My first two months as a pastor were pretty awful. About three weeks after I arrived at the church, the co-moderators sat down to meet with me and told me that the church didn’t have enough money to pay me to work fulltime. As the next month went by and I unraveled the ball of half-truths I was being told by them and reacted to the misapprehensions they allowed to be spread about me, trusted colleagues advised me to put my profile out again and not even list the job.
And then I went out on my first pastoral call. I had to drive to a neighboring town, to a vintage 1970’s trailer park for senior citizens, to meet Bill and Bess. They were 50 year members of the church. I knew that he had been a Deacon and a Trustee and an officer of the Men’s Club. But all that was twenty years and more in the past. He had grown deaf, and her eyesight was failing, and church was just a little too overwhelming. He still sent out publicity postcards for our church suppers, faithfully typed each month on an old manual typewriter.
Bill and Bess welcomed me into their home. Why, in fifty years, he said, no pastor had ever called on them. (I hope that said more about their enthusiasm at having me there then about the historical record.) I learned that they had been married more than 65 years, and that Bill would soon be 90. We chatted about their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They expressed their deep satisfaction with their home, the first they had ever owned. And by the end of the hour I was in love.
Driving away in the car, I called my husband and said, “Somehow I’m staying at this job. I am meant to be Bess and Bill’s minister.”
Recently I told that same group of trusted colleagues about the couple, saying they were the reason I had believed it would all work out somehow. “They are the reason I stayed.” Trusted Colleague #1 said, “Be sure you tell them.”
When I got home last night, there was a message on my machine from Bess. She said simply, “This is Bess. Bill’s in the hospital. City General.” Going to sleep last night I imagined visiting with Bill and telling him the story.
This morning, in the Pastoral Services office, I checked for his room number. It was in the Intensive Care Unit. My stomach flipped. I raced down there and found that Bill was heavily sedated and hooked up to a ventilator, despite the fact that he came in as DNR. One of the nurses on the unit discouraged me from going in, saying, “He’s not going to know you.” “His wife asked me to come,” I said.
In the room, I took Bill’s hand. He’s in a coma, and he’s sedated, too, and he’s also deaf, so any communicating was going on at a pretty subtle level. But I talked to him. I told him what a gift he and Bess are, to me and to our church. And I told him the story. “You are the reason I stayed, Bill. You are the reason.”