I used to joke that there is no such thing as a retired Pastor. There is always a small church somewhere in need of a preacher, or a pastor that is going on vacation, or Bible study to teach, or a wedding to officiate. I used to think that there is no such thing as a retired pastor. I thought that, until I met one.
Every month I lead chapel at an independent living facility. A few months ago I met a retired UM pastor. He is in his late eighties. After chapel this week I went to his room to talk.
His wife lives in the community also, but she requires a higher level of care because of dimensia. The two have been married 60 years, and they live under the same roof. Yet he has his own sparsely decorated room and she has a seperate room that she shares with a stranger.
They have two kids, neither of whom live within 150 miles. He was a United Methodist pastor in Illinois for many decades. He served churches all over the state, from the Indiana border to the Mississippi River. He told me about a book in which he has kept records. In it are the names of those that he has baptized, buried, and married. He also has some simple notes on every sermon he has preached.
I have an identical book. Mine has about five pages partially filled in. His is full of names. The names in the book represent people that he has lead to Christ. There are names of babies that are surely middle-aged by now. There are couples that have stayed together to celebrate silver anniversaries. It would be almost impossible to determine how many lives he has transformed over the years.
He has friends all over the state. People call from time to time. One couple sent him a portable DVD player. His son bought him a pretty nice flatscreen TV. The walls in his room are bare save for an undecorated brass cross. On the table next to his chair is an old worn out Bible and an Upper Room.
As we sat and talked he told me about some of the churches he has served. I mostly listened as the words came pouring out. I looked him in the eye and heard a small part of his story. A couple of times I could see sadness in his eyes, especially when he talked about his wife or about family that lived so far away. A couple of times I could see joy spread across his face as he talked of his grandchildren, or about some of his old churches.
Eventually, I had to leave. He was gracious when I stood. He had told me that he didn’t know how to connect his portable DVD player to the TV. I could tell it would only take a cable and a minute to do. I promised him I would come back and set it up for him. I left him my address and phone number. As I was leaving he asked for a hug.
“I really miss that. It’s hard to hug my wife. Sometimes I try, but…” he stopped. I gave him a hug. A real hug, and said goodbye.
On my way home I cried.
Here is a man that has given his life to the church. He had a book full of names of people that he has impacted. He has friends all over the state. Yet here he is, alone. Here he is, in desperate need of a friend. Dying for a hug.
I’m glad I could give it to him. I’m glad I can be his friend. I plan on going back. I need to go back. Maybe as much for me as for him. When I look at him I see my possible future. I see the loneliness of children scattered across the country, and the confusion of a gift I do not know how to use. I see a book full of names, and the fear of having friends scattered all around the state, but no place to call home.
So I will be his friend. I will be his friend because he needs me, and I will be his friend because I need him.