I went to the Woody’s Funeral Home on Parham Road last night to pay my respects to Ethel Kyle, one of the saints of First Baptist, who wrote the most beautiful letters I’ve ever received, each one presenting itself like an engraved wedding invitation. I could write this whole post about Ethel, but I’m going to save those words for her funeral this afternoon.
This morning, I want to tell you about something else.
At the funeral home last night Richmond Hamilton came over to say hello. “Dickie,” as he is sometimes called, is a perfect gentleman, always nattily dressed, almost courtly in his manners, and often with his lovely wife Lil at his side (you should see the picture of the two of them on their wedding day; that Lil is an absolute stunner!).
When I came to the church nearly five years ago I got the feeling that Dickie and Lil were First Baptist royalty. It was something about the way they carried themselves, or the way people introduced them to me. Maybe it was simply because when you come to Richmond and meet a man whose name is Richmond you assume you’ve met the founding father.
So when Richmond Hamilton came over to say hello last night I stood up a little straighter, and this is what he told me: that he’d finally gotten in touch with that woman (what’s her name?), who put him in touch with somebody (Sandra? Sonya?), who made the arrangements for him to tutor two little girls over at Essex Village. “Anyway,” he said, “I’m on the bus.”
I corrected him, gently. “You’re off the bus, Dickie. You got off the bus and onto the mission field.” “Right, right,” he said. “Whatever. I just wanted you to know.”
And that was it.
But what a thrill for me to think about Richmond Hamilton—Mr. Richmond himself—going over to Essex Village Apartments on the north side of town, a place where 544 children live in mostly single-parent homes…to think about him sitting down with two little girls in the community center over there, helping them with their homework, making sure they get it all done…to think about what a difference that might make in their lives, not only now but in the years to come…well, as I said, what a thrill.
Because Mr. Hamilton could have said, “What’s this crazy idea the new pastor has come up with? Something about getting on a bus and going on a mission trip? Well, I’m not going on any mission trip. I’ve been in this church all my life. I’ve paid my dues, I’ve done my time. Let the younger ones do it.”
But that’s not what he did.
Somewhere in his heart he said, “If the church is going on a year-long, every-member mission trip then I’d better go too. I’d better get on the bus, and then find some place to get off, and see if I can make a difference in somebody’s life.”
You see, if Dickie can do it, then anybody can do it. And here’s what I’m hoping: that as he tutors those two little girls he will begin to feel the joy that comes with that kind of work. That when they start to look forward to his coming, and are reluctant to let him leave, when they hug him around the waist and laugh, “Don’t go Mr. Hamilton!” he will begin to see what this mission trip was all about in the first place—not forcing our members to get off the bus,
But bringing heaven to earth.