Friday, February 27, 2009
The Pastor and the Aristocrat
It was December of 1992. My wife and I were trying to get a work started in Kansas City, Missouri in the Westport area. This midtown inner city work was meeting in a storefront lodge hall. I was working a third shift job full time to support my family. The romance of church planting had long since faded for this 32 year-old kid preacher. It was a good time, but a lonely time for both of us. Its times like these that one really begins to question one's own credibility.
In December my wife's grandfather died on his 79th birthday. They called him "Sug;" short for "Sugar," because of his sweet disposition. "Sug" Welker truly was one of the sweetest men I have ever met.
We went to the visitation the night before the service. We entered the family room. My wife began to make her way around the room, renewing acquaintances with relatives seldom seen, except in such venues as funerals and weddings. There was a muddled hum to the room dulled by the plush carpet. People were talking in cheerful but subdued tones. Occasional laughter would swell from the conversation, but quickly subside.
Being in an unfamiliar setting, I quietly made my way to an one empty arm chair parked along the wall. Seated next to me in a plush wing back Queen Ann was a very lovely woman in her mid seventies. Her age had not overcome her style or grace. An elegant woman, she extended her hand to me in a poised greeting.
"Good evening young man. Were you kin to Mr. Welker?"
"No Ma'am, I'm married to his granddaughter."
"I see." she said. "I am Mrs. Haslett; Mary Quinn Haslett." I remember that name. Mary Quinn Haslett was a born and bred, dyed in the wool southern aristocrat. Her name was a household word among the high society of Kansas City. Her husband, Dr. Haslett, had been school superintendent during the 50's and 60's. Her son Steve stood across the room from us occasionally glancing a smile in our direction. He was a tall man; very distinguished. He was married to my wife's aunt Judy. Steve was now the academic dean of a major university.
"What do you do, young man?"
"I'm a pastor of a church in Westport. Its a new work we've begun recently." She began to tell me about her membership at the United Methodist Church, her relationship with the Lord since a young girl and then about her son. I have no idea why this well-to-do, high class lady was opening up to an upstart like me. But, open up she did.
"There is something that concerns me, Reverend." she said. "When my son graduated from school and went off to Europe on a Rhodes Scholarship, we were very pleased. Then he attended Yale, and did his graduate studies at Harvard. By the time he had his PhD. something had changed in Steve. He had left behind that simple faith I taught him to have."
I could hear the sadness in her voice. Did I hear this correctly? Her son, a Rhodes scholar, graduate of both Harvard and Yale, an academic dean of a major university, and she is sad about how he turned out? Yes, because he had left his simple faith. As I was taking all this in, she broke my thoughts with a question.
"Reverend Cannon, how big is your congregation?" Honestly, I didn't want to answer. I did not want to divulge to this socialite the nature of this little store front church.
"Well Mrs. Haslett .... about twenty."
"Where is your congregation?"
"Actually we are meeting in a store front on Westport road; the old lodge hall there." It got worse.
"How does a congregation that size support a minister?"
"They can't, Mrs. Haslett. I have to work a job to support us until the church can." There was a long pause. I had no idea how this old money, blue hair Truman democrat would respond to such circumstances. That was when she said it; the greatest compliment I've ever received. She leaned over and placed one hand on my forearm and clasped my hand with the other.
"Now, that's a real pastor." I was amazed and encouraged by that simple statement. I believe the Lord wanted me to see something that night in the heart of a lady who had it all, but knew what mattered. I will never forget my brush with high society and what I learned about the riches of my "simple faith."
Thank you, Mary Quinn Haslett.
Just a thought. Thank you for reading