Thursday of this week was unlike any 12 hour period of the last four-and-a-half years for me. I was a pastor again, doing the things pastors typically do.
Here’s how it went.
For two hours–from 7 to 9 am–I sat in the waiting room of my local tire store. After finding out the previous afternoon that the wait to have my tires rotated would be up to two hours, I decided to be there when they opened the next morning. Thursday morning at 7 o’clock, I was there. A woman and I walked in together, and ended up the sole occupants of the waiting room as the employees worked on our car and kept finding additional services we needed. In my case, it was a front end alignment, wind-shield wiper replacement, new air filter, and one of my tires was questionable. (It was the spare that had come with the car when it was new. After a blowout a few months back, we took it out of the trunk and put it on the ground. Small numbers on the tire indicate it was manufactured in the 25th week of 2004. Who knew tires get old so quickly and become hazardous? We put it back in the trunk for the emergency spare and placed the spare, a new tire, in its place. We’re leaving on a 2-3 week vacation on July 27 and want the tires to be in good shape.)
I had prayed for the Lord to use the time in the store. He did.
The woman and I gradually began to chat, first about her job, then her church (her pastor is a close friend), and finally about her broken marriage and the challenges she faces dealing with a non-responsive ex-husband, bad finances, two young children, and such. I made suggestions on getting help, shared two scriptures that seem ready-made for her situation, and we prayed together.
Since she drives almost 10 miles to church on Sunday, and lives only a few blocks from the First Baptist Church of Kenner, when she found out that I will be preaching there this Sunday night at 6 o’clock, she said, “I’m coming.” I suggested it wouldn’t be a bad idea for her to have this as her back-up church family since she lives so close, but to remain a member of the fine church she already has.
I was 10 o’clock arriving at the associational office. In the meantime, the pastor’s secretary from our church called to tell me of two families in Ochsner Hospital. One family had asked if I might run by to visit, since death seems eminent.
I’m no longer a pastor but I know my calling. God did not give me a pastor’s heart for nothing. (Every retired pastor knows the feeling.) I told her I would go.
At noon, I left the office for the hospital, intentionally going the long route in order to check on two of our churches.
Good News Baptist Church is putting the finishing touches on their new facility at the corner of Tonti and Painter Streets. Workmen were all over the building and Pastor Oscar Williams was only too happy to show me around. Their first services are this Sunday, so he is excited. We prayed together for Heaven’s blessings upon their ministry. I’ll be preaching for them next Wednesday evening.
What’s interesting about their location is it’s not more than three blocks from the great Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. I didn’t ask why they would choose to build a new church so close to a mega-congregation, but I expect they know what they’re doing. Fred Luter draws his huge membership from a vast area, whereas Oscar will be focusing strictly on the immediate neighborhood. It’s an area, incidentally, still in great need. Every other house is still uninhabited, although many are being rebuilt. In places, the streets look like bombs–or at least hand grenades–have gone off.
Twenty minutes later, I was walking through the stripped down shell of the “new” Faith Baptist Church at the corner of Fern and South Claiborne Streets. Workmen were all over the place, in both the sanctuary and ed buildings. Calvin Watson is the leading layman of this congregation which came out of First Baptist Church, New Orleans, some six years ago when they relocated across the city to Canal Street. Faith wanted to maintain a witness in the Uptown area and has “boarded” ever since, first with First Presbyterian until Katrina and now with Rayne Memorial United Methodist on St. Charles Avenue. A few months ago, they purchased this hurricane-damaged plant from a Christian Science church, and are hard at work to get it fixed up. (Seminary professor and former missionary Dr. Tim Searcy has been their longtime “interim” pastor.)
Calvin Watson said, “It may be Christmas before we’re in the building.” We prayed together for God’s provisions and blessings for their rebuilding and their ministry.
Then, to the hospital.
Wesley and Jenny (Moore) Bouler grew up in FBC-Kenner, so I was their pastor for many years and did their wedding. Just over two years ago, she gave birth to twin boys, Christian and Andrew. Wednesday, she did it again–Aiden and Jackson. Four boys, two sets of twins. Wesley himself is a twin, with his brother Marcus.
It was a great time for a visit, evidently. The twins’ Aunt Lindsey was in the room, and soon great-Grandfather Dwayne Carpenter entered with a friend from his retirement complex. Next, Grandmother Courtney Moore entered with three of her college buddies who, judging by the beads around their necks, had been seeing the town. The room was quite full now and the babies were the hit of the season. I suggested to Wesley that he sell tickets. He said, “I’m taking names for baby-sitters.”
Another of our families whom I have not seen in a number of years filled a waiting room, standing vigil for their 57-year-old son, husband, father, and grandfather. We hugged and visited, and I accompanied the distraught mother into the room where her son lies unconscious, with machines all around and attendants on duty continuously. I bent over the patient and spoke softly to him. We went over the 23rd Psalm and prayed.
Another church member was nearby with a childhood friend from rural Mississippi, and asked me to stop in and pray with them.
At 3:30, I drove to the Acme Oyster House on Veterans and ate lunch, a grilled-shrimp salad with remoulade dressing, one of my favorites. I retreated to a back corner and delved into a Paula Fox book on her experiences just after the Second World War. I was blown away to discover that this noted author is the grandmother of Courtney Love! My premarital counseling appointment was not until 5 o’clock, so I enjoyed an extended quietness.
After lunch, I ran by Border’s Bookstore, just up the street. Margaret finds this hard to believe, but when I walked out the door, I had not bought a thing. I felt like a member of AA who attends a cocktail party without taking a sip. Rather proud of myself.
For the next hour, I visited with Renee and Buddy, who will be married in nine days. They had read Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages,” and we talked of its lessons. I saw Gary at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis a month ago and told him I am personally responsible for buying at least one million of the four million copies of that book in print. We’ve given them to couples getting married ever since it first hit the bookstores nearly 20 years ago.
Renee and Buddy both hail from old French families of southern Louisiana, and you can hear it in his voice particularly. We talked of many things, but perhaps most importantly, of how they can get started reading the Bible and praying with each other. “Just a few verses,” I suggested, “and just a short prayer.” As they get past the initial shyness, if they will stay with the program, in time they will feel more comfortable and the prayers will be more specific and the Scriptures more empowering.
Twelve hours after leaving the house, I walked in the door. The day had been full and good, and the Lord had heard my prayer offered early that morning for Him to guide me throughout the day. I didn’t do much that had the Director of Missions tag on it, but it was all related to the Kingdom of God.
Many a time, your pastor will spend his day in a similar way as this. It’s what it means to be a shepherd–you care and minister to the flock, wherever they are, whether they are members of your own church or not.
If your pastor has a shepherd’s heart, nurture and encourage it. Pray for him, bless him, and speak well of him to others. Slip him a $20 bill the next time you have a little extra. Tell him it’s for a grilled shrimp salad the next time he is able to take a break.