The Elder Emeritus

I never knew his last name. Like Peter, James, John and Paul, it never seemed to matter. He was no longer young, but in his later eighties. His wife had died and he had been urged into an assisted living care home in Salem, Oregon. Ed walked the aisles, noticing in others an abject loneliness, and set out to do something about it. "Why don't we start a Hymn Sing one evening a week?"

My mother-in-law consented to play piano for the group. After a week or two of Ed's song leading, she called me. "Bob", she said over the phone, "can you come and help? There is a nice old guy doing it but he just isn't what we need." "Well, maybe for a few weeks," I answered. "I don't feel like being tied down for any length of time." And so it began, every Friday evening, rain or shine, for six or seven years!

Ed never held it against me for "stealing his thunder." He was always there early to pass out the song books and put them away at the end. If for some reason I was late, he started things on time. The people who came were a denominational mix who all agreed on one point — they loved to sing praises! They would pick out their favorites, often until long past the point where I had nothing more to give, and then someone would ask for "God Be With You Till We Meet Again," and that was the signal to end for the evening. More and more, I became aware of a sad fact: not always but often, someone would not be there another week!

Time brings us all things, both good and bad. Ed would never again see ninety; he was slowing down but in his quiet way he was still as determined as ever. Then one day the ladies were troubled. "Ed is in the hospital!" they said. His heart hadn't been hitting on all of its cylinders for a long time. In our own feeble way, we formed a circle right then and there, to pray for him. In a couple of weeks, he was back. Some of the fire was gone, he was dragging a little, but he was still Ed.

The seasons changed and with them my own life became more hectic than ever with the work load and cares of just existing! One evening, I mentioned it to Ed, "I feel like I have reached the end of my chain." I still have a clear picture of that tired, little old man; his heart was struggling between one beat and the next. He had every right to look at me and say "What's your problem?" I will never forget his quavering voice as he put his arm around my shoulder, "Bob, sometimes all we can do is let people know that we love them." Two weeks later, he was gone!

We forced the Hymn Sing along for more than a year, but it was never the same, and I came to realize that it had never been my ministry, but Ed's. It was he who had carried the load of encouraging, organizing and yes, praying. For the most part, I had only been making noise. There were still good days, but in the end, we put the books away for the last time.

One day, while working, I chanced to be working back at, of all places, Court Street Christian, where Ed had led the singing. Walking inside I saw how things had changed since I had been there so long ago. Then I noticed a picture of Ed, a little younger but still the same; someone had lovingly given him a title, "Elder Emeritus." I looked closer, thinking we had always ended our Hymn Sing with a little prayer; "Lord, give us that special blessing, just because we have come in the name of Jesus Christ!" In my memory I could feel His arm around my shoulder, "Bob, sometimes all we can do is let people know that we love them".

November 01, 2010 / Perspective
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