A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


To be honest, I don’t remember much about what Bruce said when he spoke in church a few Sundays back.  Mostly what I remember – and what everyone present will likely remember – is that just as he started to deliver his sermon, something happened.

Or rather, something didn’t happen.

Bruce couldn’t speak. He tried, God bless him. He really tried.  But every time he opened his mouth the words got jammed somehow. He seemed to have something stuck in his throat – he coughed and wheezed and tried to clear the way. He was breathing and smiling, so we figured he was OK. But for two minutes or so he stood at the podium . . . speechless.

We all sat there, uncomfortably laughing a little, waiting for somebody to do something.

And finally somebody did.

Two somebodies, in fact.

Almost simultaneously, Dave, the leader of our congregation, and Janet stood. Dave ambled across the front of the chapel and out the door that leads to his office.

“He’s either going to call 911 or he’s going to take a nap,” I whispered to my wife, Anita.

She looked at me, and to her credit she somehow managed to suppress the urge to roll her eyes. After living with me for 30 years I think she’s finally getting used to me. “He’s going to get some water,” she said.

Of course.  Water. That made sense. Besides, I remembered, Dave has never hesitated to take a nap right there in church whenever he needed one.

Janet, meanwhile, was sitting with her husband Jerry in their usual place on the second row. I don’t know if they paid for that pew, but everyone knows that that is where Janet and Jerry sit. And nobody else sits there – even if they are out of town or something. This isn’t because of fear or intimidation – Janet and Jerry are to intimidation what “American Idol” is to great art. Rather, it is because of respect.  Janet is our congregational mother hen.  She knows everyone and cares about everyone, and everyone has a story or two about how Janet has ministered to them personally.

Ditto Jerry – except for the “mother hen” part (is there such a thing as a “father hen”? Technically, I guess that would be a rooster, but “rooster” doesn’t work as well, metaphorically speaking).

So Janet did what Janet does. She stood up, right there in the middle of our worship service, walked up to the podium and handed something to Bruce – a candy or a mint or something – I couldn’t tell what it was. At about the same time, Dave returned with a little bottle of water (as a journalist I need to say that I’m assuming it was water; all I could see is that it was a clear liquid, so I guess it could have been Sprite or tequila – but I think water is a safe bet here). Both the candy and the water got to Bruce at about the same time. He smiled, popped the candy into his mouth, took a long drink of water and plunged back into his sermon.

At full voice.

For the rest of the meeting I found myself considering the messages of that little incident (which probably explains why I can’t remember much about Bruce actually said – or it is yet another indication that I have spiritual ADD). I was touched by a church leader who wasn’t as concerned about proper procedure as he was about Bruce. I was inspired by Janet, who saw a need and filled it (unlike the rest of us, who just sort of sat there, grateful that it was Bruce and not us who was up there struggling to speak). And I was impressed with Bruce, who refused to allow the incident to detract from the spirit of the meeting. He didn’t freak out or milk the situation for drama – he graciously accepted the help he was offered, regained control and then forged ahead with his remarks, never mentioning the incident again.

All of which is really . . . well, you know . . . something, when you stop and think about it.  I guess I’m just inspired by people who do something when something needs to be done. They are living, breathing sermons.

And truly worth remembering.

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— © Joseph Walker

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