When people ask me why I decided to enter into the ministry, I always say, “Because I wanted to be like my big brother, Earl.” Earl would have been 67 on April 26th of this year, but sadly his life was shortened by a car-train wreck in 1989 when he was just 40. My brother was 13 years older than me and died 5 days before my 27th birthday. It is hard to believe that the years of his absence have now become more for me than the years of his presence. Yet the impact of his life on my own is as significant today as it ever was.
Earl was in ministry for 20 years before his death. He spent his career in small town congregations, a trend I followed until recently. He was active not only in the life of his parish, but also very active in the communities which he lived. He sat on various committees and boards for local non-profits. He was always concerned for the area youth and supported them in ways as diverse as coaching high school baseball and starting a youth center known as the Power Station. It was because of his concern for the young people that the last community he served started a scholarship in his honor at the high school. Like him, I have always tried to serve not just my congregation, but also the community in which I live. Young people too have always played an important role in my life, especially as I served as a church camp counselor or director for more than two decades. Earls’ greatest quality, however, the one that continues to inspire me to do even better ministry and to live life more fully, was his unbelievable capacity to love others. His heart was open wide to those whom he ministered and his embrace of others, especially in times of their sorrow, was a gift he gave whenever it was needed.
From my earliest days, one thing I was always certain of was my brother’s love for me. I can remember him reading me to sleep when I was a very young child. Others who knew him often say the same thing. They knew Earl cared about them and loved them. However much I may have failed at the effort, it has always been my goal to try and love unconditionally the people I serve. My brother’s gift of loving service to others continues to guide my understanding of what it is to be in ministry. Though Earl and I would probably have disagreed on some finer points of theology (likely quite a few of them), we both have a similar understanding of the role of love when it comes to following Jesus and being a servant leader in His church.
Every sermon I have ever preached; every lesson I have taught; every time I extend pastoral care to someone in need; every community service project I am engaged in; in all of this I am driven not only by my own faith, but also by the faith of my brother. And I am fairly certain that Earl would tell you that his own faith was driven by what he learned from the faith of our maternal grandmother, Ms. Annie. During the days of the Depression, when she was a widow with six children, we were taught that she always sat a dinner table that had room for one more.
When all is said and done, all we can really leave to anyone is the example of our lives. My brother passed on to me, what he had learned from our grandmother, who in turn learned it from others, a life spent following Jesus is a life full of love and care. I’ve always wanted to be like my brother and I hope I can in that what I leave behind is a full life lived in faith and love.