I heard the sad news this afternoon that on September 30, my friend Joe Smith had passed a way. After struggling for several months with lung cancer, loosing his voice and later his strength, he ended his fight last week. He left this earth too soon!
When Joe and I first met, I was one of the pastoral associates at First Baptist Church of Gaithersburg, Maryland. He entered the picture as Interim Pastor hired by the church leadership to come and “supervise” the “young pastoral staff” because we weren’t seen as capable of leading the church in the transition. If you know me well at all, you know that such an intention of the church leadership was not agreeable to me– I felt hurt and overlooked for the gifts I could bring to the church at this crucial time. So, especially in our first couple of interactions there was tension. Joe wondered why I wanted to preach so much as the previous Senior Pastor had allowed and seemed unsure of what to do with me . . and I wasn’t sure what would happen. At best, I hoped that we could work together in ways that were helpful to the church. (Pictured to the right was the staff)
But as is the case in most relationships, when you move from knowing “of” someone to actually knowing them, things quickly change. As time went on and Joe heard me preach and I watched him lead, we soon gained respect for one another at a deep level, even with our theological differences. I knew he wanted me to succeed. He knew I would soon be a senior pastor, the question would just be where? I knew the church was blessed by his ministry. On countless occasions we would have long chats about how to best respond to moments of crisis within the congregation. Joe would carefully listen to my perspective and always made me feel like a valuable part of the team. I learned so much from him about how to lead when you aren’t in charge, the importance of sermon series in shaping the life of the church and how to really love being a pastor.
When we had lunch one afternoon in Bethesda, three years ago now, I told Joe the news I dreaded to share. I would soon be leaving FBCG to become the pastor of Washington Plaza. He quickly put me at ease and cheered me on for this new adventure.
On my first Sunday at Washington Plaza in January of 2009, I found flowers on the altar that I knew he’d arranged to be present there in support of the day. And, when Washington Plaza installed me as their 4th pastor, Joe came again– this time to give the “charge” to me to look to the future in ministry. He’s pictured to the left alongside the two other speakers for the special occasion.
Over the past several years, we’ve kept in touch though we no longer worked together. I was given several wonderful volumes from his library that he was cleaning out and wanted to give to some “young pastors.” (This time I didn’t mind being called “young”). I found out that Joe was reading my blog and was eager to comment if something I wrote connected with him in any way. Joe was also quick to send me an email about news of shared friends. For he never wanted me to be out of the loop.
Joe was kind and thoughtful in ways that were attentive to detail but were never showy or over the top. He left a legacy of faithfulness in so many communities of well-edited documents, quick humor and preaching on his toes.
I will miss Joe and know some angels in heaven must be rejoicing about now as he is at peace. I am sorry, Joe, that I never got to say good-bye! I am forever grateful for your contributions to my life. With my deepest regards– your last associate pastor trainee.