About this time a couple of weeks ago, my co-pastor and wife Kim and I were working on the worship bulletin together. She looked at me and said, “I am going to move the “Charge and Benediction” to after the final hymn.”
I said, “Fine, you are the boss of me, you can put it anywhere after I had it in the wrong place.” Then I quickly added, “Just kidding, you can move it because you are the leader of worship on Sunday, and you need to put it in the place you think is best for that worship flow.”
She nodded approvingly at me, and finished up her bulletin.
Our policy is the person who preached leads the congregation in the benediction and charge. So, Kim having preached was prepared to “summarize her sermon in a sentence or two” and then ask God’s blessing for our congregation.
On that Sunday, things went great. We had the offering, prayer of dedication and went right into the closing hymn. I was in the front pew and Kim was behind the pulpit. All was swell. Then at the beginning of the last verse, Pastor Kim marched out of the sanctuary. At first, I thought she was going to the office for a prop or spotted something in the back of the sanctuary that needed immediate attention. Then as we finished the last verse, it dawned on me.
She forgot she moved the “Charge and Benediction” to the end of the service. She was done for the day, and she was not coming back. How could I get her back into the sanctuary to finish the job of leading worship? I couldn’t.
So, soon as the hymn ended, I went to the front of the sanctuary, extended my arms, summarized her sermon message in a couple of sentences (with no thought or rehearsal) and asked God’s blessing. I put special emphasis on the words, “May God bless all our loved ones near and far” and made sure I didn’t look at Kim back in the doorway. I could not have maintained my aplomb. As soon as our pianist Joy started playing the postlude, I skedaddled.
Kim met me in the Narthex with a huge smile and even huger hug. She laughingly proclaimed, “All I can think of is your dad!” And I knew exactly what she meant.
You see, when my mother passed away in September of 2002, her minister approached me after the funeral service to ask a favor. It seems he was busy the next day at the time when we planned to place Mom’s ashes in the little crypt at the mausoleum. He asked if I could preside at the service. Honestly, it is not a position that I as a pastor would ever put a grieving son in, but I appreciated his kindness to my dad and family. So with bravado I really wasn’t feeling, I said, “Sure, I’ve done a million of these things.”
The next afternoon, equipped with my Book of Common Worship, I led the final commendation. There in front of my dad, brothers and their wives, Kim, and my aunt and uncle, I led the prayers. Things were going just fine, until I came to the final “Charge and Blessing.” I made the mistake of looking my sad father right in the eye.
I was struck dumb – I just could not speak! I wasn’t crying. I did not break down. I just lost my voice. I could not get the blessing out. I looked at Kim imploringly and after a second she understood and jumped right in. Everyone but Dad and I said, “Amen.”
Dad actually added the ultimate benediction before the Amen stopped echoing in the crypt room. He said in his always gruff voice, “Da** good thing we got two ministers in the family.”
I will never forget that moment. It was the moment I knew he accepted my life decision to be a married Presbyterian minister. It was the moment I knew that life-long devout Roman Catholic man accepted my wife, my helpmate, my co-pastor as a minister, and someone who could and did minister to him.
But on this recent Sunday, I wasn’t thinking profound thoughts as Kim held me close and said, “All I can think of is your dad!”
All I could think of is that a decade later, I returned to her the favor she granted me at that “struck speechless” moment in my life, and how good it is when two hearts are together in Jesus Christ.
May the grace and peace of God our Father, the love our Jesus Christ our Lord and Brother, and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of us, and our loved ones near and far, forever and ever. Amen and Amen.
Steve Nofel, Co-Pastor (and I really mean it) Cortez