David Firestone. Seeing his name in this morning’s obituaries brought back a rush of fond memories and a renewed awareness of the huge role he played in making me the pastor I am today.
David was lay leader of one of the first churches I pastored, Epworth-Roanoke UMC. The product of the merger of two churches near KU Med Center, it was a small church with a loving congregation. I was privileged to spend five years there in less-than-full-time ministry during our three children’s preschool and early elementary years. David’s wife, Helen, taught my children in Sunday school with great love and patience, which was the best gift that this pastor/mother could receive.
David was a WW2 vet, and his kindness, gentleness, and wisdom reflected the epitome of the Greatest Generation. He was a preacher’s kid himself (his dad was Rev. O.S. Firestone), and his parsonage childhood made him particularly supportive of pastors. Being in a small church meant that he worked with many fresh-to-ministry pastors, yet he never held our inexperience against us. He was willing to try any scheme to reach out to the diverse community surrounding the church, and if he ever was less-than-enthusiastic about some crazy idea I had, I never knew it. His unwavering support taught me to receive with gratitude the gift of the laity with whom God has blessed me in every congregation.
In thinking about how to describe David’s true heart and soul, an event came to my mind that occurred many years after I left that church. Epworth-Roanoke had one of the largest endowments of any church I’ve served, especially for a church that size. In spite of our best efforts, and in spite of the best efforts of the pastors who succeeded me, the time came when the church decided to close. When I heard about that decision, I asked a couple of questions. Had the “regulars” stopped attending? Had the endowment dried up? After all, the church could stay open for many more years simply by spending that money. No, I was told. The core group of members was still mostly there, and the endowment remained in its entirety. However, they had decided that they weren’t going to be able to bring in new people, and so they wanted to go ahead and close while they were still able to send the endowment to the Missouri Conference where it could be used to seed new churches and bring in new members. That grace-full decision had the fingerprints of David Firestone all over it.
As I read these words, they seem somehow inadequate to express the impact of David on my ministry. His impact was not based on huge, glamorous moments, but on the steady, calm, day-to-day, grace-infused leadership that he offered the congregation and this pastor.
To honor David, I’ve rescheduled a significant meeting tomorrow so that I can attend his funeral. (Thanks for understanding, Mayor.) The weather forecast indicates that ice might keep me away in spite of my best intentions. Even if I cannot make it to the service, I remember once again the grace that he offered so generously to a young pastor and mother, and I smile with fondness and gratitude. May your spirit live on in all of us who have been blessed to know you.