Nothing Better Than Family

My friend said, “Our church was having a business conference last Sunday night to vote on our new interim pastor.”

The personnel committee is charged with finding and recommending a minister for this purpose, and they had done their work. In the business meeting, the congregation was discussing the choice and asking many questions. My friend wanted me to know of one little thing that had transpired.

“Suddenly, in the midst of all the discussion, this long tall man unfolded and walked up in front of the church. He said, ‘People, there’s a better way than all of this. You chose a committee and entrusted them with the duty of finding this person and interviewing him and bringing him before you. You do not have time enough to get every question answered in this meeting. Ultimately, you’re going to have to trust your leaders.”

My friend said, “I laughed to myself, ‘He sure has learned from his dad.'” He said, “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you say that over the years you were our pastor.

I believe it strongly. In recent months, I preached that at West St. Charles Church in Boutte and the First Baptist Church of Belle Chasse. “One day soon, your search committee is going to bring their recommendation for your next pastor. The man and his family will spend the weekend visiting your church and the community. You’ll have several opportunities to meet him and ask some questions. But you need to realize up front that in three days you will not be able to know him well enough or to get all your questions answered. What it all comes down to is that you’re going to have to trust your leaders.”

Elect the very best your church has. Then trust them. In finances, in business decisions, in personnel matters. The extent to which your church does this tells volumes about the congregation.

I admit that to our shame, untold numbers of Baptists who are strong participants in every phase of church life have a hard time doing that. They trust no one except themselves, and sometimes not even that. The result is a constant murmur of bickering and debating, a low level of distrust and a high level of dissatisfaction, which tires out the leaders, slows down the work of the Lord, brings disgust to the hearts of new believers, and doubtless frustrates the Lord of the Church who loves it and gave Himself for it.

But I digress. I started to write something here about family, having had my wonderful son “outed” by his remembering something his father often said.

It’s Saturday morning. This evening at 5 o’clock, Andrea Lee Gabrielse and Ronald Alberto Laitano exchange vows at Leavell Chapel on the campus of our seminary. It will be a grand occasion. Not a showpiece, not a theatrical affair, but something quieter and more worshipful. Both are music majors with a call into the music ministry and hailing as Andrea does from the family of Kenner’s 15-year-minister of music who just happens to head up the Church Music Department at the seminary, you might expect a musical event of grand proportions. Nope. They’re having the congregation sing three hymns. The church orchestra will play. The mothers will read from I Corinthians 13. That’s it.

The Laitanos have arrived from Honduras, and the Gabrielse-Johnson clan from Missouri and Oklahoma. Friends from the University of Southern Mississippi where Ron and Andrea studied will be in attendance. And the seminary family and the families of churches where they have belonged and served will fill the rest of the pews.

No one will be there by accident. A wedding is a family affair.

I plan to encourage this new husband and wife to start some family traditions. Every successful family has some of one type or the other.

Andrew and Mae Puckett of Columbus, Mississippi, had a tradition worthy of consideration. When I became their pastor in 1974, this senior couple invited my family into their home for lunch and informed us that early in their young lives, they had been married to each other and then divorced. “We saw we’d made a mistake by not working at the marriage,” Mr. Andrew said, “so we remarried. And we made a decision.”

For the rest of their married life, over 50 years, every day they brought each other a gift. Every day, a gift. It might have been as simple as a rose from the garden or a muffin she bought at the bakery, but they stayed with the program.

In 1986, when I became pastor to C.C. and Mae Hope of Charlotte, North Carolina, I was fascinated to learn their family’s tradition. “Mom and Pop were married in 1919,” he said, “and immediately after the wedding, Grandma took a couple of roses out of Mom’s bouquet and put them in water and rooted them. She set them out in the yard. Ever since that time, every bride in our family has carried roses from Mom’s bridal bouquet.”

At that moment, Mr. Hope, Senior, age 91, had died and we were preparing for his funeral. C.C. said, “Right now, Pop is lying in the casket in the next room holding two roses in his hands from his wife’s bridal bouquet.”

