(Twelfth in a series.)
You may notice I’ve changed the picture heading this series of posts. I thought it would be good for readers to be able to see the church-house of the congregation I’m describing.
At times in this series, I’d like to tell other stories about my introduction to pastoral ministry which might be helpful in ways other than church reform.
Ruth Lindert and her husband, Glen (with their children), were members of Rosedale Presbyterian Church. Glen is a sheetrocker with rough hands to prove it. He’s a gentleman and his wife is a gentlewoman. Neither of them are proud or pushy, but teachable and wanting to be fed and taught and cared for, always expressing their appreciation to their pastor.
For her part, Ruth was a timid pianist who occasionally filled in for the veteran ladies who ordinarily played accompanying our worship. Those other women would not be fearful, but Ruth would be.
Because I served a yoked parish, my first duty Sunday morning was leading worship, preaching, and caring for the congregation eight miles from town, out in the middle of the fields of the Cambria dairyland. The church-house sat just off one of the main state highways going east and west in the middle of Wisconsin. The building was landlocked on three sides, surrounded by the church graveyard, so we parked in the right of way of Highway 33 eight or ten miles east of Portage, just southeast of Friesland.
Since I had to hightail it to the town church immediately following the benediction, I’d greet the souls of the church as they came in the entryway, rather than doing so after morning worship as I was able to do in the town church later each Sunday morning.
One morning as I was greeting in the entryway just outside the back doors of the sanctuary, I heard Ruth playing a Bach piece. It was beautiful and encouraged me.
As her prelude was coming to a conclusion, I walked up to the front of the sanctuary and, taking a detour from my normal route directly to the podium, crossed over to the opposite side and, leaning over to speak to her quietly, I thanked her for her playing.
The next morning I was still in bed when Mary Lee came in and woke me with the words, “Ruth wants to talk to you. I told her you’d call her back.”
“What does she want?” I asked.
Mary Lee said, “She told me she wants you to know she forgives you. She was listening to Dr. Dobson talking about forgiveness and she says she knew she just needed to forgive you.”
“What?! What does she need to forgive me for?”
“I don’t know. That was her message.”
Racking my brain for what I had done to hurt Ruth, I called her and listened.
“Tim, I love you and I just wanted to tell you that I forgive you.”
“Thank you, Ruth, but for what are you forgiving me,” I responded. I was only half awake and trying to figure out what I’d done now. Because, you know, young pastors make a lot of mistakes and hurt their sheep when they don’t intend it.
Ruth answered, “It doesn’t matter. I just wanted to say I forgive you.”
“Thank you for forgiving me, Ruth. But would you please tell me what I did?”
“You know what you did.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t remember. Would you please remind me?”
Ruth responded, “Do you remember what you said to me at the piano Sunday morning, right before the service began?”
“I’m sorry Ruth, but no, I don’t remember what I said.”
“You said ‘P. U.'”
Thinking very hard, I tried to figure out what I’d actually said because I knew I hadn’t said that.
Then I remembered. “No, Ruth. I didn’t say ‘P. U.'”
“I said ‘BEEUTiful’. I loved your prelude and told you so. It was wonderful and I wanted to thank you as worship began.”
Long silence. Then, “Oh no.”
“What do you mean ‘Oh, no?'”
“Well, I was so devastated that I told Anita and Claire what you’d said to me.” (Anita and Claire were our two main accompanists.)
“But I didn’t say that to you. I complimented you!”
“Yeah, I know that now, but they think you said ‘P. U.'”
We laughed and I asked her to clean it up with them, but the damage was done. Young wet-behind-the-ears pastor fresh out of seminary had insulted a timid young mother about her prelude, and isn’t that what every young pastor does? Inconsiderate and rude, he walks across the platform to insult the accompanist just before reading the call to worship. No one has any trouble believing the pastor is such a jerk.
When Ruth told me what I’d said to her, I asked, “But Ruth, does that sound like me? Do you really think I would go out of my way just before leading worship to insult you?”
She hesitated a second, then responded, “Well no. It didn’t make any sense.”
“Well then, I probably didn’t do it,” I responded.
Dear Ruth cleaned it up, and yet I knew it wouldn’t be entirely cleaned up because, in my judgement, one of those two women would be susceptible to judging me entirely capable of being such a cad.
Congregations live only by mercy, repentance, and forgiveness. And I’m thankful to record here that neither Anita nor Claire hardened their hearts against me. Also that, to this day, Glen and Ruth express their love to us each time we visit their church in Wisconsin.
(Twelfth in a series.)
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