Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 16, 2008


Nostalgia was knee-deep in meeting with old war-horses


      Nostalgia reigned during an overnight meeting this week with about 50 old Methodist preachers, their wives, widows, and widowers. They call themselves the “Wesley Heirs,” and meet twice a year, in March and October, at Blue Lake Camp south of Andalusia.

          I have been eligible to participate for six years but diligently ignored the meetings out of concern for my reputation. I wanted these old friends to think I was too busy for such leisure and loafing. After all, I am still in harness, doing “the Lord’s work.”

          A few of them kept pestering me to attend, assuring me that the fellowship would be great fun. Guardedly I promised to go sometime but without adding what I was thinking – “when I have nothing better to do.” Finally I broke this pledge to myself and, with my wife by my side, got amongst them.

          What I discovered was refreshing. While “the future” was seldom mentioned, with most discussions focused on the past, laughter dominated our gatherings. Thirty minutes, designated for stories about “funny things that happened on our way to heaven,” mushroomed into two hours punctuated with gales of laughter.

          The featured “program” was a presentation about the dangers of identity theft. A witty, well-informed staff member from the state Attorney General’s office told us more than we wanted to know about how to stop thieves from robbing us after stealing personal information. Such thieves are constantly lurking in cyber space and sometimes rummaging through our garbage. The people who sell paper shredders must love the attorneys general of America.

          Though we had an agenda our meeting times were frequently interrupted by someone who had an old story that begged to be shared. One story prompted another so that our meetings dragged on as one ancient person after another rose to tell stories that some of us had heard many times before. But no one was booed or ridiculed for re-telling a good story that reminded us all of times when we had known the grace of God.

          The outgoing president of Wesley Heirs is the widow of a good friend who was killed by a drunken driver years ago. He was a gifted young man, full of life and potential, when his life was suddenly snuffed out in a senseless highway accident. Despite the tragedy his widow raised their two children and has lived with meaning and joy in the service of others. She led our meeting with dignity and grace.

          Despite the laughter, sadness was always just beneath the surface of our conversations. Some there had recently suffered the loss of a husband or a wife. Pain the heart was often visible on the faces of these dear friends. As always one stumbles to find words of comfort and having failed, settle for a hand on the shoulder or a tender embrace.

          The climax of our meeting was a sad but meaningful memorial service. The names of eleven ministers and four spouses of ministers, who all died during the past year, were read aloud as candles were lit in their memory. An excellent sermon by one of my peers reminded us that God is able to heal our grief. A highlight for me was getting to sing bass in our little choir.

          The group meets again in October. The ritual will be the same – some program of interest, times of laughter and nostalgia, concluding with a memorial service. Most of us promised to return.

          Still each of us must have been wondering how long it will be before our name will be on the record of remembrance. Will we be there to remember others or to be remembered? None of us knows but the thought is sobering.

          Right now my wife and I plan to go back and endure more of the sentimental tales old war-horses love to tell. The tender embrace of longtime friends in the ministry has a strange drawing power. I am not ashamed to admit that I needed what I received in this unique fellowship of old-timers. I want some more. + + +