Written by Walter on the occasion of his election to serve as a Deacon beginning in August 2012
There are many ways I could tell my faith story, but the best way I have to tell my story is through the word “community.” I see God and experience The Divine in many ways, but the way that I hear God and feel God and know God most purely is through God’s people.
I joined Highland Baptist in February of 1984 and so many of you know much of my story. You know that this community sustained me through divorce, rejoiced with me at the birth of my daughter, and cried with me at the death of both of my parents. Those and many other events are the bricks of my story, but I’d like to tell you three short stories that serve as the mortar that holds all these together. And the key ingredient in all three is “people,” “community,” because that is what sustains me most.
The first story comes when Anna Kate was born, and when on the morning after carrying her home from the hospital we received a call to take her to Kosair Hospital immediately for what might be (but thankfully was not) spinal meningitis. Before leaving home we called a friend from church, who in turn called the church office. And by the time I drove us downtown and we reached the emergency room our then pastor Phil Christopher and the friend we had called, Theresa Hoeffner, were already there waiting for us. To sit with us and to hold us, and to be community for us.
The second story comes during my divorce in 1995. I was a member of Bill Amos’ Sunday School class and because of the divorce I was utterly lost and lonely. I was coming to church purely out of habit; because I didn’t know what else to do. I did the only thing I knew how to do at that point: I just showed up. And in the middle of a discussion in that Sunday School class, in response to a question about faith, I blurted out that I didn’t know if I believed in God or anything any longer. And in his ever-patient and ever-kind way, Bill Amos spoke up and said “that’s okay, Walter. We’ll believe for you for a while.” Community.
My final story comes from 2 years ago. Gary Waller was called out of town and I was filling in running the sound system for worship and, later, for a deacon ordination service. As I sat at the sound board at the back of the sanctuary, and as people passed by to line up for the laying on of hands, I was greeted by those who were waiting their turn. “Hi.” “Good evening.” “How are you?” All of these things were whispered to me in quiet conversation. “I saw Anna Kate today.” “Thanks for filling in.” “Hey, sweetie.” “I’ve missed you lately.” Many of these were coupled with a touch of my knee, a grasp of my hand, or a hug. At least half of those who lined up greeted me on their way to the front. The affirmation of being known and being loved was so real in that moment that it was very much akin to the blessings that those being ordained at the front of the church received that evening.
In his book, The Long Legged House, Wendell Berry writes, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, and the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”
That is my desire as I serve again as a deacon: to give back the love that I’ve felt and experienced in this place.