Traditions bless families. Choose some good ones. Stay with them.

I told you what Abby said. She was about six years old and we were acting crazy in the front yard, with Grandpa pushing her on the swing. We would make up silly songs and goofy stories and laugh ourselves dizzy. She said, “We’re being silly, aren’t we, Grandpa.” I said, “Yes we are. Why do we like to be so silly?” She said, “It’s a family tradition.”

This is the same Abby whom I overheard one day talking to her sister or brother about running away from home. I wasn’t supposed to be listening, but she sounded serious. Later, I phoned her and asked about that. “I was just joking,” she said. I said, “Well, good. Because if you really did want to run away from home, that would worry me so much.” She said, “Grandpa—if I do run away from home, I’m coming to YOUR house!” I laughed and said, “Okay, that’s just fine then.”

Last night at the wedding rehearsal dinner, I spotted a little girl across the room. She’s the cousin of the bride and looked about the age of our twins. She told me her name was Abby and she was 9-and-a-half. As I drew her picture, I said, “My granddaughter is Abigail Rebecca. What is your full name?” She said, “Abigail Rebecca, too.”

I had to call Abby to tell her. “Really? No fooling?” she said.

They will meet at the wedding tonight.

Debbie Wild is directing the wedding. I still recall something the priest said at the funeral of her lovely mother. “At the end of your life, the only thing that will matter will be faith, family, and friends.”

Ron and Andrea are in good shape on all three.

We could wish this for everyone.

3 thoughts on “Nothing Better Than Family

  1. I printed and took your blog to Mom and Pop today. Pop underlined “At the end of your life, the only thing that will matter will be faith, family, and friends.” He said “How right he is!”

  2. Hi Joe: spoke to Margaret a few weeks ago. I sent you an article about the Little Rock Nine and the integration by them of Central High School in Little Rock, AR. What an impressive facility. Looks like the administration builing of a state university. Anyway, I have read a lot about what happened back in 1957. First of all, considering what these students went through, how they were harrassed and taunted etc, I give them a lot of credit for finishing the 1957-1858 academic year, fifty years ago. But I think then Governor Orval Faubus did the right thing by closing Central for the following academic year, 1958-1959. More violence would probably have followed, the returning Little Rock Nine would have faced the same kind of treatment and there probably would have been riots. Having living through the Watts Riots in 1965 and the Rodney King Riots of 1992, things can get drastically out of hand. I know he closed down the entire public school system of Little Rock but maybe he had to to keep law and order.

    I never received your thoughts on the article. I know the current school principal of Central. We had correspondence by way of email. But she indicated she got tired of communicating with me. So I stopped doing it.

    The sad part about what happened is this. In Los Angeles, the public schools, particularly high schools which number about fifty in LAUSD, are in a terrible mess. Gang violence between blacks and Hispanics dominates the local news almost on a daily basis. Whites will not send their children to these schools and understandably so because of this violence. The quality of education is poor. Shootings and even killings happen on campus or drivebuysnearby the schools. There is basically now a re-segregation of our public school system. Just like Little Rock, AR, Birmingham, AL, and Jackson, MS of the fifties and sixties.

    I am glad my daughter Julie did not have to deal with this when she was in high school from 1995-1999. We would have sent her to a private school.

    What are your thoughts about this national problem?


  3. Brother Joe, My long time neighbors in Kenner saved cards. Every year, Anne would give Art the same birthday, Christmas, Valentine, and anniversary card. Art did the same for Anne. Each year they would write something wonderful about their past year together. They had done it for over 25 years. Art died a few months after we moved from Kenner in 2002, and I’m sure she took each of her 4 cards and his 4 cards and remembered their life together. I started doing that for Carl for our 25th wedding Anniversary, then his birthday, Christmas, and Valentine’s. Each year we laugh about our thoughts as we have passed through all the “salient” moments of our last 10 years together. I will always be grateful that Anne shared her tradition with me, plus we have saved a bundle on greeting cards!! Peace and joy, Lana

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