“It is around a table that friends perceive best the warmth of being together.” So read the plaque on the restaurant wall. Few things I appreciate more than sitting at table with friends (old and new) and food. Last Wednesday it was with Annetta, the widow of Ted Harmon who took me under his wing as associate pastor in 1973 in Cumberland Center, Maine. ‘Netta, a great pastor’s wife, was an encouraging role model for another great pastor’s wife I know. She now resides near her children in a modest retirement complex, southwest of Chicago in Oswego. A few days earlier ‘Netta had accepted my dinner invitation and we were joined by her daughter and son-in-law, Wendy and Gary.
Excursus – On Mondays the four of us could often be found motoring Route 1 North from Portland. More times than not, our destination was Shirley’s, a small eatery in Boothbay Harbor. There we savored steaming bowls of haddock chowder and conversation around the table. Alas, Shirley is long gone as Sue and I sadly discovered a few years back. But fond memories linger on. Now, seemingly a life time later, we enjoyed catching up on family and old friends. As I was packing up for this trip to Chicago-land, I crammed just one more book at the last moment into my already overstuffed canvas bag – Daughter of the Commandant-the Autobiography of Alice Wentworth Douglin. ‘Netta couldn’t have been more delighted. “She was my counselor in Providence!” Who knew? I delighted in her delight.
Next on the docket was a Thursday evening dinner date with Lance and his wife, Kristi, in Bensonville. Lance and I have a long standing friendship stretching all the way back to high school, into college and through seminary. Having played for the college varsity basketball team, our friendship is pine bench tested. I was the 6th man, he the 7th. “Hey, Coach, we can’t score if you don’t put us in!” Lance is, I think, the strongest man I know. Not physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Lance’s first wife, Lois, succumbed to a two year battle with cancer at 42. In addition to her husband, she left behind their two teen-aged children. Yet, a greater grief was yet to lay siege to my friend. Not so long ago, Lance and Lois’s son Jamie committed suicide – on his mother’s birthday. This night we three sat together in a quiet corner of an Italian restaurant as Lance unpacked the story of his son’s death, the pain and grief still openly raw and trembling. Five hours of no ordinary “table talk” and we were not done. Lance and I met for lunch the next day. There was still more to be shared . . .
There is nothing on my part but the deepest respect and admiration for my friend and brother who faces the reality of his son’s death straight on, neither glossing over the depth and darkness of his grief nor diminishing the realities of his faith. He is not unacquainted with Job’s questions but more significantly, he takes seriously the questions God puts to Job (see Job 38 & 39). Lance calls them “God’s kindergarten questions.” Handle these and you might be ready for the advanced. Somehow willing to submit to the unfathomable, he continues to be the man I’ve known him to be – a man of prayer and solid biblical conviction, who bears a faithful witness to the Christ who saves all who call on Him by faith. I cannot help but sorrow in his sorrow and come away from our “table talk” strengthened by his strength. There will be more talk.
Then it was on to Quincy, Illinois – the home of Bill and Sara Barker where Bill is in his third year as the pastor of Lifepoint Church. No tour of Quincy would be complete without a visit to St. John’s Anglican Church, the site of the Horizons Soup Kitchen which served up some 30,000 meals last year to folks in need. For a time, Bill was the fulltime director for this ministry supported by a consortium of 14 Quincy area churches. On Sunday I joined the Lifepoint congregation for worship and was well fed with Bill’s nourishing exposition of Psalm 103. The afternoon’s “table talk” took a different turn with Sara’s “Lasagna Picnic” in the family room as we cheered the Patriots taking on the local St. Louis Rams. All spectators present were more than satisfied with both the meal and the final score of the pigskin contest. A Monday morning jaunt out to Sarah’s hometown and the farm her dad and brother work was icing on the cake. I suppose I should confess that the two or three harrowing passes across the recently harvested cornfield (1 mile long and ½ mile wide) in the biggest tractor I’ve ever ridden may have had something to do with it. Grandpa Wood had his hands full with 4 year old Aiden accompanying us for one of those journeys across the field. Which reminds me, significant “table talk” also included interchanges with that youngster that went something like this. “Hi, Mr. Dabid.” “Hi, Mr. Aiden.” “How was your day?” (this at breakfast time). “It’s been a good day.” “How was your day, Mr. Aiden?” “Good.” He had that right. It was a good day and a really great weekend with lots of, shall we say, pastoral “table talk?” Perhaps more about that at some later time.
Last stop? Champaign-Urbana, home of the 40,000 student University of Illinois and the McQueen family. For 25 years Mike and Gwynne have faithfully reached out to Chinese students at his alma mater in evangelism and discipleship. In our seminary course work Mike and I squeezed all the Hebrew electives we could into our schedules. We laugh about the class in “Hebrew Speed Reading” we signed on for one fall semester. Sitting out on the balcony of their campus apartment, we ripped through the I & II Samuel narratives and conquered Kings. Or maybe Kings conquered us. I forget. Anyway, it’s no surprise to me that Mike learned Chinese, enabling him to enjoy the satisfaction of effective outreach. In preparation for some of our “table talk” I read Mike’s Doctor of Ministry thesis on the successful integration of young Chinese Christians into an evangelical charismatic church. The best “table talk” was reserved for breakfast as we enjoyed Mike’s “famous” blueberry pancakes on Wednesday morning before I departed for O’Hare. We talked openly of family cares and concerns and prayed with and for one another. In those moments a question formed in my mind. Through all these years I’ve received Mike’s prayer letters and have prayed for him. Why don’t pastors send out prayer letters? Missionaries do. Why not pastors? A question worthy of “table talk.”
“The warmth of being together” with friends – few things are better.