When one has occasion to participate in the celebration of a well-lived godly life, the value of the Christian walk becomes clearer and is vindicated.
Each grieving family had members in the Baptist ministry. Each funeral affirmed lives lived well: love for family, church and community, and the hope of life eternal where there is justice, joy and righteousness.
I was particularly moved by a segment in the service for Miz Ruby. Parker, her grandson and a ministerial student, had the assignment of reading the scripture. He read from Miz Ruby’s well-used Bible. He drew upon several passages that she had marked. He commented on how the Bible had been a “light unto her path.”
He continued by sharing about how she lived a life of love in relationship to her family and her church. He cited examples of how that love was returned by both, particularly over the past six years while she had been bedridden due to a stroke.
Finally, he took a 10-year-old clipping from the Bible. It was just a picture of him and others on a winning school sports team. He shared about how she had prayed for him across the years. I sensed in his comments that he had come to peace with the question that often troubles our minds: Why does God let one of his saints continue to live for years in a greatly diminished state?
For Parker, the answer was, in part, that she had been able to focus on praying for her family. This meant a lot to us who knew how God had brought healing and spiritual change into Parker’s life. As his ministry life develops, he will be thinking about how his grandmother is interceding for him before the throne of God.
Mr. James spent his working life as a factory hand over in Columbus, Miss. For many decades he had served as a deacon in the East End church there. He grieved last fall when its beautiful building was damaged by a tornado.
He and his wife raised six children. The oldest daughter, Jackie, is the wife of a pastor in our association. Another daughter also married a pastor. And all the children are active in the work of God’s kingdom.
Life goes on. Attending the funeral of Mr. James was a 14-day-old great-granddaughter, Abby. He had gotten to hold her briefly.
In the minds and hearts of most of us, the lives of Mr. Charlie and the Springhill church are intertwined. When services were held in it, he was there. He earned a living for his family as a carpenter. He was known for good work, and some of his apprentices continue to follow that trade. He also farmed.
For many years, he was a widower, living alone. After 94 years of giving love, he became the object of acts of love. We buried him in the church graveyard, which is just across the road from the front door of the church and across a field from the back door of his life-long home.
Mr. Charlie’s church is in its 162nd year. Its frame building dates from 1857. It has never had a large congregation. Through the years its contribution to God’s kingdom has been godly people like Mr. Charlie, preacher sons and a missionary daughter. And it has been a training ground for young pastors.
Each summer the church men cook more than 100 gallons of Brunswick stew for the homecoming. The excess is sold and the income given to the Childrens’ Home Offering. For many years this church has led the state of Alabama in per capita support of this ministry. Springhill has been growing modestly recently.
Some of the other folk in the church had stepped forward to share leadership with Mr. Charlie. It will continue, even though an important “pillar” has been removed.
Miz Ruby died on a Saturday. She was buried on a Tuesday. The following Friday, the Pickens Academy girls basketball team, which is coach by her son Dennis, won the state championship in its division.
Life goes on. And when one has occasion to participate in the celebration of a well-lived godly life, the value of the Christian walk becomes clearer and is vindicated. Not famous. Not rich. Just good people.
They have heard the words of the prophet Micah, and they have acted with justice, loved mercy and walked in humility with their God.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.