Faith Matters: Here’s the story of a 106 year old and the ministry of the open couch

Mr. George died right before Christmas. At 106, he was our oldest member. He was in church the Sunday before he died.

His was a ministry that went the distance. When he was young, he was active in his church in Kentucky.

He was a builder (not by vocation, but by vision), much like many in his generation. Because of the builder generation, there are churches all over this country — physical plants with aging infrastructures that rather than be appreciated for the effort and sacrifice it took to build them, now cause undue burden and extreme financial pressure on their congregations to maintain.

And right at that intersection of honoring the past and adapting for the future is where Mr. George shined.

His daughter has shown me pictures of Mr. George, shovel in hand, at the groundbreaking for the building of a new church years and years ago. And while I appreciate those pictures, they are not the snapshots of Mr. George that live in my memory.

Hope Lee.jpg
The Rev. Dr. Hope Lee

Instead, I have a picture of Mr. George’s 100th birthday. Reaching 100 is quite an accomplishment — one that many of us will not achieve.

On this day that was all about celebrating him, Mr. George was holding something, or should I say someone, precious in his hands. My youngest child was born 3 months before Mr. George’s birthday and though separated by 100 years, the two shared such great joy in being together.

I remember thinking what a tremendous gift Mr. George gave to the younger generations in the room that day.

The other picture I have is of Mr. George’s final ministry. I call it “Ministry of the Open Couch.”

Every Sunday morning, Mr. George’s daughter would bring him in early so that she could attend choir practice. And he would sit on the couch in the entrance to our main sanctuary waiting until it got closer to worship.

Mr. George, by nature, was a quiet man and not an attention-seeker. But he created such a warm and inviting presence that people could not help but stop and sit next to him.

I could never tell if he liked it when that happened or if he tolerated it. Truthfully, I don’t think it mattered because no matter how he felt personally, whoever sat on that couch next to Mr. George, he or she got it up from it encouraged and filled with peace.

Mr. George smiled at everyone and had a kind word for everybody. He was just as approachable to a 2 year old as he was to a 40 year old as he was to a 90 year old.

His selflessness was such a gift of grace. Far too often when the subject of change is broached in faith communities the response from Mr. George’s generation is, “You can do whatever you want — after I’m dead.”

But not George. He was such a builder that he would adapt to just about anything if it meant that something good could grow out of it in the future. He cared far more about people than buildings ... even ones he helped to build.

In fact, he delighted in seeing the joy of Christ take root in the next generation.

Psalm 71:18 says, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”

Mr. George often wondered why God let him hang around for so long. I believe it was so he could declare God’s power to the next generation ... right there on the couch.

His legacy won’t be a building. It will be the love of Christ rooted in the heart of the next generation, including a little girl born 100 years after him.

Go rest high on that mountain, Mr. George. You have delivered the faith well.

The Rev. Dr. Hope Lee, lead pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church and The Well, can be reached at 941-794-6229, or Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.