This has been one of the satisfying days of my pastoral ministry. It all started twenty-three years ago when I became the pastor of Northeast Bible Church in Garland, Texas. The church was a year old when Marlene and I moved from Downey, California to Garland where I became the first pastor of the new church. For the few weeks we met in a day care center and later moved to an empty storefront that had once housed a furniture store. Early on we became friends with John and Karen Grassmick. Later John served as an elder of the church. And somewhere in the first year or so of my ministry in Garland, I baptized Lisa, John and Karen's oldest daughter. Since we met in a storefront, we had to borrow a baptistry from a local Baptist church.
Many years later, Lisa attended Dallas Seminary where she met and eventually married a DTS student named Jim Samra. After moving to Grand Rapids, Jim became an associate pastor to Ed Dobson at Calvary Church. Jim later earned a PhD from Oxford University in England. Through a series of events that add up to divine serendipity, Jim and Lisa came back to Grand Rapids where he now serves as senior pastor of Calvary Church. Today I preached to 4000 people in three services. The total church attendance is probably around 5-6,000. As Jim recounted the story over lunch today, I smiled and shook my head because at the age of 34, he now pastors one of the largest churches in the country.
I came away from my visit mightily impressed. The worship service was vibrant and powerful. Readers of this blog know that I put a high premium on congregational singing as a good measure of a church's health. By that standard, Calvary Church is healthy indeed. Led by an orchestra and a massive choir, we moved seamlessly from "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" to "Days of Elijah" to a reading from Psalm 134 to "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" to "Indescribable."
Then Lisa Samra got up to introduce me. She called me her "childhood pastor" and said some very kind things about my ministry in Garland. It is a comfort, she said, to hear the same voice that you heard as a child. She told the people that I had baptized her. She is happy being a pastor's wife because she had good role models to follow when she was growing up. One of them was Marlene whom she mentioned by name in all three services. She ended by saying, "I'm honored to introduce to you my childhood pastor, Ray Pritchard."
After introducing me in the third service, she went home to prepare dinner, which I got to enjoy along with Jim and Lisa's brother Andrew, who back in Garland days was a buddy of our son Mark. Those boys loved to get into trouble together. We laughed and talked and enjoyed a wonderful meal together.
I told the congregation that one of the joys of being in the ministry a long time is that you end up seeing someone you baptized as a child become the wife of the pastor of a vibrant, growing church. Just two days ago, in what context I do not recall, Marlene said to me, "I don't feel old," to which I remarked that I don't feel old either, but there are some constant reminders that we're not as young as we used to be.
This morning I preached at a great church to a wonderful congregation, which in itself was a great honor, but that is not why I feel so satisfied tonight. I have lived long enough to be introduced as someone's "childhood pastor." And that someone went on to become a pastor's wife. So the torch is passed to the next generation. This is how it always is and how it always must be. Life has many rewards, and sometimes you discover them just by sticking around long enough. That's what happened to me this morning, and that's why I'm a happy man tonight.
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