Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 8, 2004


What do you say to friends who are struggling with grief?


       I like chicken. All preachers like chicken. My stomach is the graveyard for hundreds of chickens. Chicken was involved with my call to the ministry. I woke up one morning, did not want to go to work, and had a craving for fried chicken. That is how I knew I had been called to preach.

          How do I like my chicken cooked? Any way I can get it. Fried is my first choice, though the doctor warns me not to eat much fried food. With my health in mind, then, baked chicken tops the chart. Nobody can bake chicken as good as my sweet Mama Dean cooks it.

          I love it when she says, “We are having baked chicken for supper.” Along with it, we will have some new potatoes, carrots, and onions. Mmmm, that’s good! Throw in some rice, gravy, and cornbread and you have a mighty fine meal, so good it will make you want to knock your Mama off the back porch. (I cannot explain that saying, but my son Tim got me started using it, so I hope it conveys something to somebody!)

          Wednesday that craving for chicken came over me so I decided to stop in for lunch at Chick-Fil-A on the Eastern Boulevard in Montgomery. My friend, Stuart Rogers, owns and operates the store. His wife, Lolly, teaches school in Montgomery.

          As I ordered a Number One, I spotted Stuart preparing sandwiches beside some of his employees. I asked one of the workers to give him my card so he could say hello if he had a minute. It was almost noon and the store was full of customers.

          A few minutes later, Stuart came to my table, greeted me, and sat down. I figured he would stay for three minutes and go back to work. That I would understand, it was their rush hour. Instead, he stayed and we talked for twenty minutes.

          I was impressed. He seemed calm as a cucumber, not worried at all about the business. It dawned on me why. He had some competent employees who knew what they were doing, and he had confidence in them. A good manager can depend on his people to get the job done.

          Tammy stopped by my table and asked if I needed a re-fill of my drink. She politely delivered one to me and continued clearing tables with a smile. Stuart said, “That is one of the ways we attempt to be more than just another fast food store.” Impressive, to say the least.

          Fortunately, Stuart and Lolly are free to go to church on Sundays. Chick-Fil-A stores are closed on Sunday in honor of the Lord’s Day. I like that. I know some people have to work on Sundays. In fact, I do. Sunday is a workday for preachers, even though we get to worship also. Nevertheless, I applaud the business owners who believe they can make a good living without staying open seven days a week. Everybody needs a day of rest. The good Lord says we do, and I believe he is right.

          Stuart and Lolly go to St. James Methodist Church where I am on the staff. As he and I talked at lunch, the subject of grief came up. That is not surprising, really, since the average of death is still one to a person. Stuart recalled one of his employees raising the question of what to say when you visit grieving friends at a funeral home.

          He knew how to answer that question, having experienced grief in the death of his own mother. “You really do not need to say anything, just being there is what matters,” he said. “I do not remember a single thing people said to me when Mom died; I just remember that they were there with me,” he recalled. That made all the difference in the world.

          I agreed and shared how scared I had been as a young preacher when a church member died. Nobody had trained me about what to say to grieving family members. In time, I learned just what Stuart had said; no speech is necessary, just be there.

          Sorrowing friends will never remember our comments at a funeral parlor. However, they will never forget that when their hearts were broken, we were there with them, sharing their sorrow, offering our support. It is what we call the “ministry of presence.” That is when we do our best preaching – without using words.

          At Chick-Fil-A, Stuart tries to be more than a boss or an employer. When his employees have trouble, he becomes something of a shepherd to his “family” of workers. He knows that caring shepherds often make a difference more by their presence than their words.

          Montgomery will have a bright future as long as it continues to attract people like Stuart and Lolly to the marketplace. + + + +