I once served six months as a part-time interim pastor in a small rural community in Central Texas. It had been a while since that church had had a permanent pastor.
I heard many stories while I was there. Some were heart-warming, others revealed challenges, and one described a total nightmare.
It had almost been a year – midweek, May 1, late afternoon to early evening, people guessed. A man from the Houston area arrived at the church parking lot in his truck. There was no one on the church grounds at the time.
The man likely first came to the parsonage, but no one was there at the time. He ended up walking to the back of the parsonage grounds and behind a storage shed that overlooked the church cemetery.
It was at that spot that he smoked his last cigarette and ended his life. He used a shotgun. In the morning, the church janitor discovered the remains.
The authorities were called. The main body was taken away. However, the church was told that they were responsible for “the rest.”
Leadership of the church discovered a company that would come in and clean things up but the price was prohibitive. So, a small group of members decided to do the work themselves.
The remains were recovered and buried in the church cemetery. Everything was washed down. The topsoil was removed and replaced.
The five people that handled this gruesome task were understandably traumatized. They needed some form of closure. Unfortunately, I discovered that it never had been offered or provided. So, on a date in early May, we gathered at the spot where the earth was barren. The five shared their stories. There was a litany. I gave a homily.
The message acknowledged their trauma. We then, together, planted five Texas-hearty plants. I told them that the site would always remind them of a horrific event. That would not completely go away. However, the plants represented new growth. The spirit would lead them to help others who are hurting. These people might be carrying a burden like the man who died there.
The next month, they had a new pastor, and our family moved to Moses Lake.
I was recently told that those plants are thriving; once dead earth continues to show new life. May this life, and what it represents, ever grow abundantly.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.