Wednesday, October 24, 2012

THE LIFE OF A SAINT OF GOD



E-Vangel Newsletter
October 22, 2012

Pastorgraphs: “Guss’ Band of Angels”

I suspect Guss knew his band of angels were gathering, as the old spiritual says, “Coming for to carry me home”. But his sudden passing last week came as a total shock to the hundreds of people he blessed, including me.

Guss Jenkins Shelley was my friend, colleague and distant relative. When we met, he was proud to let me know he was a Jenkins, too. He was from the Attala County MS branch of the Jenkins family, and I am from the Calhoun County line. I’m sure we all connected back there somewhere, so Guss and I considered ourselves cousins. Guss was always proud to include his mother's maiden name as his middle name. He was as proud to be a Jenkins as he was to be a Shelley.

Guss was a wonderful pastor, having faithfully served many of the more prominent Mississippi Methodist congregations. When I served on the Mississippi Conference staff, Guss was one of the District Superintendents. That meant I had to make periodic stops at the Senatobia District office, where Guss and I talked as much about Jenkins genealogy and Sacred Harp music as anything else. Sacred Harp was also my father’s favorite pastime, so Guss’ love of that early American church music style only reinforced our bond.

It’s easy to say, but with Guss it was true: everyone who met him loved him. That is because Guss genuinely loved people, an increasingly rare quality in our fast paced world.

I lost contact with Guss when I moved to California in 1998, but thanks to Facebook, we reconnected a couple years back. At Easter this year, I mentioned a quote from Guss’ Facebook page in my Pastorgraph, where he wrote:

“In the Sacred Harp song book, a song entitled "Easter Anthem" speaks of the resurrection of our Lord, declaring his resurrection. It then declares--in beautiful words and beautiful harmony:

Then, then, then I rose, then I rose, then I rose, then I rose,
Then first humanity triumphant passed the crystal ports of light, and seized eternal youth.
Man all immortal hail, hail, heaven, all lavish of strange gifts to man,
Thine’s all the glory, man’s the boundless bliss,
Thine’s all the glory, man’s the boundless bliss.

Recently, since he retired a year ago, Guss wrote what I considered masterful stories of his childhood. They were just a couple paragraphs each, but related precious memories, such as picking up pecans with his father, going fishing with his uncle, or just sitting on the porch with his dog. Those stories prompted two reactions in me. First, I though how wonderful it would be if Guss collected those stories in a book. Secondly, I noticed how many of his stories included his ancestors. It was, I thought, almost like he was gathering his departed relatives around him.
 
When word came that Guss died, it seemed that rather than Guss gathering them, his ancestors had been gathering themselves about him, “coming for to carry him home”. Over forty-plus years in ministry, I have sat at the death bed of those who told me they had been visited by beloved departed relatives shortly before they passed away.

There are two messages in all this. First, we don’t know when our time will come. But, we must be ready. Secondly, it is reassuring that when the time comes, our band of angels will be there to carry us over. That is why we should not fear death.

I suspect Guss is singing in the Heavenly Choir right now. Maybe he’s saying, “Let’s sing ‘Easter Anthem’ from the Sacred Harp Hymnal”. And who knows, maybe my father is standing right next to him, talking about the Jenkins of Old Mississippi.

Well done, faithful servant. Rest in peace from you labors.

Brother Bill

From the Quote Garden:
“If I get there before you do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
I'll cut a hole and pull you through.
(Coming for to carry me home)

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.”

~ Lyrics, verse 4, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by Wallis Willis ~
Oklahoma Choctaw Freedman, before 1862

Christ United Methodist Ministry Center
“Christ in the Heart of San Diego”
3295 Meade Avenue - San Diego, CA 92116 - (619) 284-9205

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