I drove 70 miles each way last night to attend the wake of the father of one of our pastors who had suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 72. Pastor Lynn Rodrigue said, “Dad was in great health. In fact, he’d just had a physical and they had to ask him to step off the treadmill because he could have done that all day.” He said, “I suppose it was just his time.”
One never knows. And that’s the reason for this.
I need to say ‘thank you’ to some people while I’m still able to do so. On the one hand, I’ll be retiring from this position with New Orleans Baptists at the end of April, and since so many churches across our land have sent their members and resources our way in the last 3 years and six months, I need to thank them for that. Likewise, since I’m only three years younger than Mr. Rodrigue when he exited this life and since we have no foreknowledge of when our moment will be, I need to thank a lot of people for their input and encouragement to me through all these years.
If that sounds like an impossible job — to thank everyone who ever helped our New Orleans churches and me personally — I’m confident it is. Where to start and when to end!
On a personal level, I thank my family. My devoted wife of nearly 47 years, Margaret, and our wonderful sons Neil and Marty and their incredible wives, Julie and Misha, and our daughter Carla. As the saying goes, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Of course, the eight grands have added a dimension to my life like nothing else. In order of their appearance, this would be Leah, Jessica, Grant, Abby, Erin, Darilyn, JoAnne, and Jack.
I thank my wonderful Mom and terrific Dad (he’s in Heaven) who brought me into this world and nurtured me and taught me to appreciate work and the good earth, my beloved brothers and sisters who made sure I did not reach adulthood without the requisite numbers of scars and great memories, and my cousins and aunts and uncles who invited me into their homes (I remember every detail of every visit!) and introduced me to their worlds and let me know they believed in me.
Is this getting boring? I was afraid of that.
This must be one of those exercises that is meaningful only to the one doing it. When you finish, you feel like you’ve done something significant, but it’s not anything anyone else would want to read.
Okay, let’s try this approach….
In my first church — Unity Baptist of Kimberly, Alabama, 1962-63 — I thank Mr. Carter. He was not a deacon (told me he couldn’t be one for personal reasons) but if ever a church had a deacon in spirit and service, he was one. He took this kid preacher aside and cautioned me about the use of slang from the pulpit. It was a courageous thing for him to do and I’m eternally grateful. I’ve heard a few preachers over the years I thought ought to have a personal visit from Mr. Carter. I thank Mr. Guthrie and Monte Sue and the others.
In my second church — Central Baptist of Tarrant, AL, where I was a staffer for six months in 1964 before heading to seminary — I thank Pastor Morris Freeman who made me think I had great potential in the ministry. He let me preach in his absence, do a funeral, and handle visitation. The congregation was so loving that when we left for New Orleans, they took up a generous love offering. I thank Ron Adema and Henry Hallmark for their friendship.
In my third church — Paradis Baptist Church, Paradis, Louisiana, 1965-67 — I thank Mo Sims, a manager of a local plant who joined while I was pastor and with his wife Joyce devoted himself to encouraging me. When we were loading the truck to move to Mississippi, he took a gander at the humble apartment in the rear of the church where we had been living and apologized. Then he made sure the church bought a piece of land in a nice subdivision and built a great home for the next pastor. Every pastor would die for such a deacon. I thank Jessie Rodriguez for building the bookcases that still sit beside my bed, and Betty Lacy for her faithfulness. I thank Marie Porter for always considering herself “your other mom” and Earl Strahan for believing in me.
In my fourth church — Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi, 1967-70 — I thank Ethel Keeling. This wonderful lady saw her young pastor shivering at a mid-winter funeral one day. By the time I returned to the church office, she had purchased an all-weather London Fog topcoat for me and it was laying on my desk. I thank Lawrence Bryant for praying with me and Jack and Marian Smith for their absolute dedication to following their pastor’s lead. I thank Joe and Sharon Joslin for coming to help us.
In my fifth church — the First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS, where I was minister of evangelism, 1971-73 — I thank Joe Odle, the longtime editor of our state paper, the Baptist Record. He would sit me down in his office and tell me what a good preacher I was, and then he invited me to draw some things for the editorial page of his paper. I thank Alex McKeigney for knocking on doors with me and Marguerite Briscoe for praying for me. I thank Larry Black, the veteran worship leader, for teaching me scads about administration and leadership by his example.
