The Pastor’s Privilege: A Tribute to Jerry Barnes

Jerry Barnes died earlier this week while driving a school bus that collided with an 18 wheeler. That’s about all I know about how he died. What I have been thinking about this week is how he lived. At his memorial service, we heard stories of how Jerry loved fishing, never met a stranger, always had a winning smile, a man who didn’t let the circumstances of life define his attitude toward it, a person who, when judged by the quality of his friends, was indeed very rich. All true, but what keeps coming back to me this week is how he invited me into the sacred moments of his life.

Jerry was a good salesman, and being that, he had an innate ability to make people feel good about who they were. It wasn’t hollow or undeserved praise, it didn’t have really anything to do with what you were doing, you just felt better about yourself when he was around, and as I think back on it, that’s what I enjoyed most about being invited in those sacred moments.

The story always starts with when you first met them, and for me, it was visiting Jerry and Janet in their home in Morgan’s Point after church one Sunday afternoon after they had visited that morning. I’m sure one of my kids in tow. I brought them a mug, and stayed too long, we fed the deer, but what strikes me about that day is the people I met at their house and how in the years to come, we would see each other these sacred moments.

Like when Janet’s body died, holding her hand, along with Gayla, and the kids in that hospital room after her mind had been taken from a stroke earlier. It was just a shell, but we stood there, thanking God for her life, for the mother she had been, and love she had given the world and wondering about the huge hole she would leave in Jerry’s life, one that the church and good friends would try to fill. A sacred moment, a privilege to be there, and one that made saying good-bye at the memorial so much more authentic. I think back to that service and something I heard about the foods that Janet loved to cook, but her favorite thing to make was, reservations.

Or their daughter Heather, when she married Chris in that amazing castle in Burnet, as Suzanne and I were invited to witness it and feel much like one of the family. Or like when Jerry fell in love with the future Mrs. Janet Barnes, the second. How watching those two fall in love reminded us what it was like to be in love. And they were. Each had lost their soul mates a year or so earlier, and found in each other, rest from those empty places in their hearts. For a while they were together and made each other whole, but once healed from that brokenness, I guess, that which had brought them together was not enough to keep them together, and so that marriage ended. Still it is a favorite memory of mine of watching them hold hands in the parking lot after church and almost skip across it.

At the memorial service, I wondered was it me, or just the office of pastor that Jerry had invited into his life. We were not that close but I had been a part of so many sacred moments, and this being one more, I wanted to be a part of it—for my sake—and I know, when I want something for reasons like that, its never good. So I wondered when seeing his kids after the service, would they remember? Kim saw me first, and she rushed over and gave me this deep hug, saying “Steve…” Then Cal, with that great smile of his father’s, saying, “hey, I remember you!” Or Heather introducing me to her two children, both beautiful and handsome. I knew that even if it was just the office of pastor, I was the one who sat in it, and to be invited into a family such as this, and to share in some small part of the lives of the children of Janet and Jerry Barnes was indeed a privilege, and one I am deeply grateful for. I got all that from one good hug.

As much as I want this to be about me, about the pastor’s privilege, it is really just a tribute to the way of Jerry Barnes and how he touched my life and maybe yours. I would like to close with a poem by David Swing, that I’m told that was one of Janet’s favorites, and we read it at her memorial.

Let us learn to be content with what we have.

Let us get rid of our false estimates, set up all the higher ideals—

A quiet home

Vines of our own planning

A few books full of the inspiration of genius,

A few friends worthy of being loved and able to love in return.

A hundred innocent pleasures that bring no pain or remorse

A devotion to the right that will never swerve,

A simple religion empty of all bigotry, full of trust and hope and love—and to such a philosophy this world will give up all the joy it has.

God Speed Jerry, and thank you.

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2 thoughts on “The Pastor’s Privilege: A Tribute to Jerry Barnes

  1. I knew Jerry at Foundation and was always struck by his kindness and simple ability to welcome others into the body of Christ at FUMC. He was a warm and gentle man. The words Steve adds are so true: he is missed.

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