It happened a day ago. No. It happened 20 minutes ago. No. It happened more than 40 years ago.
And yet, it is happening now.
Here’s the deal. I believe in ministry—my word, make it in living for anyone—pastoral care and presence are invaluable…even more, necessary. It’s not, though, only a pastor helping a church member. It can be the reverse.
THAT’S what happened just now. And perhaps 42 years ago.
I received a phone call from F. Don Collins. He is a member of Lakewood United Church of Christ in Lakewood, Colorado, still is. I served their church family for 7 years, starting in 1973. Don and Charlene [God rest her soul] adopted two girls, Colette and Candy. Colette, now in her late 50’s, cares for her father, who lives on Arkansas Avenue in Lakewood. A street I won’t forget.
Back to March of 1976. My best friend was Steven Ullmann, a resident of Chicago. His wife, Judi, was my wife Nancy’s best friend, both when they met, students at the University of Chicago. Steve—I called him Ullmann…always…was a financial consultant. He was also the most adventuring guy I ever knew. The for instance is he wanted to ski. He came to Lakewood and took my wife and yours truly skiing. I was an expert on the bunny hill. Ullmann rented skis, took his first lessons 10-noon. Met us for lunch, and I’ll be, he said, “Miller, come on, the blue slopes.”
“What? Ullmann, even the green slopes are a challenge; I’m still at the snow plow advanced stage.” He grabbed me, pushed me on the frickin’ chair lift. Amazing. I got off without crashing into another person. Ullmann took off like he was the teacher. It was great. I even made it. Hey, a challenge is a challenge. We skied blue the rest of the day. And, believe it “blue” had nothing to do with shading on my skin from falling.
We got home—oh, Ullmann wanted it to be Christmas for Matthew and Andrew, our two sons. Even in March. So, before he went to the Denver Airport, he took them to Target, gave each of them a cart and said, “Guys, meet you at Cashier One.” Matthew and Andrew didn’t complain. They knew where the games and athletic equipment were. Yessirree.
Friday night we had a great meal, late Friday I took Ullmann to the airport.
Saturday morning Nancy and I had a mixed doubles game with dear friends. [I figure only dear friends don’t keep score.]
As I left the parsonage our phone rang, a landline then. I returned to the phone, answered to the question, “Is this Reverend Mark Miller?”
I said it was.
Silence, staggered breathing, “Reverend Miller? Steven Ullmann died this morning. He had a brain aneurism playing basketball was dead before he hit the floor.”
Beyond shock and pain and broken hearts. That was Saturday. Nancy went to Chicago immediately to be with Judi. I had to lead worship the next morning. I barely got through the sermon, broke down in tears and explained to the dearest friends in the world as church members, what had happened.
As I recessed up the aisle during the closing hymn, there he stood. F. Donald Collins. He stood and waited. Tears brushed from his cheeks. He always calls me “Rev.” He put his arms around me, literally kept me from collapsing; stood there until everyone shared their love with me. I will never forget that. Such an incredible pastoral care and presence.
Thirty minutes ago Don called to get my address because he purchased a novel. He’s become Tricia Gleason’s strongest fan. At first I didn’t recognize his voice. He spoke haltingly and took breaths between sentences. He no longer plays golf. Still grieves the loss of Charlene. But, thank God Colette cares for him.
I love F. Don Collins forever. He’s the only guy who calls me “Rev.” That’s a link with him and me, even though when others say that name I think of a car engine! Not with Don.
So, friends. Pastoral care, pastoral presence. I can list those in my life who have brought that and will continue to do so. I need fingers and toes and more names than that.
How about you? How about you? Care. Understand. Accept. Forgive. Love. I’m with Don forever and love him forever. He responded, spoken clearly, “Rev? I’m that way about you.”