The bulging folders in my attic had lain undisturbed for over a quarter century. I knew what they held, but I’d never looked at them. I hadn’t been ready to take them on.
Finally, I decided it was time. I opened the first folder and scanned the first page. At the top were the words A Call to Commitment. They transported me right back to the church of my childhood: I’m ten years old, sitting on the third bench from the front on the right side with my mother and younger brother who is wriggling restlessly. The church is sparsely filled as usual. I’m looking up at my father who is in the pulpit opening his Bible, beginning to preach in his gentle, thoughtful voice.
These folders in my attic held hundreds of pages of sermon notes, more than fifty years of sermon notes. These papers, covered with a small, fine handwriting and yellowed with age, were the notes from my father’s lifetime of ministry.
Ammon Bucher Meyer died in 1991, but his voice lives on in these pages. I began to flick through the folders. There were sermons from World War II (While Men Die), sermons addressing injustice (Race Problems), sermons on following Jesus (The Mind of Christ). I was awed by the depth of his thinking, the gentle teaching of his stories, and the strength of his faith.
Yes, this man was my father, but I hadn’t known this aspect of him. I was the child listening from the third pew on the right – and then I grew up and moved away. As I held his sermons in my hands, almost able to hear his voice again, I rediscovered him.
Then I remembered that, despite his half century of ministry, Ammon never actually chose ministry as his profession! And his congregation never paid him to be their minister.
A century ago in his denomination, the congregation chose men from their midst to serve them as ministers. This call was from God, and one didn’t turn it down. They were expected to serve as a minister while earning their living in other ways. Ministry was learned “on the job.”
Ammon earned his living as a farmer, a teacher, and a school administrator. At the same time, he ministered faithfully, freely giving his time and energy. He married and buried, he counseled and taught. He attended endless meetings and spent many hours in sermon preparation and prayer. He had extra tenderness for those who suffered and extra patience for young people with their questions.
His hardest task was bringing people together when they were bitterly divided. At various times, this congregation was divided over theology, worship practices, and even which of several meetinghouses to use. Sometimes Ammon was deeply discouraged and questioned whether he was called to serve. I recall one particularly painful time when his peace-making efforts failed, and a small group of members angrily left the congregation. He almost gave up then, but he was faithful to his calling.
Despite conflicts and long hours of unpaid work, Ammon continued, year after year, to serve faithfully. In the end, I believe he was blessed through his long service. He’d helped the congregation grow into a more unified community, and his faith had deepened and sustained his ministry. (His final project was preparing the congregation for a paid pastor.)
No, Ammon didn’t choose ministry. He was called, and he grew into it. I can picture him at the beginning of his journey, 23 years old and nervously stepping forward to preach his first sermon before people who had known him since he was a baby. His subject was Jesus Our Friend, and I hope he felt the loving support of the Friend that morning! He didn’t know the challenges of the ministry that lay before him, or how he would choose to remain faithful to his call.
We can all choose to live faithfully, each of us in our unique way. Of course being faithful is a challenge. There are times of questioning and doubt, perhaps a new shaping of the call. But, as we are committed and willing to serve, we can grow to know that this work, this service is ours to live out. As Mother Teresa said, “We are not called to be successful, but to be faithful.” And may Jesus, the Divine Friend, strengthen and guide us all.
Ammon’s ministry papers have been donated to the Elizabethtown College (PA) Archives.
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