Almost four decades ago while I was serving as pastor of an inner city congregation near a Baptist seminary, I would often have seminary students visit to see if they could obtain some ministry experience as a volunteer with our congregation.
David came to visit with me one day. Physically he looked like a folk singer. Every time I looked at him I thought of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I liked him. We had a great dialogue about what he would do with our congregation.
Towards the end of the conversation he indicated that he was Methodist and not Baptist. Was that a problem? Of course not. He also indicated that his wife would not be present with him much because she was a paid soloist at another church in town. She was also an opera-style singer. Was that a problem? Of course not.
Finally, he indicated that while he was an Anglo-American his wife, Amanda, was an African-American. Was that a problem? I hesitated. I at least had to let that spin through my mind a moment or two. This was my first opportunity to experience an inter-racial ministry couple in a congregation.
“Of course not,” was my delayed response. At least for me personally it was not a problem, but an opportunity. As the thought spun through my mind, however, I began to think about the leadership of my congregation. They were not always the most open people.
How would they respond? This is not an issue we had ever discussed, so I had no idea. It was my hope that they would respond very positive to this opportunity to see ministry modeled by an inter-racial couple.
In the spirit of good process I asked David for a couple of days to check this out. He was not offended by this prospect, and understood. It turns out that I should not have hesitated. I came to be very proud of my leadership. Within a couple of days I called David to say our church would be delighted to welcome them in a volunteer ministry position in our congregation.
Periodically Amanda was able to come for worship. Every time she came we asked her to sing. From the first time she opened her mouth to sing of the glory of God, our congregation experienced not only the beauty of her personality, but the beauty of her singing. I am not sure if the congregation appreciated the ministry of Amanda or David more. Both were highly appreciated.
As with many seminary volunteers David and Amanda were with us for a while, and then David was on to the next season of his ministry preparation. None of us maintained contact with David and Amanda over the years.
One recent evening I received a Facebook message from the wife of the former music director at this church. She wanted to know if I had seen the Facebook posts on the death of Amanda. I had not.
I looked around the Internet and ultimately found some details, and a way to contact David. I sent him an e-mail. I heard back shortly. We both saw this as a true “blast from the past”. David’s sad news was that Amanda had died of pancreatic cancer with which she had been suffering for two years. Her father had died 25 years ago of pancreatic cancer.
Amanda was the music director of a large Catholic Church where she was a member. She continued her opera career as a singer and performed throughout the United States. She had also taught vocal performance in universities, and taught privately in their home. David said, “She was a wonderful wife and mother, and touched many people’s lives.”
David is in ministry serving full-time as a pastoral counselor, while also being pastor of two small United Methodist congregations. His words to me were, “It has been tough for the last two years, but the Lord has been good to us, and continues to sustain us through this struggle. I rejoice that Amanda is at home with the Lord, and is enjoying glad heavenly reunions. The words that kept coming up repeatedly during the past few days were, ‘She was an angel’. ‘She was a saint.’ That she was! She was a much better person than I could ever hope to be.”
I rejoice that I was able to experience this couple during the early days of their ministry. I am glad I did not hesitate long, but knew with spiritual intuition that this couple was for real. The fact that they are an inter-racial ministry couple was not a barrier, but an opportunity to observe God at work in and through their lives. I am glad I have had an opportunity after almost four decades to learn the rest of the story.
Oh, and I am sure that Amanda is still singing. In fact, I hear her now.