I just returned from my uncle John Wagner’s funeral at the Germantown United Methodist Church in Germantown, Tennessee. John is the first of my father’s four brothers to die. I was privileged to speak as a nephew on behalf of his many nieces, nephews, and out-of-state family who could not be there. What stood out to me was not from John’s past but what his church family made manifest - his deep faith, commitment to the church, and their love for one another. The emphasis of the pastor’s message was on “faith community” and it was evident at every turn.
Uncle Mac attended weekly prayer group, was a greeter for Sunday services, was involved with a ministry called “helping hands” in which church members do home repairs for other members who lack the know-how, money or ability. He joined with others from his church in building dozens of Habitat for Humanity houses, tutored children and was deeply involved with an urban outreach in Memphis that serves the homeless and poor.
Visitation was held at a funeral home on Tuesday night and people lined up and just kept coming and coming for over two hours. I asked his son, Justin, and his wife, Marcia, “who are all of these people? Do you know them?” And the answer was simple, “Mostly, they are from our church, especially his Sunday school class.” I wish everyone had such a Sunday school class in their lives! The next day his funeral service was held in the Methodist sanctuary. All were masked and distanced. There was no singing except the masked soloist. The pastor preached behind plexiglass. And though turnout was restricted in that large sanctuary to about 100 due to COVID via social distancing, reserved seats, and roped-off pews, the service was livestreamed to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more.
I write not to tell you about my uncle John and his family. I write instead, to lift up the fellowship and love of his church family. His life was surrounded by faith community and when he died unexpectedly, his faith community was there with love, support, prayers, gratitude and sympathy. I drove back to Georgia confident that his surviving family will be in very good and caring hands.
We at APC say in our mission statement that we strive to be “a family of believers”. Please commit (or recommit!) yourself to active participation with others in some small group ministry! It could be choir, Women’s circle, mission work, softball, youth group, a Sunday school class, book club, ACT1, etc., etc. etc. It’s a win, win, win when one person joins with others to volunteer in the community, usher, help, pray or learn. The city benefits. The church ministry grows larger and stronger. And as I saw and heard this week, every individual involved benefits in ways that endure for a lifetime, and even beyond death.
The passage I’ve chosen to accompany today’s devotional is what the Senior Pastor of Germantown UMC read to capture the life and faith of John MacLeod Wagner, now a member of the church triumphant.