Connected, Session 5: Can I Take Your Coats?

takeyourcoats

by Scott Penner

These were the first words that greeted me as I, along with my family, entered Truro Alliance Church as a candidate for pastoral ministry. 

Delbert, a quiet, unassuming senior, had his own way of making a person feel welcome. He was what you would call the head usher. However, when asked if he would officially fill the position, he politely declined. So, officially, we went without. We really did not need the role filled on paper since Delbert abundantly filled the duties. He made sure there were people ready to collect the offering, ensured visitors found a place to sit, warmly greeted people at the door, hung up coats, and handed out bulletins.

When I stood behind the pulpit, it was easy to see Delbert because he sat in a chair at the end of the center aisle. No one blocked my view of him, nor his of me. I think this arrangement helped form a bond between us. I knew that others would come and go, but steady Del was always there.

I only had to cough once (twice at the most) while preaching before Delbert would slip out of his chair, walk around to the door leading to the platform, and bring me a glass of water. All the people ever saw sticking through the back door was an arm, holding an ugly, aqua blue plastic mug filled with water. Of course, everyone knew the owner of that arm.

I knew that others would come and go, but steady Del was always there. 

For a while we had a terrible time keeping some of the teens in the service. They would wander out and sit on the front steps or lounge around in the foyer. People were starting to complain, and I was feeling pressured to have a little chat with them.

While no one was quite sure how to handle the situation, Delbert brought six chairs from the adult Sunday School room and lined them up on either side of his. Keeping the center chair for himself, he invited the mavericks to join him at the back. In his non-judgmental, graciously inviting way, he gathered up most of the teens. Trust Delbert to find a solution.

As happens with many churches, music style was the number one source of controversy for a while. Some people only liked the newer, peppy songs. They saw the old hymnal useful for propping open the windows on hot summer days. Others regarded the hymnal with nearly as much respect as the Bible and loathed the catchy tunes. One Sunday, we discussed how God views the controversy and concluded that He was more concerned over the way we interacted with one another while debating the subject.

We concluded the service by inviting members to choose favorite praise choruses and hymns to sing. However, instead of choosing their own favorite, the members were asked to choose a favorite of someone else. Soon Delbert, who had taken a “soft” stand on the hymn side, raised his hand. He picked a peppy little chorus because Donny, one of the teens, particularly liked it. As we were about to sing, he added, “And I’d like it sung through at least three times.”

One Sunday, I looked at Delbert and thought, He looks tired. We soon learned that, indeed, he was more than tired.

Delbert was soon hospitalized. Every time I went to see him in the hospital, I struggled with my feelings: It was just not right. He had such a positive influence, and now, since his retirement, he would have even more opportunities to touch lives.

His role in God’s kingdom was not flashy, but it was significant. Every church needs a Delbert.

Delbert’s wife and daughters were by his side when he died. I went back to the hospital in the night to pray with the family and say good-bye. There in that hospital room, his body looked as natural as if he were still in it. But he was not there. Peacefulness had filled the room where, only moments earlier, he had fought for each breath.

Our congregation struggled to say, “See you later” to our good friend. Plenty of tears were shed at the funeral; I had to pause more than once to find my voice during the service. But, there was also laughter — lots of laughter — because in his quiet, fun way, Delbert had touched every one of us. His role in God’s kingdom was not flashy, but it was significant. Every church needs a Delbert.

“Can I take your coats?” I miss hearing those words.

Scott Penner has pastored Truro Alliance Church in Truro, Nova Scotia, for 21 years. He and his wife, Jeanette, have four children, two daughters-in-law, and one grandson. Scott welcomes feedback through the church website, tcmac.ca.

Mature-LivingThis article originally appeared in the October, 2013 issue of Mature Living. Subscribe

 

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