Lessons in Love and Leadership

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My father graduated from the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia in 1941. He and my mother married, and they moved to a small farming community to start my father’s career as a parish pastor. There was a lot to learn.

Neither of them had ever lived on a farm. My mother never learned basic skills like canning and preserving that farmer’s wives mastered in their teens. My father had to learn about farm country and about the people in his congregation.

He set about learning with energy and organization. He visited everyone in the congregation, sometimes talking with the farmers while they worked in the fields. He asked all of them what he should know to be a good pastor for them. He learned a lot. But, somehow, nobody thought to mention the organist.

As it happened, the organist was subject to seizures. A few Sundays after my father became pastor, she started bucking and making strange sounds right in the middle of the service. My father could only gape in astonishment.

Nobody in the congregation thought it was unusual. They knew all about the seizures and they knew what would happen next. The four stout farmers who were ushers that day marched quickly up the aisle.

They picked up the organist fore and aft, and started back down the aisle to the rear of the church. About this time, one of them noticed the shocked expression on their new, young pastor’s face.

“Don’t worry,” he called over his shoulder, “we’ll have her back in time for the final hymn.”

Sure enough, as soon as the sermon was over, the organist walked up the aisle and slipped onto the organ bench. The service went on as if nothing had happened.

There are a couple of lessons here. Whenever she told this story, my mother liked to say that it was a lesson in love. In some other places in the world, the woman with those seizures would have been looked down on, made fun of, or simply ignored. But the people in the congregation loved her.

They didn’t love her “in spite of” the seizures. They just loved her. They adjusted. No big deal. That’s how love works.

My father highlighted a different lesson, more personal, lesson. It was a lesson about control. Up until that point, he had just assumed that his job as the pastor of the church was to be in charge. He said that incident was the first time in his life he understood that if you had good and competent people around you, the best thing to do was to stand back and let them do their job.

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