Being a new church planter who is just in the beginning phases of church community development, I have yet to have the feeling of a “first Sunday,” baptize a baby, or even hold the communion elements in my hands. I confess that a few weeks ago, while we were on vacation in the Outer Banks with my sons and their girlfriends, I secretly hoped one of them might have said something crazy like, “Hey, let’s get married while we are here!” Wah-lah! It just so happens that I could have performed the service! But, my first official act as a new pastor will be a funeral for my friend Julius.
I met Julius in the large backyard of what was a make-shift support group meeting that had adapted their meeting-space due to covid-19 restrictions. The spacious yard accommodated the need to distance one from another, came equipped with a smoking fire pit that inherently stung your eyes and an outdoor outlet to set up the coffee maker. It was a good space for recovery people to gather every day to weather life’s challenges and maintain our sobriety. In the rain, we huddled under pop-up canopies as the water ran down our backs as we read from the literature. Dewey feet, heat and humidity were constant companions in this small group of folks who were committed to their recovery – showing up no matter what, seven days a week in rain or under sunshine.
The meeting was a small blessing in uneasy times. It was connection, life and hope to begin the day. The gathered group lifted one another as we navigated unknowns, fears and consequences (job loss) in those early pandemic days. Julius was the calm and present wisdom teacher – when he spoke, we all leaned in to listen. He was faithful in his attendance and more so, faithful in sharing his experience, strength and hope. Approachable, gentle, welcoming… he was the shining example of what we all hoped to become – a servant to God and to others who unselfishly offered his entire self to those in need. In the uncertainty, Julius was certain.
When Julius learned that I was starting a church for recovery folks, he was all in from go. Committed and contributing, he joined me in workshops, trainings and white-board exercises as we planned and dreamed the new congregation. Based on his expertise, I started Google Docs to capture the outreach efforts that were expressions of his passions and desires. He had begun making connections in the community and we planned for coffee dates with new friends after he had his surgery. Unfortunately, I will be having those coffee dates without him.
Sadly, Julius recently died from complications following a routine surgery. When the text came in, “I have VERY bad news,” I knew the news – my heart sank. We are shocked, heartbroken and in mourning. I was asked to assist with his funeral. Certainly honored, I am wrestling with the curious bittersweetness of my new pastoral role and the duties one is called to as my own emotions intertwine with a grieving community. Over the past days, I have been interviewing those who knew Julius well. The stories are the same. I have been told many times, “What you saw, Meg is what he was.” Julius was…
Hope Recovery Church has adopted Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine,” as our guiding mantra. At our last leadership meeting the church, we talked about what “genuine” meant to us. Julius was there, fully committed – having driven straight back from a funeral saying, “I’m not missing this – it’s important.” Together the team filled the white-board with words that expressed our heart’s desire to love others as God loves us in a real, raw and honest ways. To be genuine, to show genuine to help others experience genuine love. It was exciting, creative, electric – we were finally bonding, understanding and visioning together! What I did not know is that “genuine” was sitting in the room with us… and it would be our last time together with this incredible friend, teacher and saint. RIP friend Julius. May your spirit be our guiding force, holding hope over us for all who continue God’s work to be there for the addict who is still suffering.
Julius = GENUINE love.