By Blaney Pridgen
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
As best as I can remember, I was fifteen or sixteen. Dad and I were on the way home from the churchwhere he was the pastor. He had been in a deacon’s meeting while I waited for him after my youth group gathering. (As I write this story, I am recollecting the athletic mascot of Wake Forest University, the “Demon Deacons.”) He stopped his beloved Oldsmobile at a general store near our home to buy a pack of Salems. It was an old-fashioned grocery and gas station which the big one-stop franchises ruined. I watched him nearby from the car as ready to get home as he seemed to be.
As Dad got his smokes, which he always tried to hide from most of the congregation, he was confronted by one of his deacons. Right away, I could tell this was not a friendly situation. Dad was leaving. He was coming in. They were right in front of the television tube testing machine, which contained replacement tubes in a cabinet beneath. The deacon was larger than Dad, who wasn’t all that small. He stood right in his face, had something to say, and poked him hard enough with his finger to back Dad into the tube tester making its contents rattle. I could hear some of this and see all of it through the screen door just yards from where I was sitting with the car windows rolled down. The deacon didn’t buy anything. He had stopped just to confront Dad. He got in his car and left before we had pulled away.
I was startled. I certainly would not have been after my decades of service exactly like my dad’s. Back then I was startled, but my father was cool. On the way home, I quickly asked him what had happened. Before he could answer, I asked why he had not pushed back and why he was not at least angry. I knew, or at least thought I knew, what I would have done. Now I deeply wish I can remember exactly what he said. I can’t, but I can remember what he said taught me and the context in which he said it.
I was freshly home from a retreat for youth led by the foreign missionary organization of our denomination. The purpose of that retreat was the general spiritual development of active church youth but more specifically the retreat introduced high school agers to vocations in the mission fields. I was already into that. Looking back now, I fully realize I was more interested in an “Indiana Jones” romance for Jesus than the finer points of evangelism. At the end of the retreat, there was an opportunity for us to come forward, like the altar call in a Billy Graham Crusade. Coming forward for dedicatory prayer would mean we were interested in becoming missionaries someday. The deacon’s son was my roommate on this retreat. I’m sure I bent his ear a lot with my enthusiasm. We both answered the altar call. We both told our parentsabout this as we were instructed. We both thought they would be very proud. The deacon was angry. His son was deigned to follow in his footsteps to one day take over the family business. He believed the church, in such a way as this retreat, should not meddle in the minds of impressionable youth. He held my father responsible.
I knew and Dad knew that I had had a hand in my roommate’s decision “to come forward.” He didn’t say so, but he quickly assured me that this was not about the church, the retreat, him, or me. It was about the deacon, and not about his anger but about his fear. He was afraid of the forces he could not control. The Holy Spirit was among those forces. Nonetheless, I wanted to know why Dad had not pushed back at least verbally. He went on to explain that his fight was not with my friend’s father, but his fight was supporting youth ministries and missionary vocations. He called it “fighting the good fight.” I do remember that.
My father’s behavior that evening with the deacon and with me was courageous. He was a well-tempered man, neither petty nor peevish. I said he was cool, but more deeply than that he had dignity. Courage and dignity go hand-in-hand; you rarely see one without the other. I learned something about dignity that evening.
A year later, my father traded his beloved Oldsmobile for a pitifully modest Rambler. Again, I was startled. He usually brought me along at an early age to his secret hobby of test-driving new cars, whether he could buy them or not. I was not included in this decision. The answer to my why was some church leaders thought the Olds to be a wrong message. I expressed my disquietude with the matter. He simply said, “fight the good fight.” I remember this these days when the dignity of true courage seems as gone as Oldsmobiles.