Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I found out today that Ron died last Friday. When I was pastor at the Vidalia Church, Ron Southerland was the priest at the local Episcopal Church. During this ten year pastorate, a small group of us met weekly at the Episcopal Church to talk about preaching, but mostly to share our lives together. The group changed from year to year as some left and others came, but Ron was always there. For almost 20 years he served the people of this community of faith. He left an imprint on them and upon those of us who weekly drank his coffee, laughed at his humor, and left thinking about what he had shared with us.
Though we were equals around the table, we all knew Ron was our mentor. He was our leader. He was an earthy kind of guy who had fought some battles. He won some and lost some and was always willing to talk to us honestly about both. Ron shared more than theology and preaching and jokes. He shared with us how to be real. He modeled it for us. My favorite "Ron quote" is, "Just remember there is a God, and she ain't you." He had a unique way of jarring us, making us think, and keeping us from taking ourselves too seriously.
Since my departure from Vidalia, I have missed Ron. And while I am grateful he has come fully into the presence of the Christ he lifted up, I shall still miss him. There is no other option. He allowed me to become a part of his life and he has been and shall always be a part of mine.
June 8 is a good bit in the past now, but still remembered. On that day I did something folks only do once in a lifetime. I gave a retirement speech to the Annual Conference.
"Bishop King, members of the Annual Conference, I stand before you today with a grateful heart. I am grateful for my wife Lynn who has been my spiritual partner for over 40 years. I am grateful for two adult daughters, Jennifer and Leslie, who grew up in parsonages and are both young women of deep faith. I am grateful for my grandsons, Will and Josh, and Fletcher who will be born in about a month. I am grateful for my Mother, a strong woman of faith, whose marriage to Ray Wilder, Jr. when I was twelve, enabled me to become a third generation clergy member of this Annual Conference. And, I am grateful for the good people of the churches I have served during these 39 years: the people of Stapleton, Bethel, and Zoar, churches on the Stapleton Charge, the people of the Tennille Church, the Talbotton Church, the St. John Church in Columbus, the people of First Church, Vidalia, the Perry Church, and the Richmond Hill Church. I am grateful for the set apart members of this community who have provided me a spiritual home, a place where I have always sensed belonging. Most of all I am grateful to God for calling me, a young boy not yet 18 years old, to preach the gospel and for giving me a place to preach for what has been a lifetime of Sundays. He surely must have been scrapping the bottom of the barrel on the day He called me to preach His Word. Father God, thank You. Father God, thank You.