Did I ever tell you about the little church I served while going to seminary? It was a small church just over the state line in Virginia and I was a student at Southeastern Seminary.
One saint in that little church of 99 members was Mrs. Elva Coleman, a cultured Virginian of the old school. If she has any extended relatives in this newspaper’s coverage area, I want you to know how much she meant to us back then and that her memory is still sacred.
I went to the little church as a green, 22-year-old preacher boy in his first year of seminary. The little parsonage needed some repairs, so Pegeen and I stayed with Mrs. Coleman for several weekends. I will never forget the first weekend; it still stands out as one of life’s most embarrassing moments.
It was Sunday afternoon and Pegeen and I were relaxing in our bedroom. I say relaxing, but it was a bit difficult to do in a room filled with antique furniture. We were lying on the bed. Pegeen was studying her “Training Union” lesson (for those of you who are old Baptists), and I was going over the Sunday evening sermon.
Suddenly, the beautiful antique bed on which we were lying collapsed. Here we were, the new minister and his wife, married less than a year, staying in the home of a genuine Virginia gentry widow, and the bed falls down. I couldn’t imagine what she would think when I tried to explain.
I went over to her side of the house, knocked on the door until I roused the poor soul who was trying to catch an afternoon nap. I explained that we were minding our own business, studying the Bible and all that, when the bed fell down. I apologized profusely, offered to pay for any damages — and the beautiful antique wash basin and pitcher under the bed certainly had damages — and asked for a hammer with which I could put the bed back together.
I will never forget her reaction. Was either of us hurt? No? Well, thank God. And as for borrowing the hammer — that was unthinkable on the Sabbath. No problem since we were going back to seminary after the evening service. Forget the wash basin and pitcher, relax in the parlor and have a good afternoon.
Mrs. Coleman used to fix Sunday lunch for us often in the days that followed. She had a large, screened veranda and Sunday lunch — she called it dinner — was a real production. She always prepared several vegetables, at least three meats, homemade rolls, iced tea with sprigs of mint in it and a couple of desserts. Man, that woman could make a caramel pie.
And all of this for three people. When our first child was born, Mrs. Coleman gave us an antique baby carriage. In later years when we visited her, she always insisted we go behind the house down the slope to the spring. There we would always clean the spring out, and drink the cool, pure water. Best in the valley.
Mrs. Coleman is gone now, but her kindnesses to a young, inexperienced pastor and his wife will remain a warm memory for as long as my wife and I live. She was one of those folks who knew life is too short to criticize the pastor, that most pastors are doing the best they can, and that encouragement would help him grow and mature in the high office of minister.
How long has it been since you said a word of encouragement to your pastor? Or invited him and his wife out to dinner — for no reason at all except to say, “We appreciate you.” If you want to be remembered with warmth and gratitude for decades, that’s the way to do it. God bless all Mrs. Colemans.