As I write this Bob is being laid to rest in Palmerston North, a long way from where I am in Dunedin. Bob was a church elder and secretary of the Church where I had my first full time ministry in the late 1970s. He had stepped into the secretary's position twenty years earlier when there was deep division in the Church and had been part of the reconciling, rebuilding process. He was probably thirty years older than me and died on Sunday night. He served overseas during the war, he had run a Boys Brigade Company, he served on a primary school PTA, he was chairman of the high school board, served for many years in the Church and raised a family. He was incredibly honest, upfront and a true gentleman. He was a joiner by trade but had moved on to work with aluminium window joinery. A skilled craftsman, if he made something it was made well. As I remember Bob, two things stand out for me.
He said "Sorry". In a church service once, because of a difference of opinion amongst leadership over some procedure, Bob had said something that had put me in an awkward position in front of people. I had thought it unfair at the time, but had swollowed my pride and gone with the flow. A minister often finds himself in the middle. Two evenings later he rang me and asked if he could come around. I met him at the door and he said he was there to apologise. He still had the same opinion about the issue but felt he had been unfair to me, and asked my forgiveness sticking out his big hand in a handshake. We had a cup of tea and decided that the leaders needed to clarify their thinking. At the next board meeting he apologised both to me and the board members and set the scene for a constructive discussion and resolution of the difference. My admiration for Bob increased immeasurably. We are often quick to shoot our mouth off and share opinions, but few of us are big enough to apologise. Bob was, in my view, a big man. He was one of the few willing to say sorry.
Secondly I will remember Bob for his Sunday evening phone calls. Bob was more conservative than I and often found my Sunday evening services challenging and differed with what I had said. He would go home, do some reading, stew, then at around 9:30p.m. on numerous ocassions would ring and ask me some questions about what I believed. I did not mind the questions or discussion. Bob was one of the few people who could differ with you, challenge and question you, but still somehow you knew that he respected and accepted you and was willing to listen to your perspective. It was his timing that I will remember. Sunday night was the end of a busy week for us. Monday was my day off. On Sunday evenings my wife and I would often put the kids to bed then head off to bed early for some "relaxation," as in marital intimacy. My testosterone levels were higher back then! When Bob rang it was often just when things were getting interesting and theological issues were the furthest thing on my mind. I would have to leap out of bed and calmly deal with whatever the issue was that he had. I was glad he could not see me as we talked! Being polite Bob always asked if it was convenient to talk. I never did work out how I could say, "Well Bob, my wife and I are in the middle of........" So today I remember these friendly, but untimely discussions with Bob.
A couple of years ago I found Bob's address and wrote him a letter. In it I told him how much I appreciated his support during our six years at Palmerston North. I told him how I admired him and why. I remember writing that the letter sounded like a funeral eulogy, but that I had determined that I would rather tell him these things while he was still alive, than wish I had after he was gone. Today he has gone and I am glad I wrote that letter. Goodbye Bob. Thank you and "well done good and faithful servant." I hope one day I can be a big man.