Good Friday

Genesis 22:1-14

Bob (Again)

My first visit to Wilmington was in February 2004. I met the Call Committee in the upstairs dining room at the Oceanic. It was dark and somewhat rainy, but I could hear and smell the ocean when I got out of the car. And from the lights on the restaurant pier, I could just make out the white caps as the waves crashed onto the shore. Of course, I had shrimp and enjoyed meeting the committee. The conversation was light, getting-to-know-you banter. Later, we went for dessert at Bob and Helen’s house, where I would stay.

The conversation was a continuation of one begun by phone in December. It was the kind of courting ritual that goes on between a potential pastor and a potential congregation. The pastor/parish relationship really is most like a marriage, which is why the divided loyalties between church family and actual family can often be stomach-churning stuff, especially in the early going after ordination or settling in again.

At the end of the meeting, I was discerning the call to St. Matthew’s. After the committee left, I met Bob, the congregational president, who had wisely been waiting in another room and leaving the Call Committee to do their work. I felt so at home at Bob and Helen’s. The conversation deepened about where the parish was and where I was. Bob was a Christian gentleman, a brilliant retired professor, college administrator, and, most recently, president of the Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh. They were wonderful hosts, and, when I called Laura on my cell phone, I told her I was hopeful this was the call we had been praying about. Due to local circumstances, it took three months for an invitation to visit and to receive the call to St. Matthew’s the third week of May. We were here with house sold and rental secured by the end of June 2004. Our first weekend was just before the 4th of July. And so it keeps going.

Luther says the seventh mark of the true Church is the holy cross. He is not speaking of jewelry or artwork but rather about the suffering Church. Little did I know how much suffering was coming to Bob and Helen and to this parish. About the time we arrived, Bob was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. At first, it did not hold Bob back from serving both as congregational president and, then, as Chairman of the Board of Lutheran Services for the Aging (the original agency responsible for Trinity Grove and Trinity Landing). Bob and Helen were a large presence in the lives of their young grandchildren, Dale and Hannah, whom they brought to worship and regularly picked up from and watched after their day at Wilmington Christian Academy. Little by little, Bob’s symptoms grew worse.

Great heartbreak came when their oldest son, Chuck, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Bob and Helen flew back and forth to Arizona to support and assist with Chuck’s treatment plan so that his wife could keep working. Eventually, Chuck died at the age of 50. According to his wishes, Chuck’s body was cremated. Part of his ashes were interred on a desert mountain near their home and the rest in eastern Iowa where Chuck had grown up during his father’s days as a professor and college administrator. With some difficulty, Bob, who was a gifted woodworker, made the box we regularly use for funerals in which the cremated remains are placed next to the baptismal font. With further help, Bob completed the table on which the box is regularly placed, often with a photo of the deceased and a vase of flowers.

Bob ended up briefly at Trinity Grove, where, one night, he fell while trying to get out of the bed to get to the facilities. No one had responded to his call button, and he couldn’t wait. I was not a little angry about that, especially since Bob had been so instrumental in bringing a Lutheran nursing home to Wilmington.

Bob was the epitome of a Lutheran layman, who understands that one’s calling in life is to be God’s child in all his relationships. When people were snarky and difficult, Bob was quiet, thoughtful, patient, and kind. He wasn’t a pushover. He could be very firm and unmovable with unreasonable people. But Bob did so with great love for the Lord and for His Church… and a good dose of gentle humor.

Dear Father, thank you for Bob, whom you called to serve us at the right time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put forty-five pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box for the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

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.