Thus it was that we learned that the church sexton, who was on vacation that week, had for years been unobtrusively performing a loving service.
Many years ago, the church custodian--who preferred to be called the sexton--was a somewhat elderly man named Harry. We really didn't know what he did, except look disapproving at almost everyone who entered the church. He seemed to project a sense of ownership of the entire church building, and looked as though he alone decided who entered the church and who did not.
Since Harry was so senior, he needed helped with some of the more physical tasks--and that's how Jim came to be hired. He first began on a part time basis. Thus began a long term love affair between an unassuming man and the marvelous church structure that is our church home.
Jim used to tease and joke with my husband--he would say: be careful what you wish for because you might get it. The part time job, you see, had become a full time job when Harry finally retired. Jim became the church sexton.
The decades rolled by. Jim saw pastors come and go. If there were any mystery in the church--what's behind that door? where do we store the supplies to fill the bathroom towel dispenser? how do your turn on the air conditioning in the sanctuary?--Jim knew the answer. He probably had crawled over every square inch of the structure of the church. The church structure was built in the mid-1800s and has undergone significant renovations and additions several times. So there are lots of nooks and crannies--Jim knew them all.
While we didn't panic when Jim went on vacation, there were always little things that got overlooked. His presence was so subtle that people didn't really know all he did--like placing a glass of water on the pulpit for the pastor.
Last Friday, while he was on vacation with his family in Virginia Beach, Jim--now in his mid 70s--suffered a heart attack and died.
What a huge hole this leaves in the church's life. Of all the things he did, the one church activity that gave him the greatest joy was participating in the Easter Sunday service. He would wear a white robe, and lovingly carry the cross in as part of the processional.
It is easy to imagine him now--robed in white--laying down that cross.