Old preacher dudes I have known

I have known weird preachers. This is not about them. What’s weird to me? Drinking (not gargling: drinking AND swallowing!) a full hot glass, half water/half vinegar, every morning. Why? He said it was ‘medicinal’.

Then there’s the man I met in a church office. Just met him in my office. An old retired preacher. After shaking hands and exchanging names, without so much as, “Nice weather today,” he says to me: “There’s two kinds of men in the world. Them that has prostate trouble and them’s that gonn’a get it.” I didn’t know what to say. Still don’t.

These posts are not about of such preachers. Certainly not about moral failures. No salacious details. No epics of incompetency. Just old preacher dudes I have known. Every item is true. No names are given. Details are scrubbed so that identities are kept obscure. Some of these preacher dudes are still active and, God bless ‘em, ought be left alone to live out God’s claim upon their lives.

Knew a man who knew who he was. Wry smile. Deliberate. This man served God among a sparse population in a rural state. As in, the small church building was the only structure along a road bisecting two large farms. As in, fields as far as the eye could see, broken only by stands of trees planted for soil conservation. As in, attending this preacher dude’s church meant 50 mile round trips.

But this old preacher dude thrived. Built up a consistent, thoughtful and energetic membership. Engaged in the full spectrum: local ministry to the poor (lot of poor people spread out in the county); vibrant children’s ministry; connection with other churches far-flung across the region; mission trips overseas; helpful presence with the local school.

I remember his office. The church building was way cold in the winters. Only ceiling fans in the summer. So this old preacher dude bought and parked a small trailer under a tree on the gravel behind the church building. Saved money for the church and kept comfortable year round. No, it wasn’t his home. It was his office, renovated with bookshelves. Sustained by one designated water hose, one phone line, one electric line and a butane tank. Could’a been the Library of Congress.

From his little trailer office this old preacher dude kept in touch with everybody. Depending on the season there were weeks he would see nary a church soul Sunday to Sunday. Other times of the year he’d put hundreds and hundreds of miles on his pick-up, just being with people.

Think about what I just told you. Think of the hours of alone time, by himself either in the office or on the road. Think of the personal discipline required. How would you stay fresh? How would you challenge yourself to dream? What would motivate you to insert yourself into people’s lives and continue to stay inserted? What of God would you bring them; to their vegetable cannings; when hogs were cut; when hay was baled; when calving sapped their strength; when children went away to college and frail grandmothers never did quite come back from knee surgery?

This old preacher dude knew who he was. Didn’t talk down to them. Saw Friday night football and district basketball games as unique opportunities for connection. Knew when to back off at harvest and throttle up after planting. He connected them to a world beyond their mail boxes and to God’s purposes larger than the weather or keeping up with changes in machinery depreciation.

He knew who he was. Nobody beyond three counties knew who he was but he didn’t much care. Week in, week out. From mornings when fresh tilled earth, heavy scented in the air, little green buds becoming pin stripes on the dark soil, to blue-grey early dusks, snow drifts piling up at snow fences off from the road, brown-black stalks stubbling up from wind-blown whiteness: old preacher dude was fully engaged. He kept his own spiritual tank filled. He was always ready … and yet … none of his people had a real clue how much it took for him to maintain “always ready.”

Would have been easy for him to be less than he was. Who would have known? Show up when expected. Play the parson and eat the chicken dinners. Offer up saltine crackers instead of thoughtful sermons. Pander to prejudices and NEVER color out of the lines. He could have been that way. Nap away the last fifteen years of his life. But he didn’t. Who would have known? He would have known. God would have known.

Last I heard old preacher dude had passed away. He left a gaping hole in their lives, near 30 years in the making. As far as I know he never spoke at a conference, never published a book, never gained any kind of media attention. Never attained prominence as a pulpiteer. Never moved on. From what I remember such vanity held no allure for him. He was the definition of ‘solid.’ In his sermons, his teachings, his pastoral care, his service, his temperament and judgment, his devotions: SOLID. God placed him among those people. He loved them and stayed with them.

He was a shepherd. He was faithful.

I believe he died over 20 years ago. I was 23 when I met him.

Never forgot him. Never will.

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