God Can Mend a Broken Heart In Ways We Don’t Expect
by David Layman
If you haven’t read Part I of David’s story, click here.
Before Christmas I wrote of the Christmas visit with my grandfather when I was nearing the end of my schooling for the ministry, going through an unwanted divorce, and wondering if there was a church somewhere that would accept a divorced pastor. My conclusion was that God was still calling me to the ministry, and that if I could find such a congregation, I would give it all I had. As I went through the process of seeking a call, I made clear my personal circumstances from the start, not wanting to have to disappoint someone after they had begun to show interest. As it turned out, by the time I’d finished my studies at Yale, there were two churches who wanted me to candidate. Two interviews had been set up, one just outside of Milwaukee, where I had gone to high school and college, (my father had served as a pastor in Milwaukee) and the other a small declining church in Richmond, Indiana. I was born in Richmond and my parents always loved that town, but we moved to Tulsa when I was 3. In the search for a church, it never hurts to have someone know or know of your parents.
As it turned out, both congregations asked me to candidate. The suburban Milwaukee church was the one I interviewed first. It was in a growing area where the population was sure to swell. There were more younger people my age, with those I’d gone to high school and college within the region. If I ever hoped to re-marry, that church seemed to be the logical choice. When I visited the Richmond Church, I found that it was once a “neighborhood church” and many of its members no longer lived close to the church. They may have formerly lived in the neighborhood, but as the neighborhood declined, they moved out to nicer homes elsewhere. Their last pastor had served there 27 years, including past the retirement age, then became sick and died. The church had lost a number of members, the building was showing a lot of wear, and the congregation was aging. Neighborhood kids were throwing rocks through windows, and members liked to reminisce about “the good old days” after World War II when the Sunday school was robust and Easter attendance required setting up more chairs. I had a hard time sleeping that night. I’d already visited the suburban Milwaukee church. The smart move seemed to be to accept the Wisconsin church offer. After all. I’d already made one questionable decision–marrying someone who could back out of the marriage in less than 3 weeks. What if I chose the Richmond church, and then the church closed its doors in a few years? What church might give me another chance after that? And if I ever hoped to remarry, surely the Wisconsin church with more younger members and a surrounding urban area was the wiser choice!
Yet I really liked the people on the Richmond committee I’d met. They seemed so warm, and sincere–and I felt like they really needed me. There were no lightning bolts from heaven, but I felt like God was saying to me “Look, I know it really doesn’t seem to make much sense. But trust me on this. I want you in Richmond.” So I accepted the Richmond 2nd Presbyterian Church invitation to candidate. It was a decision I never regretted. I loved and served the people of the church, and they loved me right back. Membership reversed its downward spiral, mission outreach and fellowship increased. We started a coed softball team in the church league, and I wound up marrying the second baseman (ask Pam sometime about the unassisted double play she made), as well as a Sunday School teacher and choir member, but it was a small church, and one person might wear several hats! Pam is at the center of God’s blessings to me!
There were 4 Presbyterian churches in town then, each with a full time pastor. The 4 congregations had begun a council with combined efforts for outreach and service, and I got to know many folks in town, including working with members of Reid Presbyterian, who had loved my parents and were so good to me as well, and members at First Presbyterian, whom I would come back to Richmond from Greenville, Ohio to serve 13 years later. In the Christmas season, I love to watch the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” –because I’ve lived it! God can mend a broken heart when we listen to His still, small voice, and, at times, leave our rational thought process at the door!