Saturday, October 18, 2014

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James

In 1986, I accepted my first appointment as a part-time, local pastor at Winslow United Methodist Church and at Elkins Community Church.  I was still working full-time as an assistant to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas, but on Sundays, I was a pastor at two small churches, one of which was only Methodist on the second Sunday of the month, and, if there were five Sundays in a month, the fifth Sunday was also Methodist.  The other Sundays were for the Baptists and the Presbyterians.  Winslow was Methodist every Sunday, all the time and had been for a long, long time.  I had never been a pastor before and had no training—that would come for two weeks every summer beginning the following summer.  In the meantime, I was Reverend Wiggins on Sundays and led the congregations through services, marriages, baptisms, weddings, and funerals (even though I had never done a singe one of those things).  Happily, Winslow UMC came with a man who would become a close friend for many years named Jack Stockburger.  I knew how to preach and conduct a Sunday morning service, but I had only been doing that for a couple of months when one of the members at Winslow passed away.  Jack showed me what to do and walked me through every step of the process from visiting the family to working with the funeral home.  He also took great delight in not telling me that where we were doing the burial up in the hills was the home of about 100,000 chiggers.  Everyone else knew and took precautions, but Jack thought it would be fun for me to learn by doing.  God bless him, I got through everything, and it all went well—and then I started to itch.  I had been bitten about 300 times and wanted to get into a bathtub full of “ChiggerRid” or cut my legs off completely.  The story of the new pastor and his chigger bites is still being told in the hills around Winslow.  Jack and I actually became very close after that.  When I had graduated from seminary some six years later, I was appointed to Gravette UMC in Gravette, Arkansas.  At my very first service there, Jack Stockburger was in the congregation.  He came to my first service when I moved to Grace UMC in Rogers, and again when I was appointed to Central UMC in Fayetteville.  Jack and his wife were like part of our family and were really part of the family of Rev. Gary Lunsford (a good friend who has been here several times) through Gary’s wife, Marty.  Jack passed away some time ago, but he lives in my heart and always will.  I did get several weeks of formal training at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and then four years of a seminary education at Boston University School of Theology.  I was a full-time pastor the whole time I was in seminary at St. James UMC in Stoneham, Massachusetts, about fifteen miles north of Boston and the home of Nancy Kerrigan, the Olympic ice skater.  None of my formal training prepared me to be the kind of pastor I wanted to be, but Jack Stockburger did.  He showed me how to truly care for every member and how to behave as if I was a servant of the Lord.  Christianity would so much nicer if all pastors had a Jack Stockburger to put his arm around their shoulders and walk with them as they learned how to shepherd a flock, chiggers and all.  God bless you, Jack.  You made me a better man.
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