“Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create a sanctuary.“
Rachel Held Evans
“I Love to Tell the Story”, the title of the familiar and well-loved hymn by Katherine Hankey, came to my mind today as I reflected on getting to know people in a new congregation. It’s one of the favorite parts of my being-a-pastor job, because each and every person has a life story. It is fascinating to discover things about someone that you never would have suspected by her/his outward appearance. It can also be revealing to look underneath the factual information that is shared and discern the heroism, joy, hurt, love, and so many other truths that can be gleaned from those facts. A gift for pastors is that people trust us enough to share their, sometimes very personal, stories.
I think back to the man who was the moderator in my first congregation, Zion United Church of Christ, Fireside, Bellevue, OH. Don Behm has gone home to God now, but back when I met him he was a vibrant, fun-loving, retired high school history teacher, very active in the church. He and his wife, Jean, our Choir Director, were pillars of the church, in the best sense of those words. They were both very musical, and, in addition to singing in the choir, would perform very funny, vaudeville-like, musical routines to entertain at community and church functions. I literally almost fell off my folding chair once in the church basement watching them perform an act in which Jean mimed being a bass fiddle, bobbing up and down, as they sang a duet, and Don pretended to play the fiddle!
Though Don wore hearing aids in both ears (and joked about them) he sometimes had difficulty hearing directions given in choir practice. As I got to know Don’s story, I learned that his hearing loss was a result of serving in the U.S. Army during W.W. II as an eighteen-year-old tank gunner. The loud noise of the gun being fired had permanently damaged his ears. I also learned that Don was on a tank that knocked down the walls to liberate Bergen-Belsen German Concentration Camp in Germany at the end of the war. He had pictures and a black and white film of the horrors discovered at that camp. Later in his life, he would use them to present a program to high school students in area schools. Although a proud military veteran, Don was a proponent of peace, having witnessed first-hand what war could do.
I look forward to hearing each of your life stories, and to celebrating with you the fact that we are storytellers together, sharing the greatest story ever told—the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The world needs to hear that story! In the words of the hymn’s first verse and chorus, “I love to tell the story of unseen things above. Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true; it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do. I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I’ll tell the old, old story of Jesus’ endless love.”
In Christ’s love,
Pastor Candy Thomas
Christ Congregational United Church of Christ