Thursday, January 11, 2007

For A Friend

One of the lessons that I have learned as a pastor is not to ask, nor listen when people tell you about other people at a new church. That lesson was driven home to me at a previous church when I learned the story about Al Bohnstedt. When I came to the church Al was sitting on the sidelines, because the previous pastor did not take advantage of Al’s talents. Why was he not used? To be honest, I have no idea, but I know that he became a major part of the team that I built at that church. But maybe even more importantly, he also became a great friend. If I had listened to why Al was not used, I too might have missed out on a remarkable human being.

When I came to Ridge, nine years ago, I kept hearing rumblings about how if I wanted to do creative things at Ridge, Bob Hayes would drive me crazy. "Be thankful that he is out of town right now," was the phrase that was used repeatedly when I arrived in Munster. But I chose not to listen. And I thank God for that!

When Bob and Fran were back in town I got to meet a couple that was passionate about Ridge Church. And how could they not be? Fifty-one years ago Ridge Church began as a number of Methodists who lived in Munster felt like there was a need to have a church in town. Bob and Fran were the driving force in getting Ridge Church going. I remember sitting at their house on State Line and hearing the stories — hearing the passion — that they had toward Ridge Church.

Ridge Church has taken some bold moves over the past nine years. And every one of those moves, the biggest cheerleader has been Bob Hayes.
  • Adding a full time staff member
  • Adding a staff member to lead our education program
  • Building the fellowship hall
  • Adding an associate pastor

All of those moves were risky — and unprecedented in the life of Ridge Church. But in every one of them — Bob Hayes led the charge!

Back when Fran was ill, I finally got the courage to ask Bob a question that had perplexed me. Prior to my arrival, the most creative pastor that Ridge Church had (at least in its recent history) been John Van Vactor. John tried to implement many creative changes 20 years ago, but at every step of the way he was rebuffed by Bob Hayes. I asked Bob why — since many of the things that John wanted to do, were similar — if not the same as what I tried to implement.

Bob and I talked for close to an hour about, as he insisted that I was nothing like John and I insisted that our dreams were the same. Then finally it hit me — John was never able to build the relationship that Bob and I had.
You see, I may have been Bob’s pastor, but in many ways he was a mentor and a father to me. And best of all — Bob was a friend.

The other day I was driving my daughter home from school and we were talking about friends. And she asked me who my friends were — and every name that I mentioned, she would say they don’t count because . . . (the are a part of the church, they are family, they are . . .)
At my very first church — I was a student intern, I will never forget this, I was sitting talking with the Pastor one afternoon and he said to me. "The people in the church cannot be your friends, don’t allow yourself to become friends with you because someday they will move you and then what do you have."

And I remember thinking — "How sad", but in some ways he was right — if as a pastor you see yourself never staying at a church and truly becoming part of the community, then there is no point in becoming friends.

Methodists have a terrible habit of only staying about 4 years. I am the 11th pastor in the 51 year history of Ridge Church and have been the pastor here for 9 years — you can do the math. Most haven’t stayed very long.

Bob would often say to me — "they aren’t trying to move you are they?" And my answer was always the same — "Bob, This is my last church!" And we would laugh and joke about what that might mean.

What a privilege I have had here, just with the Hayes family.

  • In 1999, I got to celebrate 60 years of marriage between Bob and Fran
  • In 2000 I walked through the valley of the shadow of death as we mourned the loss of Fran.
  • Just a little over a year later in 2001 we again walked through that valley as we were overcome with grief at the untimely death of Evelyn to cancer.

One of my last visits, Bob shared with me the greatest complement anyone ever could. He told me, "Steve, you are a part of this family."

On December 23rd the family was called to come to Hartsfield Village early that Saturday morning. The nursing staff was not expecting Bob to live. The family gathered quickly that morning — and as I ruminate over that day, I have come to realize what a gift it was.

Everybody got a chance to say goodbye to Bob, and even though he was very weak, we each got a chance to talk with him.

And I asked Bob one question — I said, "Bob, when we gather to celebrate your life, is there anything you want me to tell your family."

And he got that twinkle in his eye that Bob could sometimes get and he said — "Remind them never to forget how important the church is." That was the only thing he said!

And I knew exactly what he was talking about.

He wasn’t talking about believing — although Bob was a strong believer.
He wasn’t talking about creeds or doctrines.

For Bob, and for Fran, the church was their community, their family.
It is the place (where in the words of the old TV show Cheers) everybody knows your name.
It was a place where they belonged!
It was home.

Bob loved Ridge Church! Have I said that already?
Bob loved Ridge Church!

Bob understood what the church was all about.
It was — or at least should be — a place where you were loved unconditionally. Where you were a part of a family. That doesn’t mean that we always got along, — but at the end of the day, we could look at each other in the eye and say: "We are brothers and sisters together"

Bob and Fran had a verse that they chose to build their lives around.
It is found in the book of Romans 8:28

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

What a principle to build your life around!
Do you know how Chapter 8 ends, it too speaks of Bob’s life.

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
What the shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:14-16, 28, 31, 35, 31-39

When John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church) lay on his death bed, his last words that he spoke were:

"Best of all — God is with us!"

Bob knew that nothing could separate him from God.
Nothing can separate you either!


Unload Your Sins said...
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Christina Writes 1 said...

I am sorry at your loss of Bob--he seemed greatly loved. But I am also sorry for John. It does not seem to me that having the friendship of one man should make a difference regarding the acceptance of creative changes. As one who is trying to make her way in a church, do you advise that I make friends with the "right people" to get good things done?