I miss my Dad, though it’s been sixteen and a half years since he passed on to glory. He was a solid minister of the gospel for over 50 years. He surprised me when he retired. When I was younger, I thought that my Dad would never retire! He lived about 10 years after retirement, and ended up preaching over 80% of the Sundays during his retirement years. He really just retired from the day-in/day-out stresses of located ministry.
I was born in Maryville, Missouri (interestingly enough, the same city in which Seth Wilson was born several years earlier). My Dad preached in a tiny little town in NW Missouri at the time of my birth. In over 50 years of ministry, he was fired from a church one-and-only-one time. It was from the church that he was serving at the time of my birth. We moved to his next ministry when I was about 6 months old. At that time he became the first full-time minister of what is now the Grinnell Christian Church, serving there until shortly after I started kindergarten, when we moved on to Joliet, Illinois, the place I would call home.
Dad wore that firing almost like a badge of honor for the rest of his life. I was too small to even know about it, so the only thing I ever heard about it came from his mouth. The problem was that Dad (a young, energetic preacher at the time) took his task to win the lost seriously, and many, many people were won to the Lord during his time there. The leadership, and many of the old-timers expressed things like, “We don’t want that kind of people in our church!” So the young preacher was sacrificed, and the congregation returned to its stagnant status quo.
Last week, I got a message from an old friend, Charlie Dietz. Charlie is a few years older than I. I met him the first time when I was in high school. He was singing in the Swordsmen quartet (comprised of Ozark Bible College students) at Colorado Christian Service Camp in Como, Colorado. Our family was on a 2-week family vacation in Colorado. One of those weeks coincided with a high school week of camp. I opted to ditch the family and go to camp. I met the guys in the Swordsmen quartet, and several others that I would meet again later when I enrolled as a freshman at Ozark. Bob Stacy (founder of CIY) was the vespers speaker that week. Bob Stacy was preaching in Marshalltown, Iowa in 1957 when my biological mother was tragically killed by electrocution early on a Sunday morning. Dad was already next door at the church building preparing for the morning services. I have only a few mental images of that day. Bro. Stacy made the trip from Marshalltown to Grinnell to be in charge of Sunday services—basically a prayer meeting, as the young preacher at Grinnell tragically lost his wife, leaving 3 small children, age 6 and below.
When Bob Stacy realized that I was a camper at that high school week, he asked my permission to tell that story. Charlie Dietz perked up, because my parents had been in Bible college (at the now defunct Dakota Bible College) at the same time his parents were. Our friendship began at that time. Our paths have intersected multiple times over the past nearly fifty years, and each time our paths have crossed, I have been blessed.
Charlie asked me if I ever remember Dad mentioning Claude and Agnes Wells, who would have been at Dakota Bible College at the same time Dad was there. I responded that I had no memory of them. Agnes Wells was a poet, and had published poems. Charlie said he would send me a book with her poems, and that one in particular would be of special interest.
A booklet of poems, Poems from the Parsonage, written by Agnes E. Wells (Childs Press, 1954), arrived in the mail a few days ago. There was a handwritten note, which said, “Open at middle page where the staples are!” This is what I found:
On Leaving a Field of Ministry (Dedicated to Fred and Gail Fish)
We've labored here for many months,
We've prayed and planned and worked.
We've carried high the cross of Christ;
No call for help or duty shirked.
There are many souls we hope to win--
Our hearts within us weep.
Perhaps the seed we've sown while here
Another man may come and reap.
The parsonage wherein we've lived
Left much to be desired;
Built-in cupboards, bath and sink--
To those things we aspired.
We planted peonies in the fall,
And tulips by the porch--
Perhaps the blooms that spring brings forth
May help another hold the torch.
The converts new that we have won
We'll have to leave behind,
But we will bear them up in prayer
And keep them in our mind.
Oh, we have loved it working here
And have tried to do our best.
Another field has called us now;
We trust to God the rest.
I was happy to receive this, which fills out the story of Dad’s experience at the church he was serving when I was born. I have driven through that small town many years ago, just to say that I had been there.
I started this post the day we left Joplin two days ago. We came to visit our new granddaughter, Tilly Kay Duncan, born on Tuesday, June 4 at 9:16 am in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is now at home with her family. We’ll watch the older kids later this morning, as Tilly goes in for her first pediatric doctor visit after going home. Then we return home to JoMo to continue Rose’s recovery. God is good. We give thanks to Him!