Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lessons in Death

I have been honored to serve on my church council now for almost four years. Along with the role of giving leadership to decisions our church has to make, the council gets the honor of also serving the church. What that means is ushering during services, collecting money, even vacuuming after services when the cleaning crew is not available. In a sense, you lead by serving and there is a profound lesson in vacuuming at 11pm on Holy Friday so that the church will look good on Easter Saturday that gives you a great sense of humility. But of all the lessons I have learned serving my church, the best of these lessons have come to me when I have served on duty for funerals. It is a honored experience to help someone who has just lost a treasured loved one even when you don't know them. Over the years, I would say I have attended a number of funerals in which I knew very few of the family. Despite my distance from the family, each was always a moving experience for me. Each taught me the lesson of serving others I don't know. Most recently I watched a small funeral take place at the same time as people were voting in another part of the church.

Now.. I am all for ensuring everyone rights to vote, but I found it quite interesting how individuals who were campaigning were somewhat surprised when I asked them politely to avoid approaching anyone who looked like they were attending the funeral. Inside, the director of the voting process also kept worrying me about making sure the funeral didn't interfere with people trying to vote (I purposely closed doors as the beginning and end when there is a procession with the deceased.. he was nice..but still worried too much about voters and not the family). Now I am old enough to remember when we use to pull over to the side of the road, stop and say a prayer when a funeral procession drove by.. but times have changed. Recently I even saw individuals passing a funeral procession. The lesson in this post is a simple one..

We need to be there for people, even strangers if we hope to be authentic leaders. Leadership is more than decisions and being in charge... it is about serving others even in death. Some three years ago I was asked to be a pall bearer. The gentleman who died had lots of family, but through the years while I was on duty, I had helped him overcome the challenges of his age and his widow wanted me to carrying him his last walk. I was very honored. But above all, I realized that it is at those moments of sadness that people need service most.. To this day she is a special person in my life even though we have never had lunch, never took a walk, or even spent more than a minute or two speaking after church. She remembers my gift.. or really her gift to me. As for her husband, I trust he is somewhere and knows what a great honor I was given, but more important he probably knows I am a better servant today thanks to our last walk...