“I need to nail your feet to the ground,” Ed quipped on the way out of church one Sunday soon after I had arrived at Westside. It became his standing joke. He said it with a twinkle in his eye and a laugh. Ed, a barrel-chested, big guy, almost a decade older than me, has a heart as large as his frame. When I arrived at the church, he and his family and I immediately connected. He loved me even with all my wild ideas and antics.
The contrast between me and the founding pastor couldn’t be larger. While both of us were similar theologically and deeply centered on Jesus, and both tall and of slender build, the founder was more strait-laced, formal in dress, and quiet. He was soft-spoken. His messages were clear and carefully structured.
Then, there was me, the heart guy; I felt things deeply and expressed them openly. I was more expressive in worship, readily falling on my face before God, bowing before him, kneeling in repentance. My preaching was personal, vulnerable, emotional, and honest, but not as structured. I brought an authenticity with me which was attractive to some and not to others.
I remember how my worship team spoke of these early days, years later as we worked together. One member said, “Brian, one of your first Sundays I glanced up and thought, ‘Where is Brian?’ and then I found you. There you were, flat out on the floor before God. I was shocked, ‘What’s he doing?’ then, I was awed. ‘Here is a guy who is free before God.’ I wanted such freedom.”
It was out of this exuberant personality that Ed began to joke about wanting to “nail my feet to the floor!”
He wanted to establish some grounding!
Yet, Ed loved me. When he became Lay Director for a retreat called the Walk to Emmaus, in which the congregation was deeply involved, he asked me to be the leader of the clergy team. He loved who I was and appreciated what I brought.
Ed was trustworthy. He exhibited a solid, stalwart picture of one aspect of maturity to me. He was a guy who worked with his hands, those enormous, six-times-my-hand’s-size hands. He could fix about anything and did so frequently around the church and our house. I admired this as the fix-it gene totally bypassed me! His commitment in life was simple – he was honest in all his interactions. When people became mean-spirited, he was not going anywhere.
As our Facilities Manager, it was Ed, on Monday, May 4, 2015, who tried to reach me after that 72-hour Walk to Emmaus weekend before 6 a.m. to tell me, our Education Building was burning down.
He had called and texted around 60 times, but none rang through my phone. Finally, he reached Karen. She awakened me at 6 a.m. telling me the news. My first words, upon hearing which building was burning down, were a sleepy “Praise God!” The education building had been more of a burden than useful. As I showered and dressed, Karen said, “When you get interviewed by the news people this morning, please do not say ‘Praise God it’s burning,’ to them, okay?”
Ed met me in the parking lot when I arrived. He had received the initial call at around 3 a.m. A neighbor, unable to sleep, had left a couple hours early for work and reported the fire. His action had saved our sanctuary from being decimated too. Ed had been trying to reach me since. He understood the need for sleep after the weekend we had been through.
The education building was ruined by the fire. What didn’t burn was heat and smoke damaged. That was the case, except for a wooden cross (!) and one poster on the door to the Youth Room, which had faced the hottest part of the fire yet not burned. The poster still said, “Believe,” surrounded by slightly singed edges. We saved that poster, later framed it in a shadow box frame as an ongoing witness to God’s call upon us.
Ed and I met with our insurance adjuster, the fire department, the media, and others. He became the first member of the Dream Team. This dedicated group of people, over the next three years, redesigned the welcoming 2400 square foot space into our “Lighthouse,” a property used to bless and impact many.
I had met Dave S. the first night I met with the leadership at Westside before becoming his pastor. I liked him immediately. As tears came to my eyes for joy in the context of that opening conversation with this amazing, rich team, Dave had christened me another “Westside Weeper.” Nicknamed “The Silver Fox,” for hair that had turned white in his 30s and being so handsome, Dave was nearing 60, a tall, fit, tan, good-looking guy; he was joyous, expressive, and kind. He sang with one of the bands, loved performing, was a natural leader and immediately supportive.
I only saw Dave mad one time on April 9th, 2011. He was sitting in his car ready to leave the workday at the church. I had jogged up to ask a question. I had been asking others that day whether they were okay with my leadership, had any questions or challenges. I see it now as a desperate “little kid” attempt to gain affirmation. Every leader I had spoken with asked me, “Did Henry (not his real name) speak to you?” Every person.
Henry, 83, had been a newcomer to the church community December 2009. I believed I could learn from his vast leadership experience and began to meet with him regularly. But then, two days before this workday, he turned against me. As we met in his living room, he held up this manila file folder filled with what looked like many papers and cards. “Leaders from the church have sent me all these,” he said, fanning the contents, “asking me to do something to get you out of here. You will cause this church to shrink and shrink until you kill it. You are like an elementary school basketball player trying to play on the Varsity team. I have talked with the District Superintendent telling him you have the weekend to think about it, then you will call him Monday to tell him you are ready to leave.”
A knife went through my gut and twisted.
Betrayal, fear, rejection and hurt swirled around me. My eyes blurred. Henry talked on, “You think about this. You got to get out of here. I have promised them,” he said, again uplifting the folder. A picture came to mind of the circle of 10 chairs. I had seen them at the front of the sanctuary the previous week. I sat there and thought, “Bet that was from this group meeting together. But who? Who are these leaders?” The thoughts barely formed; my head pounded, my stomach ached, my hands shook. I said goodbye and stumbled out, feeling as if I had been sacrificed on an altar.
The next day I drove our van to the office to pack it up and quit. But when I arrived, there was that blank wall in my office staring at me. The previous week, the youth leader and I had discussed how much it looked like a framed, blank canvas. “You need to paint a mural on that wall,” she had said. So, instead of packing up my books and office, I broke out acrylic paints and brushes and painted a landscape.
That afternoon at 4 p.m., I had scheduled a meeting with my district superintendent who observed,
“This was hard, but I would like you to explore what made it so devastating for you.”
He also told me that Henry had never called his office. I had never considered this a possibility, that Henry was not telling the truth. So, why had it cut so deeply? What caused it to feel so devastating?
Henry’s action had echoed the abuse; he befriended me, essentially grooming, then brutally betrayed me. It was a clear cut to my deepest, unhealed pain. Memories I had never remembered returned and could be healed in counseling over the next weeks. At this point, I give thanks for what Henry did; ultimately it was a gift to heal my heart.
But, on Saturday, April 9th, 2011, I was testing the waters among the true leaders at the church and had jogged up to Dave’s car to ask him. Anger filled Dave’s usually joyful face as he said, as others had, “Did Henry talk to you?” Tears filled my eyes and his. He reached through the window and grabbed my hand with his large, tanned one, saying, “He has been calling around, Brian. Do not listen to him.” The saying, “People never go to war alone,” is true. None of the active leaders supported Henry’s quest to oust me.
Dave always hugged me like a long-lost brother. He was my cheerleader those 11 years. The Sunday, I returned from my three-month sabbatical, I was a member of the congregation while the sabbatical pastor spoke. Sitting in the same row of chairs where Dave and his wife, Sally, were sitting, he passed a note to me down the row. He had written,
“Look who loves you!”
Dave’s expressive, exuberant, embracing love helped grow me up during those years. He put on display the heart Jesus has for me. Dave continues to do so in my life today. I’m grateful for both these guys.