I love old cars. I try not to make idols out of them. Sometimes I’m successful. Among car lovers, there’s a certain mythology around barn finds. The tale goes like this: A young man took all of his earnings from the military and bought an (insert old car of your dreams here) before going off to war, storing it in his parents’ barn. Tragically, he didn’t return home. The car sat there for years, first out of grief, then inertia. Decades later you hear an old lady wants to sell the Chevy out of her barn because she moving to the nursing home. You go to check it out and find the car of your dreams. Soon you’re cruising down the road in a classic that you bought for pennies on the dollar.
Ignore the part of the story where you took advantage of someone who didn’t know what her property was worth. Let’s just assume she didn’t need the money. You also need to pretend something can be neglected for years with degrading.
There’s a Methodist Church version of the barn find. It goes like this: The church receives notice someone died and left a pile of money to the church. No one at the church even knows the person, so you’re not even sad that he died. All financial concerns melt away.
It can seem like a gift from God. Perhaps it is. Like barn finds, the phone call to the church with an unexpected inheritance stories are real. They don’t happen every day, but I know of multiple ones just within the Missouri Conference, some involving very large sums of money. It’s certainly a gift to be celebrated, but every time I hear one it makes me a little sad.
It must be hard to face the day when your body is failing, and you know things aren’t going to get better. Someone in that position needs a relationship with a church. In these cases, it’s someone who probably had a relationship with a church. Maybe it got to be too hard to get around. Maybe they got mad at someone. For whatever reason they quit attending. And then what amounts to the worst fear of many people happens: Like the car in the barn, something once cherished is forgotten.
I’m not calling out pastors. In the cases I’m familiar with, many pastors had come and gone since the person had been part of the church. I’m not calling out care teams or visitation committees. It rests on everyone.
My mother has been a widow for a little more than a year. She lives on a farm, and her physical mobility issues prevent her from driving a car. People in her community ask me about her all the time. They say they should stop by and see her. But outside of her immediate family, she can count the number of visitors she has had in the past year on one hand.
No one is guiltier of this than me. My best friend died tragically a few years ago. I spent a lot of time at his house when I was a teenager. His mother, now a shut-in, calls me a couple times a year. She moved to a place near I-70, between Columbia and St. Louis. She has asked me to visit. I say I will. I make occasional trips to St. Louis for work. But I’m in a hurry to get there and in a hurry to get back. I haven’t stopped there one time.
The people who tell me they are going to drop by to see my mom aren’t lying – they intend to do so. If they have a to-do list, visiting her is on it. But the top five priorities on that list get replaced by another top five priorities, and the lower priorities never happen. As I sat down to write this column, I had another one of the St. Louis work trips coming up. And I was going to be in a hurry to get home. But before I started writing, I called my friend’s mother and told her I would be there tomorrow. I’m a selfish hypocrite, but I won’t miss an appointment.
The subtext to most of the stories in this issue, and most of the stories I’ve written since I started working for the United Methodist Church, is about people caring for one another. It inspires me. Take a moment and let someone know they aren’t forgotten.