For Dad

Gravette Arkansas

On a Sunday in January 1983, I dangled my legs from an orange-padded pew and listened as my dad preached ‘in view of a call’ at Parkview Baptist Church. That afternoon, I dangled my legs from the paisley-and-polyester quilted bed at the Best Western, sucking back sobs as my dad told us we would be selling our fifth-wheel trailer, stepping off the road and settling down in Waco, Texas. I didn’t know these people, and I didn’t want our life to change.

My feet now reach the floor, but this past Sunday I sat with that same church (now meeting in a different location and without the orange pews) as they honored my dad for faithfully serving as their pastor for three decades (and still counting). Even more, we celebrated fifty years since my dad took up his call to ministry. In these years, it’s impossible to say how many he’s married, how many he’s buried. How many withered hands has he held? How many prayers has he spoken, for a son to return or a daughter to miraculously recover, a bill to be paid or a family to be made whole? How many stories of tragedy and abuse has he carried? How many injustices has he sought to make right? How many times has he laid his weary bones on the bed, asking God for mercy for one of his people and maybe, if God willed it, a little mercy for himself too?

The good folks at Parkview lovingly refer to my dad as ‘Preacher,’ and anyone who’s enjoyed his ministry in these years would give him good marks. However, if I can be frank, I’ve known a number of high octane preachers — and a fair number of them were (are) scoundrels I wouldn’t trust with a $5 bill. The truth is that a father’s preaching skill, impressionable though it may be, does little for a boy waiting for his dad to come home and toss a baseball in the front yard before supper.

I will tell you, however, what matters to a son. It matters that my dad was the same man at the dinner table as he was behind the pulpit. He doesn’t own a halo and he made his fair share of mash-ups – but he wasn’t fake. Not for a minute. I don’t believe I’d be a Christian today if my dad had played the church game. It matters that my dad loved his family and stayed true to my mom – and that he was generous and loyal and kept his word. It matters that my dad said he loved me – and that I’ve never doubted that these words are true. It matters that my dad has given himself to what he believes, even when it cost him. It matters that my dad has, with his life, practiced love.

This past weekend, it struck me how much my dad’s life is intertwined with this dear place and these dear people. He knows their histories and their kids, their financial woes, their joys and terrors. Whenever he’s with us in Virginia, it annoys me how I can’t get my dad to turn off his blasted cell phone. While I still wish he would pop that piece of machinery in the suitcase for an afternoon, I understand that at least part of the reason why it’s so hard for him to step away is because he can never turn off being their pastor. He’s given so much of himself, and you can’t simply shut that down.

Thirty years ago, I didn’t want to move to Waco because I didn’t know the people, the place. But my father does. He’s spent thirty years making their stories his life’s work. And that – from a son to a father – matters.

13 Replies to “For Dad”

  1. Very well said Winn! You have much reason to be proud of such a dad! We celebrate his faithful service to God, his family and the ministry God gave him, the church! I am thankful that you came from such a fine legacy! Thank you for your faithful service to God, your family (which includes my daughter & two grandsons) and the ministry God gave you, the church! You have had a great example to follow! You are loved!

  2. Winn, what a courageous thing your dad has done to give himself away to a people and a place when most pastors look a churches as a stepping stone. Your dad is such an example of faith and devotion. I believe you are both cut from the same cloth.

  3. An honorable tribute to an honorable man and father. I pray my children will be able to say the same of me one day. While no family is perfect, what an incredible gift we have been given to be nurtured in loving, godly families and to be guided in the Way from the beginning.

  4. This was sweet to read. Grateful for the role your dad and sweet mother have played in my life. I would be elsewhere in every sense imaginable were it not for devotion and love such as theirs. Grateful for their love to you, as its working in you shaped you, in part, to be a pastor of hearts through written prose. Your words on these pages never cease to move me in the deepest parts of my soul. You have a unique gift. Again, thank you, for dirtying paper and scratching for beauty…and the making the hard choices to continue down the path Preacher set for you.

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