|Photo by Ben White|
Pastor Rob taught our Baptism classes. As 8th graders, we talked about the church and all of our tough questions of faith as we ate pizza in the basement. I can still remember walking through the water to him and having him dip me back in the water and bless me with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As my friend Fran, who was also baptized that day, said, "He was a man who exuded faith and was a rock in our lives."
He was a wonderful young pastor, with children and a loving wife. At age 33, my tenth-grade year, he went in for a minor heart procedure, but by the end of the week, he had passed away.
We were in shock. Rob had been our pastor, our friend, our mentor, and now he was gone. At age 16, this was my first experience with loss and grief. Our youth group banned together. We gathered in our youth room with our friends and youth leaders. They prayed with us and talked to us, letting us ask the hard questions. The questions of "why." They allowed us the space to be together, to cry and to grieve. As my friend Fran said, "I still remember the day he passed. The youth all sat at the front of the sanctuary and sang every song we could think of, praising God in the midst of a terrible tragedy." This image of my friends and I crying and singing in the sanctuary will be forever burned into my mind. It was a turning point for our youth group. We grew closer to each other as we clung to each other for support. The experience grew my faith as I asked the tough questions. I didn't necessarily receive answers, but I developed a faith that carried me through my grief.
One measure of solace for me was the song "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. These lyrics brought me comfort:
"And I know you're shining down on me from heaven.
Like so many friends we've lost along the way.
And I know eventually, we'll be together.
One sweet day."
I held on to the fact that I would one day see my pastor again in heaven. I'd tell him all about my life and we'd rejoice together in the Lord.
Rob's life and death shaped us as people and influenced our futures. Due in part to his caring mentorship, two of us went on to go into ministry. Fran says that "His impact on my life is the reason that I went to Eastern Seminary." He went on to become the pastor of a church in upstate N.Y. I went on to youth ministry so that I could pass on that care and mentorship to other teens.
A few years ago, I was teaching a class on Paul and his writings to adults from our church. I mentioned Rev. Rob as part of my story, and an older woman in faith told me something I will never forget. She said that though it seemed that Rev. Rob's life and ministry had been cut short, Fran and I were continuing on his ministry. When she said those words, I got tears in my eyes. I had never thought of it that way. Symbolically, my friend and I were carrying on the ministry that Rev. Rob had begun in us that day he began teaching us about the ministry journeys of Paul. As 2 Timothy 2:2 states, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others."
The influence of mentors such as Rev. Rob and Rev. Gloria, who I wrote about last week, cannot be measured in worldly terms, but through exponential growth in the Kingdom of God.
Thanks, Pastor Rob, for all that you taught me. I'll see you again, "one sweet day."