How often have you ever had a chaplain come to you for support and advice? I don't know about you, but this is not an everyday event in my world. However, that is just what happened at a recent event of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firefighters Association (CVVFA) in Hancock, MD. Let me preface my remarks by stating that our association has lost a lot of members in the past 12 months. As matter of fact we have lost five of our past presidents. Sadly, two of our losses were not really that old. They were truly called home before their time.
Anyway, our CVVFA Chaplain Charlie Barnhart came up to me on the night of our arrival in Berkley Springs, WV, and asked me if I could provide some support and advice. Needless to say I lost no time in offering what support I could. As it turns out, my friend Chaplain Charlie has had a really bad run of funerals over the past month or so. He mentioned to me that in one week he had performed seven separate funerals. He then told me that after going away on vacation, upon his return he had to perform another five services.
Charlie went on to confide in me that he was feeling real weary. He also seemed worried that he was not being effective. He was concerned about his upcoming sermon at our CVVFA Annual Memorial Service. Actually it seemed to me that he was more concerned about the fact that he had not actually written a sermon. He then asked me what he should do. Being your basic wise guy from New Jersey, my first suggestion was that he should start hanging out with some younger people. After the chuckling subsided, he then told me that there was a great range of age in the many people he had buried.
Charlie then went on to tell me that he had recently had a change of heart in the manner in which he delivered his weekly services at his church in Taneytown, MD. He mentioned that many of his recent sermons and prayers at his church in Taneytown were delivered off the cuff and from the heart. He also said that he had taken to leaving the pulpit and moving out into the congregation to give his message. He told me that he felt really comfortable in doing this. I replied that I really enjoyed pastors who could do this. It seems to me that this act of leave the pulpit indicated a lack of fear on the part of those pastors who did this. I told Charlie that this indicated, at least to me, a certain comfort in interacting with their flock.
It was at that point when I paused to ponder what advice should I give. What should I do? What should I say? How does one say to a Man of God that he should have faith? After a few moments' thought, my words began to flow slowly and deliberately. The thoughts which I provided to my friend came from my heart and they were in no particular order. But they came.
First off I mentioned that moving from the pulpit to the people was a good thing. Many people seem to see the pulpit as a faraway place, with the actual pulpit serving as a barrier separating the pastor from the people. Next I suggested to Charlie that not having a speech to read was OK with me. I indicated that I had done this in the past. I further suggested that he should take some time and make some notes. I suggested that he needed to make a list with at least six key bullet points. I then suggested that he weave a tapestry of thought around each point.
My advice then took on a serious tone. I asked Charlie not to write these thoughts down. I suggested that he would be best served by going back to his room and pondering the points he had made. My advice was simple, just think the thoughts and then roll them around in your mind. Make them a part of your heart.
My final suggestion to him was that he should remember the words within the 23rd Psalm which described the journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. You must walk through the valley. You cannot turn back. You cannot climb out of the valley. You cannot avoid the trip. You must suck it up and walk through that lonesome valley on your journey through this life. And like the title of this article says, you've got to walk it by yourself.