My Favourite Centenarian

I received word this evening of the death of my favourite centenarian.  She was a friend, a counsellor, and a true Barnabas, a real encourager.  And she was my honorary grandmother.

I met Eleanor when she was but a young thing, aged 77.  She was a member of the search team that called me to a congregation I served.  At the time I was being interviewed, she was simply another member of that team.  But when my call was processed, she was part of the group that came to support the call.  After the call was sustained, I escorted the group out of the church where we were meeting, and she said to me, “I’d like to be a grandma to you if that’s okay.”

I readily accepted.

Little did I know how much I would come to appreciate her wisdom, her faith and faithfulness, and even just her presence.  She had a spiritual gift of hospitality that manifested itself in countless ways, not least of which were leading and hosting two small groups for the church, and welcoming her Pastor at anytime of the day or night, with the promise of being able to put up my feet, sip on a wee dram, and share what was going on – good or bad.

She was a faithful member of the Session (the elders’ board) during my entire tenure, and always had a wise word to offer to whatever issue was being deliberated.

When the Lord led my wife and me to serve another church, and our house sold and closed the day before my last Sunday, Eleanor put us up for the night before my final service.  We have kept in touch ever since.  In more recent years, our keeping in touch has been limited to telephone calls, usually on her birthday or mine, since they are a day apart (plus a few years!).

I spoke with her on my birthday, not quite two months ago.  I was not surprised I could not reach her on her birthday, since I expected she was being well feted by her caring family, for one who turns one hundred years old ought to be celebrated!  And she wisely went to bed early that night.

I have always wished that the Lord would bless every church I served with an Eleanor.  In fact, I wish that every church ‘period’ would have an Eleanor, for every pastor and every church need people who will provide calm wisdom, a loving smile, and an open door.

Eleanor provided all that, and more.  I will miss her.

I am teary for me, and for her close family and friends.  But I am not sad for her.  For though she has seen ‘through a glass darkly’ as the old King James put it, now she sees ‘face to face’.  The Lord Jesus, whom she served so well, has welcomed her to her eternal home.

As they say good-bye to Eleanor, her family will sing a song that probably is not often sung at funerals.  It is a song that I introduced to the church in which we were co-labourers, and one that she so loved that I remember her saying, perhaps 20 years ago or more, “I want this sung at my funeral.”

It’s not a song about being sad.

It’s not about gardens or flowers.

It’s about Jesus.

The Eleanor I knew centred her life on Jesus.  So it’s very appropriate that her send-off should include something that turns the attention of those present to the Lord she loved and served.

I’ll append a YouTube video below that plays you the song and displays the Jesus-centred lyrics.  It was written by Graham Kendrick, a British Christian musician.  It’s called “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”

Jesus shone through Eleanor in a way to which I can merely aspire.

I pray that her family and friends will take comfort in the grace of the Lord Jesus that shone through Eleanor.

Encouragement From The Word

The elusive subway train

While on vacation in early August, my wife and I paid our first visit to New York City. It’s a fascinating place, great for people-watching, and I recommend that you go if you haven’t been before. (We found a place to camp in New Jersey that was very handy to the train that goes into Manhattan, so while not cheap, it was less expensive than taking a New York hotel room!)

Since the constant gridlock traffic that characterizes downtown Manhattan would drive any Canadian crazy, we relied on public transit to get us around New York. And we learned something fascinating: the New York City subway system is very confusing – even to locals.

We were in Fulton Street Station in lower Manhattan, and we wanted the Number 1, 2 or 3 train to head up to 42ndStreet.  It shouldn’t be too hard, we reasoned, since any one of those three trains would get us there.  But the platform we landed on did not have any of those trains; we weren’t interested in a trip to Brooklyn, so we started watching signs.  Every so often, as we walked along the platforms in the hot, sticky air, we would see a sign that pointed to the Number 1, 2 and 3 trains.

We went up stairs.  We went up elevators.  We went down stairs.  We walked across what felt like miles of platforms.  And this was all in the same station!  At one point, we encountered a lady who, in conversation, told us that she lives there, and she gets confused by the subway.  She wanted the same train we did, and she was as helpless in the process as we were!