In my sixth church — the First Baptist Church of Columbus, MS, 1974-86 — I thank John Dowdle, a deacon who felt the pastor was the God-sent leader of the church and the rest of the congregation ought to follow his leadership. When we moved into the huge parsonage from our tiny Jackson apartment, he and his wonderful wife Bettye Jean furnished our living room. We still have much of that furniture and think of them often. I thank Rudy Hough for the church landscape and Jimmy Sams for sending me to Cooper Aerobics Clinic for an exam. I thank Bill Hardy for his integrity, Wilson Henderson for his perfectionism, and Bryan Harris for his enthusiasm. I thank James and Ann Allen for magnifying my ministry beyond what it would have been otherwise. I thank James Gatewood for getting the church to send us to the Holy Land, still the greatest blessing of all these years.
In my seventh church — the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, 1986-89 — I thank Clyde Teague, the humblest man on the planet who printed our church bulletin and always made me feel that my service there was a gift from God. He and I are still in touch, and I’m grateful for him. I thank Stella for her fudge and Steve Wilber for the pulpit and stained glass window. I thank Milton LeDoux for believing in me, Howard and Charlotte Arthur for respecting me, and a few people (who will go unnamed) for opposing me so that I ended up in New Orleans for the crowning assignment with which the Lord topped off my ministry.
In my last church — the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana, 1990-2004 — I thank Mike Skiles for being the pastor’s best friend. I thank Josie Lanzetta for her faithful witness — and the boxes of handkerchiefs she gives just when they seem to need replenishing. I thank Ken Gabrielse for being the most loyal and faithful staffer (and great friend) I ever worked with. I thank Cleo Schero for the banana puddings, and Nick Carrone for his outstanding leadership of the prayer ministry. I thank Mitch Mares for the Dixieland trailer park ministry, and Janie Moskau for teaching the world what being the pastor’s right arm means. I thank Jim Lancaster for installing a computer in my office one day, even when I had never asked for one (see what he started?).
In the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans where I’ve been Director of Missions since the Spring of 2004, I thank Freddie Arnold for doing the actual work but making it seem I was helping, I thank Lynn and Ninfa and Meredith for their servant hearts, and a strong group of pastors who never cease to bless me.
I thank David Hankins and Mike Canady of the Louisiana Baptist Convention for devoting a great portion of their ministries to helping us in New Orleans. I thank editors Kelly Boggs and Karen Willoughby of the (Louisiana) Baptist Message for practically turning over most of the issues to our needs; you’ve been incredible.
I thank Joel Davis. I thank Don Davidson. I thank David Crosby. I thank Dixon Free. I thank Jim Graham. I thank Chet Griffin. I thank Fred Brockway.
Okay. I know now why no one ever does this. You keep coming up with more and more people to whom you’re indebted. And you know you’re leaving out some significant people.
Why anyone in his right mind thinks he can live this life without other people assisting him is beyond me. Had I not had other people in my life at every strategic moment, this would be a tragic story. In high school, teachers J. H. and Loyce Whitson planted the idea in my mind that I would go to college, no question about it. In college, Larry and Joyce Andrews put me in the choir and taught me to sing good stuff. Bill Burkett ordained me and married us. In seminary, George Harrison was the finest teacher and eventually, personal friend and mentor, one could ever need.
James Richardson was a neighboring pastor when I went to Greenville, Mississippi. In time we became best friends. At several points along this life, he did something that turned the corner for me, opening up new worlds of opportunity and service. I gladly have called him my mentor, as I do Dr. Harrison. If one is known by the quality of mentors he chooses, then I must be some kind of a terrific person!!
There! I’ve left out hundreds, some of whom are so special that later today I will want to go back and insert their names. How dare I forget to include them.
And yet, the possibility of omitting someone should not stop us from saying thank you to those special people who have blessed us along the way. So many of those listed above are in Heaven now, so it’s not like I’m expecting them to read this.
In Catholic New Orleans, people purchase ads on the obit page to send messages to deceased loved ones. I suppose they think putting it in print makes it more realistic or genuine. I hope so, because here it is. Or maybe they take the Times-Picayune in Heaven?
Anyway, I just wanted to say this while there’s still time….
Thank you, friend.