In the last week news has reached me of the deaths of two of the gentlest, most faithful, encouraging Christian men I will ever have the privilege to know.
M was the 'elder' of my sending church in Warrington, essentially a 'super deacon' chosen and appointed by the then minister on the grounds of his wisdom and experience. A Londoner by birth, he supported Spurs (three of us in the church at that time were born in Spurs territory!) and had worked for the local council in some fairly senior position prior to retirement. He was actively supportive of me from the moment I arrived at the church, and delighted in my journey to ordained ministry. Sadly in recent years his health declined, his short term memory began to fail and he had to step back from some of the duties he had fulfilled with gentleness and grace, always a smile, always a word of encouragement. Last New Year, when I visited the church (meeting in their hall while their roof was repaired... is it me?!) he was, as ever, sat at the door, handing out hymnbooks, smiling and welcoming people as they arrived. This, week, after a long illness, he slipped away, closing an era of service and witness.
P was a member of our neighbouring Church of Scotland, actively involved in work with young people and a leading light in work with international students. Educated in London (apparently, my source is not quite sure where he was born!) he was a teacher of French in Glasgow his entire adult life. A competent pianist and a gorgeous tenor, his contributions to joint evening worship were always a delight. Just a two weeks back he was playing for Sunday evening worship, and I, arriving early, enjoyed some good chat and banter with him. The next day he left for a speical holiday in Turkey where he died very suddenly. P was always smiling, he oozed gentleness and wisdom. A great encourager and supporter of others, genuinely humble and kind. With his death, another era ends, leaving its legacy of precious memories.
These two wise, gentle men have touched my life more than they ever knew, have encouraged and corrected me, laughed with me, shared with me, and both will be sadly missed.
Two things come to mind as I take a moment to give thanks for them (since for various reasons I can attend neither funeral) ...
P once observed, wisely, in a conversation about a service that had been "interesting" that we don't come to church for what we want, or even to enjoy it, but to worship God.
And M, in response to any account of things turning out alright in the end would say with a warm smile, and a knowing look that recognised the underlying struggle, "God's good."
God is good - to have known M and P has been a great blessing. May they rest in peace, good and faithful servants.