Eventually, we found the right platform – no worries about getting my 10,000 steps in that day! – and made it uptown.  But oh, my, what a confusing episode.

Understand that for someone who is new to the church, who perhaps went as a child or has absolutely no faith background at all, walking into a church building on a Sunday morning can be a bit like my experience in the New York City subway.

It’s up to us to assume nothing, keep it simple, and be willing to help people navigate through a service that may be old hat to us, but not to our guests. This is true whether your worship gathering is simple and streamlined, or requires you to follow along in a book or a bulletin.  Whatever we do, it may be gibberish to someone who is new to the church.

Let’s do all we can to grease the path that leads to Jesus.  That way, our guests will be able to echo the Psalmist:  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Hospitality alive!

What could possibly be held in common by a former student, someone I worked with at a denominational formation event, the CBC television show Still Standing, and my vacation?

I don’t normally write about my holidays, but when all of these disparate things came together, I thought it would be worth a post.

One of our favourite TV shows is Still Standing, wherein comedian and actor Jonny Harris (of Murdoch Mysteries fame) visits small, struggling towns in Canada to get to know the people and the difficulties they face with industry closures and the like.  It’s informative and funny, the two things I like best about television.  I knew that this season, Jonny would be visiting Fort-Coulonge, Québec, because an online student of mine last winter, Jane Pitfield, told me that she was having to deal with preparations for his visit to her little town not far from Pembroke, Ontario.  So I really enjoyed watching that particular episode, aired earlier this summer, because someone I knew would be in it.

My wife and I decided that it would be interesting to see what Jane was doing in the little town where her great-great-grandfather was responsible for bringing the logging industry (and thus prosperity).  So we arranged a visit as part of our holidays.

When we arrived, the hostess at the inn run by Jane (in the house built by her great-Spruceholme-Front-Viewgrandfather), we were told to go across the street to the Presbyterian church, where the student minister was waiting for us for a visit.  That was where we met Dave McFarlane, whom I had gotten to know at our denomination’s guidance conference for students last summer.  We caught up and chatted a bit, saw the historic building, and, not wanting to keep him from sermon preparation, we went back to the inn to await Jane’s return from a trip to Ottawa.

Claire, the delightful young hostess, kindly gave us a tour of the inn and the additional facilities that Jane had added on only in the past few years, including a bistro, contained in a barn that had been in her family which she had rebuilt on the site of the inn, and a reception hall (where the community show for Still Standing was taped).  It was so interesting to see such rich history brought back to life in a modern context.

We waited in the bistro for Jane, and shared a tasty supper and conversation with her there.  Knowing we had a campsite to get to before dark, Jane then took us to her home, which comprises an old log cabin that had been in her family many years ago, at the mouth of the Coulonge River, where it meets the Ottawa River – a site where many logs were moved for transport downstream.

We were amazed and astounded at the work Jane has undertaken to help to revitalize this small community where her ancestors had made such a difference.  The inn, the bistro and the conference hall have the opportunity to bring much tourism to Fort-Coulonge, and that fact that she is directly related to someone who is a much-honoured founder of the community has meant she is not considered “from away”, and can have a real impact.

That impact has been shown not only in the revitalization of buildings and industry, but in the skill Jane brings to her community as a politician; she is a former Toronto City Councillor, so she knows how to “get things done” in a political sense.  Though she does not hold the family name – Bryson – she is known as one of them.  Her great-great-grandfather and her great-grandfather were both members of the Québec Legislative Council in the early days of Confederation, right through to the early part of the twentieth century.  Some 70 years of continuous public service were rendered by those two men.  In her own way, Jane now carries that tradition on.

It’s not often one gets a front-row seat to such efforts, and we were glad to see what God is doing through Jane – for as one with a spiritual gift of hospitality, she longs to use that gift to make a difference for the Lord among the people of her community.

Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4.9-10, NLT).

To learn more about Jane’s work, visit