John, a revered yet aging Pastor, was crying in the parking lot. It was the end of the day and nearly everyone had left. The parking lot was nearly empty, the smell of car fumes fading in the closing early evening light. I had just finished sweeping and was headed home.
And, I had never seen a grown man cry like this in such a public place, much less a Pastor. I was uncomfortable, embarrassed, and I had no idea what to do. And I could not look away, I was as fascinated as I was scared. No, I was more fascinated than scared.
Approaching carefully, lumbering along with his long legs came Ben, an unofficial elder in the church. He’d been around for years and never held an official position. Yet when he spoke, people knew to listen.
I knew he’d know what to do and what to say, so I paid close attention. I did know, and I had heard some of the biting remarks, some people – I guess you could call it a faction, criticized the Pastor for how he did his job. Some people disagreed with how he did things. The Board Meetings had grown longer than they used to be. And when people came out from them, sometimes some of them were clearly unhappy. Or so I had fairly recently heard.
I was too far away to hear clearly. Ben got Pastor John’s attention and said something, I’m now fairly certain he’d asked a question. Pastor John took some time replying. I could not look away, though I tried very hard not to be seen staring. They talked. After a while, Ben looked over to me and motioned for me to come over. I was scared and nervous; I knew I’d been caught prying. But I came, I had no choice. Ben looked at me, I was the youngest there, and he told me, in a quiet yet very definite way, “I want you to hear this.” Now I felt caught in a place I had no business being, but Ben was as safe as he was wise. Like a grandfather who makes it clear that you are wonderful, the best, and who always believes in you. So even though I was nervous and had been caught out, I felt pretty safe.
Pastor John had his composure now, and stood looking at Ben with his arms no longer moving as when he was talking; they were just hanging by his sides. I heard Ben say this, and I’d never forgotten that moment. “Pastor John, have you been doing your very best?” “Yes, of course, I have.”
“Have you done what you know or believe what Jesus has wanted you to do, to the best of your ability?” “Always. I wasn’t always as sure as I wanted to be, but I’ve been careful to do my best.”
“Have you acted with loving compassion, as much as possible?” Pastor John thought for a bit, lifted his head, and smiled a bit as he answered like he just realized something. Then he answered, in a more definite way than he had been speaking before: “Yes!” He looked almost surprised at his own answer.
“Have you acted with, as best you knew how, with the Holy Spirit?” “Yes, I have”, came Pastor John’s reply with a growing yet thoughtfulness, steadiness, and strength. “Well, then I have something to say. You are a success.”
By David Burnet