By John Pierce
Regular churchgoers know the traditions well: when to stand, when to sit, when to bow one’s head in a prayerful manner to check the time when the third point of the sermon seems a bit extended.
Then there are practices known only, or mostly, to ministers. Until now.
One of those is that some churchgoers like to hand stuff to the preacher at the end of the service with the simple words, “I thought you would like to read this.”
These unexpected gifts are always received graciously and often read — while filing away sermon notes the next morning or a bit later when the cleaners find the folded paper in a suit pocket.
Some are mimeographed copies of old sermons that have been given to every preacher the giver has heard during the last half-century or so. Others are well-clipped magazine or newspaper articles, prayers, poems or devotional thoughts — or even a well-worn joke or two.
On a recent Sunday two older members of the church where I’m pinch-preaching handed such items to me. One was a nice poem reminding readers to thank God in times good and bad.
The other was a sermon preached 68 years ago — with insight and courage. The man who handed it to me had heard it firsthand and carried the printed excerpts with him.
The stated subject was sexuality, not a topic many preachers addressed in the ’40s, or decades thereafter, I’d guess. But, more so, it was a call for men in uniform to treat women with respect.
Chaplain Frederick W. Brink, preaching in the Ninth Marines Memorial Chapel on Aug. 25, 1945, noted the likelihood that many of his listeners would be headed to Japan. He warned them not to consider the women there to be “chattel” or a “commodity.”
“To us who are Americans, and especially to us who call ourselves Christians, every girl, every woman, regardless of her nationality, is a sacred personality,” said the chaplain. “…We have no right to think in terms of them on any other than the highest level.”
The one who shared this many-times-copied sermon of old said the message resonated with him that day because of his high regard for his mother, his sisters and his girlfriend back home who would become his wife for more than six decades. And its words only increased in value, he said, when he became the father to two daughters.
I appreciate Murry Alford saving this good word that inspired him long ago — and for passing it along.