Sometimes you ask the wrong guy an important question…Or maybe I have it backwards. Perhaps in this case he asked the right guy.
It was Friday afternoon. I took vacation days for the entire week to work on schoolwork and chores around the house. But as it turned out, I was the only minister on our church staff in town that day. So I got the call… A man called the church office requesting a minister to come and visit his dying mother. We take such requests seriously. I went to the hospital promptly and met this man and family. I prayed over his aging mother. The family members are nice people and it was a good visit.
When we stepped out of the hospital room, he asked me a question that has probably been posed to me three or four time in 27 years. The question: “How much do you charge to do a funeral service?” I promptly told him that I would gladly serve his family in that role and that I don’t charge for such a service. He was clearly taken aback. After all, nothing is free. We exchanged phone numbers. And I am certain that I will get back up to the hospital to check on his mother and pray with her again.
As I walked off, I realized that I failed to tell him something that was pertinent to our conversation. My father passed away unexpectedly in 1978. I was 15 years old. We had no church home. The closest thing to a minister we knew was Father Mulchay on MASH. But a friend of my brother-in-law’s came to our home and agreed to the do the service. I don’t remember this for a fact, but knowing my proper Southern mother I know she asked the same question. What do you charge do a funeral service? That fine gentleman refused to take anything, and he treated us like he had known us for decades.
Friday afternoon at the hospital that man had no idea that he was asking the wrong guy about being paid for officiating at a funeral. As he asked, my mind quickly traveled back to 1978. I may have been standing in the hallway at the hospital, but in my mind I was 15 years old again sitting at the dining room table with a kind man that refused to take any money for officiating at a stranger’s funeral. He just asked the wrong guy about money. Or maybe he asked the right one.
Next time I see him I will share a story from 1978...
Cline Paden is deceased now, but he was one fine man. In 1978, he was directing a training school for ministers. But he took the time out of a very busy schedule to serve a family that were complete strangers to him with complete dignity. My life mission will continue to be to serve such strangers with an equal amount of compassion and dignity.