Saturday, June 24, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History

 June 25


Instead of the usual post I have decided to share the eulogy I gave at my father's memorial service at First United Methodist Church, Dallas, on June 23, 2017.   This is the manuscript.  Naturally the eulogy as actually delivered varied somewhat from this text.


The family would like to thank you for all the expression of love we have been receiving from so many friends.  Your love and prayers have buoyed us in these difficult times.   Thank you to the choir and other worship leaders and those of you who have traveled to be with us.  We do have a regret---that is that we cannot have long, deep meaningful conversations with each of you—you know.  The kind of soul-to-soul conversations you had with John Wesley.    A man who could have such conversations deserves the most intimate eulogy possible so my remarks will be based on father-son conversations. 

1.  late winter, 1977    Finis finally talked me into it.”  “Talked you into what?”   “I’m going on a district.”  “Well, Daddy, I know a lot of preachers who would consider that a step up.”  No, Bill, the highest and best position any Methodist preacher can have is being a local church preacher.   I know sometimes they are called to appointments outside the local church, but they should always consider those temporary sacrifices they are making until they can get back in the local church.”

The starting point for understanding JWH was that he considered himself first, last, and always a local church pastor-----and what a pastor he was!    His idea of pastoring a local church was really very simple----convince the unchurched that their lives would be much better if they were in a church and convince the established members to increase their involvement in the church.  He had a small metal file box on his desk with index cards with each family in the church on a card.  “What’s that?” I asked.  “That’s my system for visiting every family at least once a year in their homes.”   “Is that really necessary?” I asked.  “You can’t really minister to people if you don’t know their needs, and you don’t know their needs unless you visit them in their homes.”  Those visits were mainly to increase involvement.  If the family attended and nothing else, the visit was to try to get them to Sunday School or choir.  If they attended church and Sunday School, the visit was to get them to teach Sunday School or serve on a committee.  If they served on a committee it was to assume a leadership role—and on up the ladder of involvement.   He didn’t succeed every time.  I was looking at the index cards and saw the initials BPO, and asked him—“:What does that mean? “Oh, those are ones who want their names on the roll but never come.  It stands for Burial Purposes Only.”

2.  Summer, 1980---“The most important leadership is moral leadership.”  JWH had been elected bishop and was packing in Baytown and moving to Oklahoma.  He seemed to want me around to talk.  I was in his office.  There were three stacks of books.  Two stacks were the last 10 years of Journals of the two conferences in his area.  By the time he got to Oklahoma, he knew the appointments for the last 10 years, the membership, lay delegates, pastor’s salary, and whether each church had paid apportionments.  The third stack was business management books.  He’d read them too, but waved them away---“They’re all about technique.  Technique without character leads to disaster.  In church, business, education, or government---a moral vision is what counts—not technique.”

3.  February 1984---I was wakened by an early morning phone call.  Well, Bill, we’ve just had one more demonstration of the temporary nature of the things of this world.”  He and Mother had just been the victims of arson—escaping with their lives and night clothes and nothing else.  He’s calling with a borrowed telephone wrapped in a Red Cross blanket---.  They rebuilt and on Labor Day holiday, the arsonist came back and did it again.   We all felt the family needed to be together so we all convened in Virginia at Christmas.  As my father and I talked about the events of 1984, he kept talking about the blessings he and Mother had received.  Finally I said, “Name one.”  He said, “I’ll name two.   The outpouring of love we have received from the Methodists of Oklahoma means more to us than all the furniture, cars, clothes, everything.”  He went on.  “All my life I have been the one bringing comfort.  The fires made me learn that sometimes it can also be a blessing to be on the other end.”

4.  After moving to SMU—“Bill, don’t you find it odd that I’m part of a seminary.  I’m no scholar.  I’m no theologian.  Yes, but he could supply something to Perkins no one else could.  My imagination takes to a seminary class on Methodist doctrine.  The subject is “sanctification.”  A student raises a hand.  “Professor, is sanctification an ideal we always strive for or a state we are supposed to achieve?”  The professor says, “You need to get to know John Wesley Hardt.  He’s the closest I’ve ever seen.”  Yes, JWH embodied sanctification---It was as if divine love so filled his heart that there was no room for anything negative.  In my entire life, I never once heard him utter a mean-spirited word against another person. 

His favorite time of the academic year was summer, because that meant “Course of Study, and that meant non-traditional students would be on campus.  He would say, “Bill, take me to Chapel.” And we would go.  I’ll tell you a secret.  He didn’t pay attention to the service.  He scanned Perkins Chapel making sure he knew everybody in the room.  If he didn’t know someone, he would make a beeline to the unknown student, introduce himself.  “Where are you from?”  “oh, a little town in East Texas.  You’ve never heard of it.”  ---Ha!  I knew what was coming.   “Well, I’ve been in East Texas, where was it” It didn’t matter if it was Center or Centerville, Douglass or Douglassville, the reply was the same.  “Well, I held a revival there in 1950.” Then he would recite the names of the church leaders whom he had met, and the student would walk away amazed.

5.  I wonder why I’m being allowed to live so long.”

 That’s easy.  God kept finding new ways John Wesley could be in ministry.  I would visit at CC Young. After dinner he would announce.  “So and So is released from the hospital over in rehab.  I’m going over for a visit.”   I would watch in suspense as he hobbled down that sloping sidewalk, hoping that he would not fall.  In a few minutes he would be back—and glowing—He was back from just one more bedside prayer, one more consoling visit to a family---the flame that burned in that pastoral heart could not be dimmed even by infirmity.

I’ll close with a story. (You didn’t think you were getting out of here without some Methodist history did you?)   Right after the Civil War some Southern Methodist leaders thought that since the north-south split had been caused by slavery and slavery was now abolished, there were possibilities of reunion.   They decided on a plan.  They would send an ambassador to the MEC General Conference of 1868.  They knew that such an ambassador had to be someone universally recognized for his holiness, and they had such a person, a retired preacher from Georgia, already in his 80’s named Lovick Pierce.  He had been ordained in 1804, and in the more than 60 years of ministry, no one person could point to any stain or shortcoming on his record.  Contemporary descriptions include phrases like, “he wore goodness like a cloak,” “sweet spirit,” and “irenic heart.” 

There is no doubt that if such a mission were needed in our era, to find the one person our church wanted to present to the world and say----“look, look, here is the proof that the abundant life proclaimed in the Gospel and preached from our pulpits, it’s true, it’s possible.  It would have been John Wesley Hardt.


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