Thursday, May 18, 2006
Almost missed deadline for meeting (OK, lunch)
My column almost did not get written again this week because I had planned to sit down Tuesday morning and write it, but I got summoned to Oxford for a meeting. (Actually it was an invitation to lunch!)
My friend — a fellow minister from Corinth, had not seen the new Henry Williamson office building out at Camp Hopewell, five miles east of Oxford, so we rode out there, and that took extra time — hence the quick deadline for what you are reading.
But the visit reminded me of a story with a lesson. Hopewell is our Presbyterian camp for North Mississippi, but lots of other children go there too. The Rev. Henry Williamson was our minister for years at the Speedway Church in Corinth (what a name — in recent years they changed it to “Covenant” — more Presbyterian!) as well as at Iuka and Tishomingo.
Henry could be a grumpy old cuss — in fact he always reminded me of a big, Persian cat. In his last years, he assisted churches that were between installed pastors. We joked that dealing with Henry caused those churches to hurry up and find a pastor. Henry was not sentimental; he wanted to move those people on to their next chapter in church life!
Meanwhile he would come in and do a little “housecleaning” — knocking heads together to resolve quarrels that regular ministers were too timid to tackle, firing the obstreperous church musician, or the incompetent church secretary.
Once when I admired Henry’s little Jack Russell terrier pup, he informed me he had named it for the secretary of a certain church in North Mississippi. “Well, she must be complimented,” I mused.
“She doesn’t know it,” snapped Henry. “I fired her!”
Henry, as do I, thought that dogs and cats often look like people and vice versa — hence the name for the new puppy.
Sad to say, Henry spent his last years in semi-loneliness. Some years ago now, he put out an ad to us ministers that he was selling off his ministerial library and invited us to come visit and see if we wanted to buy any of his books.
I read between the lines that he wanted some company, so one afternoon I took off and drove to Water Valley where he had purchased a home.
After spending a good, long afternoon reminiscing, I bought about $200 worth of Henry’s books, and as I drove home, I do confess I spent the first few miles out of Water Valley congratulating myself for my Christian good deeds. I had visited a lonely old person and given him $200 of my money. I was just the sort of ministerial colleague that God wanted us Presbyterians to be.
Just at that moment my daydream was interrupted by the sound of a siren and the flashing blue light in my rearview mirror. I was doing 70 in a 55 mile-per-hour zone. “Pride goeth before the fall,” says the Book, and it cost me another $200 — for speeding. Actually, I decided that whether the highway patrol knew it or not, that ticket was for the sin of self-congratulation, for without that my mind would have been on my driving.
All was not for naught. Henry left his entire estate to Camp Hopewell and that beautiful new building was built with his gift and named in his memory. My friend Frank Brooks, whom I met that day, had conducted Henry’s funeral, and we enjoyed swapping “Henry stories” while we drove out to the camp.
All in all the $200 for the books and the $200 for the ticket were well spent, I think. Indeed I (gulp) thank the highway patrol for teaching a young preacher a most needed lesson, whether that was what the officer intended or not.
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