This reflection is in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month, celebrated during October.
I learned many years ago that a pastor is not only the leader of the congregation but also a coach, counselor, therapist, teacher, visionary and banker.
Of course, that only describes a few of the hats a minister wears during his lifetime in service to our Lord Jesus Christ. My reflection spans back to one cold winter evening in Jacksonville when I was 15 years old. It was during a time of struggle with my parents when I was coming into that age of wanting to be an adult without the responsibilities that come along with it.
It was a cold Tuesday night and an argument had broken out between my parents and me. At some point, my dad looked at me and asked if I would like to talk about my feelings with someone else as we did not seem to be doing so well. He said that he knew there was a meeting going on down at our church and maybe our pastor, the Rev. Ron Operant, might be available. He asked if I would like for him to drive me over there.
“In that one moment in time … the weight of my troubled world was lifted off my young shoulders. By taking the time to talk, he helped guide me toward a better future.” — Bill Frye
When my father dropped me off, he told me to call home when I needed a ride a back. I had my heavy coat on when I knocked on the office and conference room outer door, which was outside, and one of the senior leaders of our church opened the door.
I found myself looking in the face of an individual who was perturbed at the interruption. When I asked if I could speak to the Rev. Operant, I was told that he was busy and they were involved in a serious business meeting. I would need to try and reach him on another day.
Before I could even explain, they shut the door, and I was left standing out in the cold of the evening, lost in my thoughts and wondering what to do.
Our church had a long, open covered walkway that had various rooms on either side — classrooms, a choir room, a small library and a large room with a kitchen where church gatherings would occur monthly. As I wondered down the walkway, tears rolling down my eyes, I heard a voice call out to me.
I turned, and there was the Rev. Operant, his large frame filling the space.
“Billy, I heard you needed to speak with me,” Operant said.
I looked up at him and said, “They told me you were in a serious meeting and could not be bothered.”
“There is nothing more important to me than you,” Operant said.
I broke down crying right then and there. As he put his arm around my shoulder and drew me to his side, I told him I just needed talk.
We walked and later sat on the steps outside one of the classrooms and talked for the next several hours about my struggles, his own struggle with being a father, about Christ’s love for us and so much more. He never went back into his meeting but would later take me home where he and my father talked about life for a while.
In that one moment in time, when he said, “There is nothing more important to me than you,” the weight of my troubled world was lifted off my young shoulders. By taking the time to talk, he helped guide me toward a better future.
Life has continued to be a rollercoaster ride at times, but this is what I do know. I often reflect on that conversation with the Rev. Operant — how he shared words of wisdom and encouragement and his own shortcomings as a parent himself. His actions spoke volumes of his love for Jesus and his love for others.
As I wrote this, I actually began to cry tears of joy as I remember so vividly that evening. Even in the cold evening air, the warmth of compassion helped me then and continues to help me now as I journey into my 66th year.