Archive for January, 2013

Time Traveling with My Sister

A Christmas Picture by Sparkle GirlThis column first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Forsyth Family magazine:

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, my father was the minister at Clemmons Presbyterian Church. The church was established in 1962, and, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the church invited my sister Lisa and me to talk about our father.

When I asked the gentleman setting it up how long we should talk, he said that 10 minutes would be good. That seemed just right – not too long, not too short. In the days that followed, I thought about points that I wanted to make. Along with doing everything he could do to support the church, my father was active in the wider world. He was an early advocate for civil rights, opposed the war in Vietnam and helped found a hotline for people struggling with life. Certainly, I needed to touch on those things.

I also wanted to talk about some of the things I learned from him. One of the biggest gifts that he – and my mother – gave their five children was a childhood in which the life of the spirit was at the center of everything. When you’re a kid, you’re just living the life you have, and, only after I grew up and saw that others had not been given this gift, did I come to fully recognize its value.

From time to time, my dad imparted the official lessons that good parents impart to their children. When I think about what I learned from him, though, much of it came from watching him live his life. Before we moved to Clemmons, he was the minister of a church in West Virginia. When I went to the church one Saturday, I found him in one of the bathrooms cleaning the toilet. The janitor was sick, he said, so he was getting everything ready for Sunday. When I see someone doing whatever is necessary to get a job done with no sign that the person thinks it’s beneath him or that it’s someone else responsibility, I am reminded of my father cheerfully cleaning that toilet.

Another thing I came to appreciate about my dad grew out of standing next to him in the vestibule as people walked out after the church service. Often, people would remark about something in the sermon that made a particular impression. Sometimes, it was as if the person had heard a completely different sermon than the one I had heard. When I talked with my father about it later, he might say that the point that had meant the most to someone was not one that he was trying to make. That was fine with him. He cared not about making the point he had in mind but them coming away with something meaningful to them.

His flexibility also showed up in his willingness to perform marriage ceremonies for couples who weren’t members of a church. It was important to him that the couple knew what they were committing to, and he would meet with them to find out how well they communicated and whether they had notions that would make serious conflict inevitable. He would do what he could to help them resolve troublesome issues. If, in the end, he thought that they wouldn’t be able to make it work, he would decline to perform the ceremony. But he didn’t require them, as some ministers did, to believe the same things that he did.

My dad also had a knack for giving people attention in a way that made them feel special. He liked to make people a smile. As a kid, I was sometimes embarrassed by the corniness of his jokes or comments. Only later did I realize they were valuable tools. He was a good minister, a good father and a good teacher.