I think it is easier to be canonized in the OPC than in the church of Rome. In Rome it is necessary for a miracle to be associated with your name. In the OPC all I need to do is move away and wait 10 or 20 years. All the foolish and sinful things I have said and done seem to be entirely forgotten. And the nicest things are remembered.
Take as a case in point the 100th anniversary of Emmanuel OPC in Wilmington, Delaware. All of the living former pastors and their wives were brought back for the celebration weekend. You'd think we were royalty, the way we were welcomed and doted upon. One of the long-time members cornered me and recited the title and salient points of a sermon I had preached there about 25 years earlier. I was impressed.
There was a negative side of the ledger, but memory banks had been erased. No one seemed to remember that a foolish miscommunication on my part gave permission for a charitable organization to hawk their memorials in the parking lot of our church—on Sunday! I was even more chagrinned to discover that some of our members bought their wares before I chased them from the premises. What was I thinking?
Then I was shocked—and secretly delighted—that one of the guys remembered “the catch”. Our church had a softball team in the local church league. One of those games became a laugher (lopsided score), and I was roaming center field. I remember determining that not one more hit would sail over my head. By magic or mayhem I was going to get that ball. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the next batter lofted another long one headed straight for the tall grass well behind me. I want you to know that Willy Mays had nothing on me as a fleet footed fielder. True to my resolve, I calculated the trajectory of that sphere, turned my back to home plate and sprinted as rapidly as my youthful legs could carry me into the tall grass of deep center field. I looked up just in time to see the ball descending to a spot directly ahead of me by several yards. I had to leave my feet and dive to catch the ball in my extended glove hand as I skidded to a stop. When I stood up to throw the ball back to the infield, several uniformed players on the other side of the field stopped to watch and then to applaud my efforts. For my entire baseball career, this was my moment—it was “the catch”. And now, some 25 plus years later someone who was there had remembered that moment with me.
Oh yes, 20 or 30 years can adjust the memories of a congregation well enough to make one a saint. There was my portrait on the wall of the hallway just off the main auditorium, along with the other former pastors. What a privilege, what an honor, to serve the Lord, Jesus Christ, by ministering to His church, even if it was a rather checkered career. They didn’t remember it that way.
Upon returning home to Carson, CA, we were still enjoying the memory of our visit. My custom was to eat my sack lunch with the students of Peninsula Christian School (the K through 8 school using our church property). I was explaining to a young lad where we had been over the weekend and about the 100th anniversary of the church. He asked me in all sincerity, “Were you the first pastor?” Kids are wonderful for their capacity to humble, especially unintentionally.