My mother used to tell me, every so often, that I was a Methodist for nine months before I was born. She carried me — so to speak — to the Julia Porter United Methodist Church every Sunday of my pre-natal life. More importantly, she carried me every Sunday after I was born and from the cradle roll to manhood, Porterdale Methodist was my church home and, even though I have attended and been a member of other denominations, the Methodist tradition is the only one in which I have felt truly comfortable.
Now don’t hear something I’m not saying. I don’t believe there will be denominations in heaven and have never gotten caught up in them. I have experienced meaningful worship, instruction and Christian fellowship in all manner of churches and enjoy preaching the Gospel whenever I get the opportunity. And every church — every single one — has problems and peculiarities, because churches are comprised of human beings.
Now I told you all of that to tell you this. As a Methodist, I had to get used to the idea, at a very early age, that all Methodist preachers are itinerant preachers who serve at the pleasure of the bishop. They go where they are sent. I remember, as a child, not understanding why Preacher Dillard had to leave, and then I really didn’t understand why his replacement, Preacher Peters, didn’t say in Porterdale forever. Preacher Dillard, after all, was old. I figured maybe he just wasn’t up to preaching any longer. (I was very young. He may have been anywhere from 35 to 65.) But Preacher Peters was young with a pretty wife and they had their first baby while they were at Porterdale. Snatching them up and sending them on their way didn’t make a lick of sense to me.
Four years used to be the strict term limit for Methodist appointments. You could set your watch by it — or your calendar. But times have changed and now Methodist ministers get to stay put a lot longer than they used to — or at least some do. But they are still itinerant preachers and this week, in pulpits all over North Georgia, there will be beloved pastors saying their farewells to the flocks they have shepherded for the past year — or past several years.
It happens every June. But this time it is personal. One of the preachers will be mine. My dear friend John Beyers will be departing Conyers First United Methodist Church, where he has served for the past seven years. I am sure that I will love, respect and treasure our new minister when he arrives, but this Sunday John will be delivering his last sermon from our pulpit and I hate, so deeply, to see him go.
John Beyers, in case your paths have never crossed, is one of a kind. He is a self-proclaimed nerd from Dunwoody and came to us by way of Baylor University — which is a Baptist school, by the way, and Candler School of Theology at Emory University, which emphatically is not. He occupied a few pulpits, understand, before he arrived in Conyers and his former congregations trained him admirably because I have seldom, if ever, heard a preacher who delivered such excellently prepared and theologically sound sermons week after week after week.
John, like we all do, has a few peculiarities and I have enjoyed, over the years, teasing about some of them. One of our church members calls him his “square haired friend” because of his meticulous grooming habits. I once learned that he was outraged at me for writing of his “pasty white legs” after he attended a church picnic in Bermuda shorts. John is quite the dresser and transformed the men of our church into the most bow-tie, seer-sucker and white buck-wearing congregation in the North Georgia Conference, and none of us will ever be caught dead mispronouncing “Isaiah” or “Hosanna” again.
But those aren’t the reasons that I will mourn John’s leaving. I will miss the person that he is. With all his quirks — and we all have them — John is one of the most sincere Christians I have ever known, and when he gave his life to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ — as seen through the eyes of John Wesley — he gave all of his life. He never holds anything back. He was a true friend who reached out to me when I wasn’t even a member of his church and continued to offer a non-threatening hand, ready to pull me back to my traditional church home when the time was right for me.
He helped pray me through a brush with death and has helped nurture me and counsel me as I have tried to discern how to best answer the call that God has placed upon my heart. Most of all, he has been a friend.
I won’t be in the congregation when John Beyers preaches his final sermon Sunday. I will be preaching myself, at another church. In a way I am glad. I hate to see a grown man cry — particularly when the tears are my own.