The security guard at St Francis Hospital challenged dad to prove he was a minister. Dad looked at him and without missing a beat said, “Well son,… I’ll pray for you.”
Dad went to the hospital in Topeka several times each week and usually parked in the hospital parking garage. The hospital charged to park in it unless you were clergy. Dad had been using the garage for several years. Normally, he would pull up to the security booth and just say “Minister” to the guard. They would then wave him on through.
Daddy never went for bumper or window stickers saying he was clergy because that was too much like bragging or showing-off. The Lord and his congregation knew he was a minister and that was good enough. He didn’t feel the need to advertise.
On this particular day it was a new person and they weren’t taking any chances on a “Fake Preacher” slipping through and not paying the 50 cent parking fee.
When dad told the guard he’d pray for him, the man sat there speechless. That was the last response he was expecting. After a moment of reflection, embarrassment set in. He looked down at his feet, and with a dejected appearance just waved dad on through the gate without another word.
…It was several months later and Communion Sunday was upon us. Administering the sacrament of holy communion was one of the most important duties of a minister, in any denomination.
For Dad it involved services at two churches each Sunday, so he made sure the details were all worked out. In the early days of the Methodist Church, they had ordained ministers called circuit riders. They would travel from church to church across a large geographic area. When they arrived, you then were able to have the special services such as communion.
On this particular day, father had the Valley Falls service first. He then would drive 8 miles down a gravel road to the Coal Creek church for their service. It was a pretty, wood-frame church, out in the country.
Dad was one of those ministers who would show up to preach come rain or shine. He never cancelled church because of weather and he preached even when he didn’t feel good.
To this point, I could only remember one time he didn’t preach and it was because a cold caused him to lose his voice. He still showed up for church, but had someone else preach for him.
On this particular Sunday, Dad wasn’t feeling very good, but hadn’t told any of us. He was having chest pain, but it was communion Sunday and he felt that he had to continue. He was the only ordained minister, so he was the only one who should perform communion.
I was in high school at the time and helped out with the service doing things like usher or serving as liturgist. My lack of musical talent had been established early on, so I didn’t have to worry about playing piano or singing special music as my sisters always seemed to be doing.
Toward the end of the Valley Falls service, Mom and Dad disappeared. I was told by Jim, one of our lay leaders, that Mom had taken Dad to the doctor because he was having some chest pain.
While I was concerned with Dads health, I was told that he’d left instructions for us to “handle things”. I wasn’t sure what “handle things” meant. We were on our own and all we had to go by was the church bulletin.
Jim was an experienced lay speaker, so he could probably wing some sort of short sermon and I could handle the bible readings, prayers, and offering. I felt reassured that Jim was the one who was handling this task with me.
Jim had been a very active member and was liked by everyone. He was the district fisheries biologist for Kansas Fish & Game. I had participated in the high school mentoring program a couple years earlier. I was able to go out on the boat and worked the fish nets with Jim on local lakes. I guess he was the closest thing we had to a professional fisherman.
So I, alongside Jim, the fish biologist, jumped into his car and sped off to Coal Creek. They had no idea what was coming, and unfortunately, neither did we.
We arrived and the congregation of about 20 people were seated in the sanctuary. The organist had bought us time by playing extra music as the people waited.
As Jim and I strode into the church and up to the front of the sanctuary, you could see the surprise on all the faces. We definitely were not, “Reverend Purvis”, as they were expecting.
As the organist finished the extended prelude, Jim stepped up to the pulpit and told the congregation that Reverend Purvis had become ill and was on his way to the doctor. He also told them that we would try to continue with the service.
On the way over, we had talked about what we would do regarding communion at Coal Creek. They would also be set up for communion, like Valley Falls had been. Jim and I both knew that we were not ordained, trained, or authorized in any way to provide communion. We weren’t even sure, exactly, which part of the service of communion to use. There were multiple versions in the back of the hymnal, which was a bit confusing.
It was sort of like the movie “Airplane” when the pilots got food poisoning and there was no one to fly the plane. They had to improvise and find another pilot. The problem was that we were it. A fisherman and a high school student. A couple “fake preachers”.
So we began the service and winged the whole thing. When it came time to do communion, Jim stood behind the alter and told the people the truth. Jim and I, neither one, was ordained or authorized to do communion in an official capacity. What we proposed to do was to provide the communion sacraments and that each person could pray to God in their hearts.
It was our “amateur” belief that they would be forgiven of their sins. It wasn’t because of any authority Jim or I had or anything we said, but would be simply based on each person asking forgiveness in their own heart. God’s grace would see them through.
Jim told them that it was completely up to them as to whether they felt comfortable doing communion this way and under these circumstances.
We then had them come up to the alter in small groups. I would ask them to take the bread which was the body of Christ given for them. Jim would then tell them to take the juice which was the blood of Christ shed for them.
To our surprise every person came up and partook in the improvised communion service. They apparently, weren’t concerned with “fake preachers”, but with the one “real god”.
Later when I told Dad what we had done, he was pleased that we had been able to take a difficult situation and make the best of it.
Jim and I had talked about the communion service before doing it. We came to the agreement that what mattered was your personal relationship with God. If you asked to receive forgiveness and repented of your sins, God is going to forgive you. Personally, I’m not sure that God is real concerned about the details of how you get to that point, as long as you get there. Jim and I merely helped to facilitate each persons interaction with God that morning.
Dad would be the first to tell you that God is not there because the minister is there. Nor is God present because the building is called a church. God is present because his children are present. He keeps his promise that where ever his people are, there too, he may be found.
Someone who is stuck on rules and procedures might say that we were “fake preachers” that day. I would say that we were nothing more than what we professed to be; two followers of the one they call Christ who helped to proclaim the good news through their simple service.
If you think about it, that is sort of how the disciples were. In fact, we had Jim, the fisheries biologist, who was called by God to follow him, and on this day, he was a fisher of men.