Saturday, August 4, 2012

Farewell Friend and Father, John W. Batchelor

RIP John Batchelor

John at Spring Missions Conference 
John W. Batchelor, age 97, died peacefully on August 1 and is with the Lord. John was a longtime ruling elder at First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Penn Hills, Pennsylvania. I began getting to know him when he rode with me to the meeting of Ascension Presbytery at which I was examined for membership. I recall one of my first questions to him was perhaps an impolite one: “How old are you, John?” He was 77.

John was a graduate of Purdue University with a degree in engineering. He worked for Westinghouse during its glory years, including the World War II era.  His last position was Manager of Turbine Engineering. He was, as ruling elder Walter Turner described him, and John would have been embarrassed to hear, “a world class engineer.”

When I met John he was an inactive ruling elder (though later he resumed active status). His beloved wife, Agnes, was in a nursing home suffering from dementia. John soon moved with Agnes to new retirement community, where, with Agnes in the nursing facility, John took an apartment. I have never experienced a husband more faithful and devoted to a wife who required institutional care. He never resigned Agnes’ care to the staff. He knew every detail and was there three times a day every day, for Agnes’ meals.

John was from Indiana, but Agnes was from New Orleans. He reminded me from time to time that Agnes cooked and he liked red beans and rice. I was in Japan when Agnes died. The Associate Pastor, the Rev. Bill Massey, handled the interment, and then, he and I took the memorial service after I returned. John wrote, and I read, a short, matter-of-fact statement about Agnes’ gifts and service as a Christian woman.

After Agnes’ death John experienced a time of predictable depression. Not only had he lost his life’s companion; he had lost his daily routine. And he was now faced with his own mortality. Having faced depression and wrested with the mystery of death, I understood some of what John was passing through and felt for once I was able, not just to draw on his strength, but to minister to him. Before long John rebounded. The old resilience returned along with his disciplined and faithful service.

John was a gentleman. There was a distance and formality to his manner. I recall his often concluding requests with, “If you please.” John’s ways of speaking with and relating to others rose out of respect, never coldness or disinterest. As a gentleman, he bore with others, even when you sensed he might have said in a royal way, “We are not amused.” For a birthday we entertained the elders and their wives for dinner prior to a Session meeting. When the time for the surprise arrived my wife put a Burger King crown on his head, and John indulged us all by smiling and laughing along.

One of the better ideas I got (probably stole) when I was Pastor at First Reformed was to ask the Session to create the job of Congregational Visitor. John was the man for the job, and, once persuaded, he took it on with characteristic diligence. As he developed this ministry, he made frequent phone calls and visits to the sick, shut-in, and elderly. He also made a number of calls with me to the ill, dying, and bereaved, including when needed on holidays and in the evenings. Though I did not ask, and though he had been a manager of men and projects, he dutifully gave me reports on his ministry for which he never accepted even expense reimbursements. When he resumed active service on the Session, John carried on this ministry in addition to his regular pastoral duties as an elder.

When, after I got settled, it was time to call an Assistant/Associate, John helped to define the position we wanted to fill and to write the job description. It was his idea that we wanted to focus on getting a man who would aid in what John called “congregational advancement.” When we found the right man, John gave himself to supporting the man and encouraging the congregation to call him. To that end he hosted a luncheon in the dining room of his retirement community for a number of church members. John filled a similar role when the Session and congregation decided to raise funds for building additions and renovations. The thing that most impressed me about John’s support of this project was that, though he was in his 80’s, John was looking to the future of the congregation and its responsibility to nurture its covenant children and to seek to include more within its fold.

John’s most important contribution to me and, perhaps, though only those on the Session recognized it, to the welfare of the congregation was his ministry to me. John and I often had lunch together, something I miss to this day. When I faced problems and discouragements, I went to John. He was patient with and supporting of his pastor and always an excellent listener and wise counselor.  His role was that of both a faithful friend and sagacious father.

What is even more remarkable to me now is that John put up with me. He was the steady, organized, orderly engineer. Only later, when I dealt with a Session of engineers, did I fully understand the “engineer” personality and how remarkable John’s forbearance was. My bachelor’s degree is in philosophy, my temperament changeable, and my mistakes many. I am sure John cringed when he saw the condition of my desk, heard my unwise words in meetings, and dealt with my “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” manner. I suppose one of the few personality traits we shared was stubbornness, though his was more mildly expressed. John not only endured me. He convinced me he actually liked me. What good I did during that nine year pastorate was to a significant degree because of John’s role as instrument of God’s grace to me.

I have said little about John’s faith.  Like all things personal, it was not something John talked about a lot. But his faith was real, strong, and true. He believed in God, in Christ, in salvation by grace through faith, and in the Bible, and he did not waver. When he spoke, others listened, just because he was a man who spoke little.

I remember walking away from a burial site with John one day and saying, “John by the time I am as old as you are now, I will have been dead a long time.”  We both chuckled. Whatever  doubt there might have been then about my prediction, today I need not fear being put to death because my prophecy might prove false.

Farewell, Godspeed, and rest in peace, my friend. I’ll see you in the resurrection.

“O LORD, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.” Book of Common Prayer.

No comments: