The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Mrs. Vera, Giver of Warm Welcomes
Those who have come to Wilmington and St. Matthew’s in more recent years never met Mrs. Vera. I had to look twice to remember that her funeral was more than six years ago. The last two years of her life before that were a slow descent into Lewy body dementia.
In my first years at St. Matthew’s, I came to realize that more people joined St. Matthew’s because of Mrs. Vera than for any other reason. People make a lot over us pastors, for good or ill, but it’s always the laity that make or break the deal for persons considering membership. Mrs. Vera was the one who made St. Matthew’s, “The Church with a Welcome.” She learned names your first visit, introduced you to a pastor, and gave you such a warm welcome, you returned the next week. She called you by name. Deal closed.
Mrs. Vera moved to Wilmington from the Piedmont in 1940 at the age of 16. She married Ernest as soon as she graduated from high school at 18. Mrs. Nell, who later taught Mrs. Vera’s daughter Brenda to play the organ, played for Mrs. Vera’s wedding. Firmly connected at St. Matthew’s as a teenager, Mrs. Vera lived the rest of her 89 years in Wilmington.
Ernest was gone before I came to St. Matthew’s. I heard stories from Stan about how Ernest and Vera took the offerings home, counted them, stored them in an ice cream container in their deep freeze, and made the deposit on Monday. Stan got involved with stewardship because of Ernest.
Mrs. Vera made pecan pies that were to die for. When I made a pastoral call at her house, after an hour of visiting, out would come a slice of pecan pie, sweet tea, and lemon. When the visit was over, there was a whole pecan pie to take home to share with my wife. She would tell stories about her younger days and then the sad story of Ernest’s sudden death by heart attack.
Whenever someone died, I could count on Mrs. Vera to give me all the background information I had not received from family. She would tell me about the things the people were involved in and when they had come to St. Matthew’s and to whom they were kin. She was the oral historian of the parish from 1940 on.
Our daughter’s godparents at St. Matthew’s, Carol and Harry, had lunch with Mrs. Vera every Wednesday for years. If they would disagree over anything, Mrs. Vera would say, “Now, children!” Such a touch!
What hurts the children hurts the parents, grandparents, and godparents… no matter how old your child is. When Brenda’s cancer came back with a vengeance, it weighed down on Mrs. Vera’s heart and soul. Ray and Brenda ate with Mrs. Vera often. Brenda and her mother spoke by phone every day. They took trips twice a year to the mountains and to Florida. Watching Brenda waste away with cancer broke Mrs. Vera.
Mrs. Vera visibly declined. Her friend, Mrs. Nell, tried to encourage her to keep going, and she tried. I have this photograph of Mrs. Nell, who was a few years older, pushing Mrs. Vera in a wheelchair out to the rededication of the Memorial Garden after Robert Shivers completed his excellent Eagle project.
Mrs. Vera moved into a senior apartment, but the loss of her home and her independence was one more death to deal with. She departed this life not long after. I still miss her great presence in the narthex.
This is the last “Unsung Saint” for Advent – Epiphany. I haven’t asked you to make a daily offering, but I ask you to consider making a gift to the Building Fund in Mrs. Vera’s memory. The more she touched your life let that be your guide…as you are able. If you really want to increase her joy, then make a point of warmly welcoming to St. Matthew’s every person you don’t know. If they are a member, you’ll have made a new friend. If they are not, learn their name, write it down, warmly welcome them, introduce them to a pastor, and remember to call them by name when they come back. Try to be like Mrs. Vera each week!
Thank you, Father, for Mrs. Vera. There’s no one quite like her, but we pray to imitate her as we are able. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
To God Alone Be the Glory!
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.