In a couple of weeks, my dad will have been dead six years. It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been that long.
The longer he’s absent, the more I think about him.
In a recent run, I quoted him in every message I preached for roughly a month. I’d open my mouth and, unbidden, in mid-sermon, out would roll something of Dad’s that wasn’t in my notes, and I hadn’t planned to say.
As his health was declining and after my mom was gone, I used to phone fairly regularly in the evenings to check on him. Now, almost every night about the time “Jeopardy” comes on TV — 7:30 — I catch myself thinking, “Oh, I need to call Dad before he goes to bed.”
I’ve had the good fortune to have crossed paths with more than a few prominent ministers, from a variety of religious traditions.
Dad wasn’t a prominent minister. For the last decades of his career, for instance, he led same small, rural Montgomery County congregation where I’m the pastor today.
But I’ve never encountered anybody, clergy or lay person, famous or obscure, who possessed the anointing Dad did. No one.
“Anointing” is a word by which we Pentecostals describe the observable presence of God in a holy person.
My dad was just wired for God, and apparently God was wired for him.
He preached 60 years. In his prime, the divine power flowed through him like neon through the sign on a Las Vegas casino. The Lord used him in ways I haven’t seen in others. It was crazy.
He was instantaneously healed from stage 4 cancer, as I’ve mentioned before. After that, he prayed for scores of other sick people, many of whom also were healed on the spot of various ailments large and small.
He was the first person I knew who spoke in tongues and prophesied. Whatever gifts God wanted to offer, he was ready to receive.
I remember him laying hands on a guy who’d walked down the church aisle for prayer. Whatever the guy’s need, he was a bit leery of having Dad pray for him.
“If you do this, will I have to speak in tongues?” the guy said.
“Nope,” Dad said. “You get to.”
Dad depended on the Lord for his provision — and was a terrible money manager besides. Whenever he had a pressing need, from taxes to a refrigerator on the blink, he’d just pray, and usually within the hour somebody or other would show up at his doorstep bearing a cash or a check to cover the needed amount, often right down to the penny, as if the Lord ran a divine Western Union and Dad had his number on speed dial.
He was at heart an evangelist. He was as happy witnessing to one person as preaching to a hundred. He’d drive down the road and pray, “Lord, send me to somebody I can tell about you.” He’d pass a gas station, see some old boy standing behind the counter, turn around and go back, lead the stranger to a tear-stained, snot-flinging conversion, then head merrily along his way.
He gave away more money than he made and died broke. He raised funds for every single mother and abandoned grandma and shoeless child and hangdog ex-con he encountered. He carried food to the hungry. Long before it was trendy, he welcomed everyone — black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, young and old.
He said the Christian gospel was all about love — that and nothing else. Love Jesus and love your neighbor. Period.
He raised a lot of eyebrows over a lot of decades, and he knew it, and he largely didn’t care, because he believed he was doing God’s work.
And I believe he was, too.
He was the personification of a fool for Christ’s sake, to borrow St. Paul’s phrase.
It wasn’t easy being his son.
We were wired so differently.
I was an introvert; he was an extrovert. I wanted every detail planned out and thought through; he flew by the seat of his pants. I liked to sit and study; he went all day every day at a dead run. I was stoic; he was a flashbang of emotions.
For several years, we worked alongside each other as co-pastors. That we didn’t strangle each other may rank among Christendom’s greatest miracles. We did come close, more than once. Nobody could make me any madder any faster.
In his last years, he became frail and self-pitying and was wracked by dementia. By the time he died, I felt what I thought was relief.
But gee, I sure do miss him. The real him. The vibrant, contradictory him.
Every time I face a problem in my congregation, I think, “I wish Dad was here. He’d know what to do.”
What a guy. What a character. What a gnarled-up saint.
When it came to serving the Lord, he taught me everything of value I know.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.