in the baptistery dressing room, she was trying to repair the zipper to those pants so Bill could wear them.  Nothing worked.  One of the remedies she tried was to remove the butterfly pin from the shoulder of her own dress and to pin it in front of the pants. That picture was more than I could take.

So, I sketched that for them–Bill entering the sanctuary, wearing Pastor Larry’s suit, with a butterfly perched in the center of his fly.

The last I heard, the pastor had that picture. Since he’s now in heaven, no telling where it is.

But the memory and laughter are with us forever.

When staffers from that church period get together, as we do occasionally, we remind each other of our stories and we laugh again.  It was such a great time.

It was the father of Professor Joe Cothen and denominational leader Grady Cothen who told them, “Boy, the Lord has put a delicate balance in His church. He has put just enough headstrong, ornery people to keep you the pastor humble. And He has put just enough sweet-spirited saints to keep you from quitting.”

I’m so thankful for both groups. But mostly the latter.

 

One thought on “The most fun I ever had in the ministry (part 1)

  1. Those were great days, Joe. I didn’t know the inner workings of the church office, but as a college student I knew that God was doing some very special things in my life through you and that church. I am always grateful. I remember studying an evangelism course with you on the MC campus and then going to Panama City, FL for spring break mission trip.

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