Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

IN THE SAME STORY [Part 2 of 2]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

[The 2nd of a two-part series.]

Ira Galloway and I rarely agreed on anything, but we respected each other, because each of us had a radical commitment to Christ.

When I founded SADMOB, I figured Ira would not come. He was already senior pastor of the largest church in our conference, several thousand members. Before Peoria First Church, he had been a bureaucrat in the high reaches of the denomination. What did he have to learn from the likes of me?

But I invited him. And he came. Every time. When it was his turn to lead, to tell how he did a particular area of ministry in his congregation, he presented his work humbly, and listened to comments and criticisms carefully and appreciatively. When others presented, he listened just as carefully and made thoughtful comments. There was no sense that he considered himself better than anyone else just because he served the largest church and had the longest resume`. He acted like we were all equals in learning from one another. Often people in high places are lonely there and hunger for fellowship.

As we got to know each other in SADMOB, Ira became one of my major supporters. Even though we were miles apart on almost all social and theological issues, he respected my approach and my commitment. He felt I was underemployed, that I should be serving a much larger church, and lobbied to that end. He rarely missed a chance to praise me to our colleagues.

As he was coming close to retirement as a pastor, he helped to found The Institute for Religion and Democracy. Unfortunately, it moved very quickly to become a justifier of using any draconian measure against anyone deemed an enemy of the US, especially if someone referred to them as communist. No dictator was too brutal, even in the atrocities they committed against Christians in their own countries, including Noriega and Pinochet and Marcos, if he claimed to be anti-communist and pro-American.

Ira became shrill and narrow. He was sad, without the mob of colleagues, including people like I, who disagreed with him and were willing to say so, to serve as a balance.

How I like to remember Ira is as he was in SADMOB, and how he was when I preached at annual conference, a gathering of a thousand or so souls to do the annual work and worship of the several hundred churches in the lower 2/3 of Illinois. He was always surrounded and followed by a group of young conservative pastors who vied for his attention and approval. Immediately after the service in which I had preached, I was walking down a hallway. Ira was standing in the hallway, surrounded by his acolytes. They did not see me approach. As I neared, I realized that they were discussing my sermon. “But he’s just a story-teller,” one young man said. Ira smiled. “Exactly,” he said. “Exactly.”

Ira knew we were in the same story, and we were both tellers of it. I regret so much that he narrowed that story so much in his later years, willing to leave so many folks out of it, but I’ll always appreciate his support. You don’t have to agree with folks to appreciate and love them. And it is okay to oppose them, even if you appreciate and love them. We’re still in the same story.

Ira has gone to his reward, as we say. I still pray for him. I hope he is still lobbying for a better appointment for me.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

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