Every church is part of the Body of Jesus Christ. Just as God is the head of the church, each member is a part of that body. I would like to think that as the pastor I was part of the heart and perhaps even a small bit of the brain.
Some members serve as the hands that do God's work throughout the community, while others are the feet that keep us moving forward. Every church must keep moving forward. If they fail to do so they will become stagnant and eventually die.
In order to give a church real meaning, it must also have character. While being a man of many talents, Harry Fish was the person who gave Turner Center Universalist Church a very distinct character.
I first met Harry shortly after I was hired as pastor at Turner Center. I trusted him because he was in his 90's and knew everybody in town. Although his hearing wasn't what it once was, he still had a very keen mind and wonderful sense of humor. If I ever needed a little background concerning a member of the congregation, Harry was always able to guide me as to how I might approach the situation with that member.
Along with knowing everyone in the congregation and the surrounding community, Harry also knew his ministers. If there was a sermon of mine that Harry didn't fully agree with, he was always able to let me know how I might have addressed the message a bit differently.
One Sunday morning I was delivering a sermon titled, "Stop Lying to Yourself." The purpose of my message was to show how people today continually stretch the truth about situations and facts in an effort to make their lives sound more important or exciting. Some people call these stories tall tales in an effort to give them credibility. The point of my sermon was to show that God calls them lies.
To make matters worse, we have even started color-coding our untruths. These fabrications fall somewhere between the little white lie and the dastardly black lie. But the reality is that a lie is a lie; no matter what color we might want to assign to it.
While delivering my sermon I could tell from by the facial expressions of the congregation that my point was being made. However, Harry, who I know for a fact has spun more than one tall-tale during his long lifetime, thought that my sermon might have been presented differently. In fact, when I was through giving the Benediction at the end of the service, Harry was waiting for me in front of the pulpit.
"Harry, how may I help you?"
"It is I who can help you," Harry answered. "When I was a little boy my mother always taught me to tell the truth, but in doing so making sure not to hurt anyone's feelings in the process."
He had my full attention.
"If a woman was wearing an ugly dress and she asked me what I thought of the dress, I would never tell her it was ugly."
"What would you tell her?" I asked.
"Well, I might tell her how the blue in the dress matched her eyes, or that her dress was truly one-of-a-kind, but I would never tell her my true feelings about how the dress looked. Do you hear what I'm telling you, Pastor?"
"Thank you my friend," I said. "In looking for the truth I believe you may have given me an even greater truth. There is more than one way to love our neighbor."
Seeing that he was able to get his point across, Harry just shook my hand and smiled. He ended our little meeting by saying, "By the way, I loved your message... I could hear every word just fine." And with that we both laughed.
About a year later I told that story at Harry's funeral. The story was very fitting because that's the kind of person Harry was. He may be gone, but as long as I'm able to share his stories of how he helped to make me a better pastor during the early years of my ministry, Harry is still with us.
Written in 2010 by Rev. Raymond C. Nolan
Rev. Raymond C. Nolan has served as a minister for over 30 years and is presently the Assistant Pastor at Daybreak United Methodist Church in Miflin, Alabama. His positive outlook on life serves as an inspiration to all who know him.
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Read some of Ray's other writings too:
Out Of The Mouths Of Babes
Becoming Too Available
Bernie and Me
The Birthday Cake Rematch
Rank Does Have Its Privileges
Blessings In Disguise
Does God Have A Sense Of Humor?
Missing The Obvious