I got a phone call yesterday. I didn't recognize the number, but the area code was from the Minneapolis area. I picked up the call and heard a voice I didn't recognize call me "Pastor Roth."
It was a warm voice. He asked me if I had remembered his mother and his brother. I remembered them both. I remembered his mother, a tiny woman who used to sit in the back row of our small Saturday night chapel service. I remember visiting her in the hospital a couple of times, and reminiscing with her and her family about the "old days" when her boys were in our church's release time and confirmation program. (For some reason, I remember a story about her bringing a casserole to a Wednesday night dinner and dropping the whole thing in the church parking lot.)
I had a small memorial service for his mother several years ago.
I remembered his brother too. I remembered how he called me a couple of years after his mother's funeral, and asked if I remembered him. He told me he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had no current church affiliation, but would I visit him and talk with him, and give him communion? I did. I visited with him several times, talking about life and faith, the joys and regrets of his life.
I had a small memorial service for him a few years ago. It was 2012.
The man with the warm voice called to tell me that his father was in hospice, had just entered hospice that day. He did not know that I now live in another state, that I have lived here now for almost two years. I gave him the number of the church and the current pastor. He seemed to remember that his dad had a lay visitor, someone who came from the church to visit with his dad and give him communion. I was glad about that. I remembered helping to set that up.
A little while after I hung up, I thought a little more about our brief conversation. I thought about how the brother's funeral was in 2012. It is now 2017. This brother still has my cell phone number, after five years. And after five years, he called me up to tell me that his father is dying.
Now the lesson of this conversation might just be that I ought to get a new cell phone number. And that may be so. But I can't help thinking about the fact that the only way this man knew me was because of two funerals, and a couple of hospital visits. Yet, after five years, he called me up to let me know about his father. Perhaps I am the only pastor he knows. Perhaps those small actions, the words, the prayers, the presence -- meant something.
They say that the church is in decline. It surely is. They also say that faith is in decline. I believe that is true as well. But there are sparks, small signs, or openings, times when people feel brave enough to call someone they haven't spoken to in five years, and tell her that their father is dying. They want someone to say the words, to walk with them, to tell them that there is more to life than what they see, to help them through the mysteries of life and death. They think they want a pastor. But what they really need is the church. What they really need is the body of Christ, a sign of the resurrection.
As a pastor, I always feel privileged to be able to say that I remember. I remember your brother. I remember your mother. I remember your father too. Maybe that is part of my job. Maybe that is why someone will dare to call me after five years: they hope that I will remember.
But it is not just my job. It is the church's job, as well, to remember. It is the church's job to remember, to say the words, to walk with people, to tell them that there is more to life than what they see. We are the body of Christ. Signs of the resurrection.