It would be impossible to be the Pastor of that congregation in the OKC area without feeling loved and appreciated.  They know how to celebrate a person in a way that lifts the spirit.

When I got the Call to serve that congregation, I accepted it long enough before starting there to give me time to do the best thing I could have done in preparation for serving a new congregation.  What drove me to do it is my terrible memory, my inability to remember peoples’ names.  I knew if I went there cold, I would be lost for many months.

I asked for a pictorial directory from the congregation.  Then I made a copy of each page and turned every family picture into a flash card with the picture on one side and the names on the other.  I carried them with me constantly, going over and over and over them.  The first Sunday I attended church there, as I was walking from the car to the door, a woman was walking out after the Earlier Service.  As she approached, I said, “You must be Marie.”  She looked at me for a moment and then said, “You’ve already heard about me?”  Marie is a character.  Everyone should have a Marie in their life.

I don’t know what Sunday it was, but my greatest moment was the morning a young family with a number of children lined up in front of me, and I said their names before they told me who they were.  I mispronounced a name or two, mixed up a couple of the kids, but I did it!  It was the custom there that the Pastor would say each person’s first name when distributing Communion.  I did that from the very first Communion Sunday I led the service.

Learning all those names was good news and bad news.  The good news was that since people very much appreciate being called by name, it won me some points.  The bad news was, it raised people’s expectations about my learning names.  I still had (and have) a very tough time remembering names.  That meant that when new people came, I had to work like crazy to get their names firmly fixed in my mind.

I knew the ministry there would be a good time, when at the end of the first sermon I preached, John stood in back with with a card (as in the Olympics) with a 10 on it.  If I remember correctly, there was a 9 on the other side of it.  Needless to say, John became a good friend.  There were a a couple more folks there named John who became good friends.

The music was a special treat there.  The congregation had purchased a Tracker Action Organ, made and installed by Martin Ott of St. Louis.  The organist at that time helped design it as a classical instrument with a Baroque sort of voicing.  One result of having a Tracker Action organ was that only very accomplished organists could play it.  I remember the time a family insisted that their Aunt could play the organ.  That Aunt came to practice the organ in preparation, sat down and the keyboard and was complete baffled.  She had no idea what to do.  Gratefully our organist was able to schedule the wedding.

There was the Bagpipe that played Amazing Grace during Communion one Sunday.  Do not under any circumstances remain in a comparatively small space when a Bagpipe starts playing.  I was busy with the tasks at hand during the service and forgot the Bagpipe would start playing.  He was only a few feet from me when that ugly deep groan started as the sound grew quickly to a glass shattering volume, again only feet from behind me.  I thought we would all be killed by whatever disaster was happening.  It is good that I was not distributing the wine from the chalice or someone would have been bathed in Mogen David.

The Staff was wonderful there.  John, the DCE, was very irritating.  He was better than me at everything — talk about annoying.  I could sing, but he got paid for it, singing and playing the guitar with a professional Christian group that sang at regional and national conferences all over the country.  He did not read a note of music, but not only did he play the guitar, but he wrote songs.  He could play the piano by ear.  He was an excellent artist, drawing, sculpting (a beautiful chalice of clay on a Confirmation Retreat).  John was an excellent Administrator, who was a strong support to the Leadership of the congregation.  John also preached annoyingly well.  He was the consummate Youth Leader and Educator.  If that is not enough, he was our computer nerd.  He also became a good friend.

Then there was Secretary Cindra.  There was no doubt she actually ran the place.  She started when I started, but she was a very quick study.  One week, I gave her the notes for the Sunday Service, the hymns along with other items.  My brain had skipped two hymnals back in my history with the church, and, as a result, I put in the wrong hymn number — only a number, no name.  She determined that the hymn in the current hymnal with that number did not fit that spot in the service.  She found her way to the hymn I had actually intended for that spot.  Her only clue was knowing enough about worship to know what fit in that spot.  I certainly was spoiled.

There were some of the best Early Childhood Teachers I have ever encountered.  The organist who came while I was there brought such a level of skill in music that she got multiple degrees, the last in choral conducting, a Doctorate (if I have it straight in my mind).  She did remarkable things in that congregation and more in another.

The celebrations were the most memorable.  On the third anniversary of the beginning of my ministry there was a celebration (surprise).  On the fifth anniversary of the beginning of my ministry was a celebration (another surprise).  They celebrated my twenty-fifth anniversary in the ministry.  One of those first two celebrations (the 3rd or 5th anniversaries) was celebrated with a full week of surprises.  Every day beginning with the Sunday was a surprise.  There was a huge gathering between services that Sunday.  It was a little unnerving to realize that they could pull that off without my having a clue.  Each day someone, or some group surprised me with something.  When finally I thought it must be over there was one more.  Mary Ann was in on the last one.  We regularly went to a local breakfast place on Saturdays.  She encouraged us to go that Saturday.  When we walked in, there were thirty or so people from church there, and John played and sang a lovely song he had written, the saga of Randy the Pig, whom he claimed I had raised in my childhood (no such thing).

Next will come a sketch of the ministry there and something of our family life.  Yes, Barry Switzer is a character in this story.

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