A word to readers: you’ll notice with this post the series title has changed. My desire is to lift high the kindness of God:
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
Like every believer, Mary Lee and I have been led to repentance by God’s kindness, and we continue to experience this kindness of His to this day. Also, though, it is the joy of the pastor to hear his sheep’s confessions. The life of a pastor is a life observing and experiencing God’s kindness, both with himself and others. The title of this series notes this truth.
NOTE: Ninth in a series, this latest post is better understood by reading the earlier ones.
Having been led by God’s kindness to repent of our feminist rebellion, Mary Lee and I were almost impervious to the promotion of feminism by Gordon-Conwell’s administration and profs during our seminary years. Sadly, though, I not only chose to stay in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and serve in one of its parishes, but after taking my first call, I lied and tried to squelch the consciences of two of my parishioners concerning the teaching of God’s Word prohibiting woman elders.
By God’s protection, I wasn’t able to dissuade Don and Evelyn Jerred from Evelyn resigning her office as elder, though, and shortly later I had a new woman elder elected to replace Mrs. Jerred.
Just above, I described how this new elderly woman warned the session that the congregation would soon stop giving entirely and the church would go bankrupt if its new, young pastor continued to preach God’s Word. Despite Elder Chuck Dykstra’s response to her that night during the session meeting when he read 2Timothy 4:1-5, I had a terrible conscience about the whole matter, and it wouldn’t be silenced. Personally, I knew I deserved anything I suffered for being in the PC(USA).
Despite my sin, though, God was graceful through Elder Dykstra’s defence of the Word, and as time went on, His grace was evident in the fruit of repentance in and through the Jerred family, within our congregational life. In other words, Chuck Dykstra’s stand in defense of Scripture and his pastor was just the beginning of the blessings that came through Don and Evelyn’s repentance.
During the second discussion with the Jerreds at their dinner table when they probed my thinking concerning her resignation, Evelyn had spoken of her motivation agreeing to serve as an elder being simpy “to serve the church.” That’s all she wanted, she said then, and also to the session the night she resigned her office. Evelyn was not in the least a woman presenting herself as a representative of other women who needed to keep the male elders in line, nor was she using her office to prove her wisdom and judgments superior to the other session members. She just “wanted to serve the church,” and she said the reason she was afraid of resigning was she feared she would no longer be able to serve.
Of course, the repentance itself was a great service to the church and its pastor. At the time, few of us likely thought that way, but in retrospect it’s profoundly evident.
Almost immediately, this beautiful thing happened.
Evelyn’s mother had diabetes, and an infection in her leg eventually led to the leg being amputated. At this point, independent living was no longer possible, and Don and Evelyn invited Evelyn’s mother to move in with them almost an hour north of her longtime home.
When the move was accomplished, the thought at first was that Don and Evelyn would be able to have her in a bedroom and provide her primary care during the day. Soon, though, it became evident this would not work. Evelyn’s mother was suffering terribly from phantom pain and often needed help during the night, so Don and Evelyn moved her mother’s bed into their living room and placed a bell bedside her mother could ring day or night to call for Evelyn’s help. In time, Evelyn slept there on the main floor near her mother, rather than in the master bedroom beside her husband.
It also became untenable for Evelyn to attend morning and evening worship, as well as the women’s Bible studies. I vividly recall noticing again and again Evelyn’s absence in worship. Don was always present, now, so that Evelyn’s absence was hard to miss each service. We would speak of Evelyn’s absence and pray for her and her mother, and I would think that maybe Evelyn’s worst fear had been realized now that she was shunted to the side from all congregational life due to her required attendance to her mother’s needs.
Slowly though, a light dawned on me, and I was excited to tell Evelyn what I had realized.
“Do you realize what a great service you are giving the church? Each time you are absent from worship, your absence is noted by all of us, and we are acutely aware each and every service of where you are and why you are not with us!”
Reminding her of her stated fear she would no longer be able “to serve the church” after her resignation, I mentioned she probably saw her absence from church life, physically, as the fulfillment of that fear. “But it isn’t,” I said; “You are more present and serving the Lord and His people now through your absence from worship than if you were in the congregation singing and praying with us!”
“How is that?” Evelyn asked.
I reminded her that Jesus had not warned against the breaking of the Fifth Commandment by speaking of children dishonoring and disobeying their young parents, but of adult sons and daughters dishonoring their older parents by refusing to support them in their old age. Here’s what Jesus said:
He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘he who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death’.
But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down.” -Mark 7:9-13
Evelyn saw it, and took comfort. From that point on, I used her absence in worship regularly to teach the true fulfillment of the Fifth Commandment, exhorting the congregation not to institutionalize their elderly parents, but to bring them into their homes during their dying years. “This is true godliness,” I reminded them.
Time went on, and Evelyn’s absence continued to serve and lead all of us. Then the icing on the cake.
Wishing she could be over at the women’s Bible study one week, Evelyn realized that even if she could not be there, she could serve the women by offering to babysit the children of the young mothers each week. The Jerred farm was only a couple miles from the church-house, so it would be convenient for the mothers to drop their children off on the way to the study.
Of course, the young mothers were delighted to take Evelyn up on her offer, and so each week they walked into the Jerred farmhouse and helped their kids take off their boots and coats, making sure they were settled in before finishing their trip to the church-house; and of course, they greeted Evelyn and her mother there in the living room. What sweetness for Evelyn’s mother, having all these little ones around for a while each week to watch and listen to and touch. Have you ever taken your children with you into a nursing home and watched all the residents, but particularly the women, brighten up at the sight, reaching out to touch the little ones’ shoulders and hair as you pass them in the hallway?
Then, after the Bible study ended, the young mothers returned and reversed the procedure in the Jerred farmhouse, greeting Evelyn and her mother, thanking Evelyn, then helping their little ones on with their coat and boots before leaving until next week.
Still, to this day, I am moved emotionally as I recall this great gift of God to Rosedale Presbyterian Church during those years. What kindness of God to us all, providing this living example of service and love on the part of Evelyn to her elderly and suffering mother.
It was also Don’s loving service, if we stop to consider that not every husband would have been fully willing to have his mother-in-law move into their farmhouse. Also that not every husband would have been in perfect agreement with his mother-in-law being moved into his living room, having a little hand bell within reach on a bedside table she used to call for help anytime, day or night. Also, not every husband would be willing for his wife to sleep down in the living room instead of in bed, next to him.
But there’s even more fruit from Evelyn’s resignation of her office as elder, and we’ll continue this account in coming posts. Meanwhile, join me in praising God for his kindness which led Don and Evelyn to repentance.
(Ninth in a series,)