by Pastor Ed Grant
Last September my much loved father-in-law, Ed Roper, passed away at the ripe old age of 90. He served his country in the Army during the second world war and fought in the frigid fields and forests of Germany and Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. He went to work for the phone company at its conclusion, staying with the same company for about 35 years – a very unusual feat in today’s job market. He accepted an early retirement package and left the labor force at the age of 57. I recall writing a letter to him soon after his retirement about how valuable retired men like him are and encouraged him to invest his many gifts and his remaining years in God’s kingdom.
Sometimes I watch advertisements for senior citizen developments in Florida and get the impression that the life portrayed is one fun activity after another: golf, biking, swimming, dining out and, of course, bingo, (though I never see that advertised!) It’s as though the fun filled activities of retirement are limited only by the number of naps needed between activities and one’s tolerance of pain!
My father-in-law didn’t choose that path. He and his wife, Edna, moved to Blairstown, New Jersey, to be near us and the four grandchildren we were raising in a mission congregation. As lifelong Episcopalians they became members of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, a small rural congregation in northwest New Jersey. Ed served in various positions on the church’s vestry, including as Junior warden and then senior warden. Other members of the vestry appreciated his levelheaded approach to issues and said he was a calming influence during the discussion of contentious issues. Knowing his personality I believe this was a leap out of his comfort zone! It was far more natural for him to work on a repair or restoration project around the grounds of the church, of which there were many!
Ed also invested heavily in the lives of his children and grandchildren. When two of my sons were old enough for Little League baseball he served as my assistant coach. He attended countless baseball and basketball games, musicals and concerts. He introduced my daughter Meredith, now a music teacher and choir director, to jazz. I recall how touching it was at a concert when she dedicated her jazz song to him.
Now that eight months have passed since his death it’s easier to forget the weakness of his last few years as Alzheimer’s disease took over the man we knew and loved. Yet even the disease’s dreaded debilitating force could not diminish the joy and the gratitude that characterized his life. Separated by time from his infirmity and the events surrounding his death it’s easier to remember the man he was and to appreciate the legacy he left behind.
Throughout my ministry I have always greatly appreciated and depended on the time investments our retired men and women make in the kingdom of God and in their families. Even as I write this article the retired former pastor of the congregation I serve has worked and sweated long hours in the men’s room, chiseling up old floor tiles and now laying down new ceramic tiles-always with a smile on his face and the joy of Jesus it is heart! I think of those who once served in our homeless ministry, those who watch little ones, those who prepare meals for our ministry to the blind, and those who lead and teach our ESL classes. Wherever I look in our church family our retired members are involved. At 82 years old my own mother continues to invest in God’s kingdom by serving one day a week in the church office and by teaching English to a woman from Honduras.
As one who recognizes the wealth of knowledge and experience, the gifts and the treasury of time entrusted to our retired community I’d like to make a couple of suggestions.
1. Don’t wait to be asked to serve. When you hear about the need let God know you are available to serve if it is his will. Then listen for his voice and the way he may be tugging at your heart.
2. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something you haven’t done before. I’m not suggesting you should jump out of an airplane at 90 years old like former president Bush. Perhaps stepping out of your comfort zone would mean going up to a young person to speak with them about their interests and their dreams. It might be offering to sit with the spouse of a church member who is undergoing surgery.
3. The crowning moment of a legacy of service will be to hear Jesus’ words, “well done good and faithful servant!”