CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©
Today is Ben Paxton’s memorial service. I can’t go. I have commitments today I can’t get out of, and it’s five hours away. I’m sorry I can’t be there. Ben was a friend. He was the director of WGLT radio station at Illinois State University, and when I was Wesley Foundation minister there, he got me to do a late-night talk show on the station. It turned out to be a popular and useful program. I even got an award.
Yes, he was a friend, but there is one thing for which I cannot forgive him: doll houses. As we aged, he accumulated a whole lot of granddaughters. And for each one, he constructed a beautiful and elaborate doll house. I saw them. They were wonderful. I decided I should do one for my granddaughter. It was a disaster. When it came to doll houses, I was no Ben Paxton. He cost me a lot of time, money, and self-confidence.
Mostly, though, I’m sorry I can’t be there for his wife, Anne. She was my secretary for five years, and when I left, she stayed on for another 25 years, maybe 30, maybe 35… It seems she was there forever, the Alpha and Omega of Methodist campus ministry in Normal, IL. Hiring Anne was the best thing I ever did for that Wesley Foundation, even though she was a Presbyterian.
The good people I hired were often the best gifts I gave to the churches I pastored. Those gifts were accidents. I had no particular skill at hiring. I made some awful blunders. But occasionally an Anne Paxton or Mary Putney or Rose Cress or Frances Hunt or Ed Lang or Joan Gregg or Jeanne Piercy or Max White would come along and stay and stay and stay, the Alpha and Omega of that staff. I inherited some good ones, too, but I’m especially pleased to recall those I hired, for they were long-time gifts to people I cared about.
Sometimes, I had help. A few weeks after Max White retired, his wife, Ruth, came to see me. “This church is much too big for you to pastor by yourself,” she said. “Max would make a great minister of visitation. You should hire him.”
“I’d love to, Ruth,” I said, “but we have no money to hire anyone.”
“How much do you need?” she said.
You can get some wonderfully good help if his wife is eager enough to get him out of the house.
Ben is out of the house now, out of the dollhouses, too, but he’s in the house of God, whatever and wherever that may be, and I give thanks for that gift, as I give thanks for the gift Anne was to The Wesley Foundation.
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