A few weeks ago I read a story online by someone who was terribly discouraged about how we human beings sometimes treat people with disabilities. At the end of the story they admitted that not every experience is a bad one, and that certainly, some of us out there on the Internet must have some positive stories. She then asked if we might do her a favor and send her some of our stories so that she might renew her faith in humanity. I had an amazing experience this past summer and so I sent it in and she later thanked me. I think it’s such a good story that I wanted to share it with you, partly to remind you that there are good people out there, but also as one small way that I might thank those responsible and encourage others to do the same. Here’s my story…
Ten years ago, I was in the middle of two years of unemployment from a career in electrical engineering when I heard a call to ministry. My father was a pastor, and I swore for forty years that I would never, ever do that. Obviously, God had other plans.
Fast forward ten years including five years of juggling full-time seminary studies, pastoring two-rural churches, some serious family health issues, and raising a family with three kids as well as eventually moving three times. All along, I hoped that my father would be alive, and well enough, to attend, even participate in, my ordination service. That happened this past June. As the time for my ordination approached, it was often doubtful that my father would be able get out of the house, let alone be able to travel or participate. Finally, both he and my mom committed to try, but that brought up a bunch of other issues.
In the East Ohio Conference of our church, during the service of ordination, the people who are participating process through this cavernous concert hall, climb the stairs onto the stage and have to be seated for a fairly long time. My father could do few of those things. He is 87. He walks with some difficulty and only for short distances. Sitting is not always comfortable and stairs are pretty much impossible. When we asked the organizers if accommodations could be made, no one ever batted an eye. Every single person in the process said that they would do whatever had to be done so that my father could be there for me during that special moment. But even on the day of the service, I wasn’t sure Dad would make it… until he arrived just a few hours before we started.
Before the service, Dad was warmly greeting at the back door of the concert hall, only a few steps away from the stage and the *one* step at the stage door had a ramp installed - just for him. I was told that Bishop Hopkins, who was presiding over the ordination, had been informed of Dad’s age and disability and had no problems making everyone wait for as long as it took Dad to walk across the stage. Since Dad doesn’t hear well, the stage manager stood near him so that she could tell him when it was his turn. A good friend, Jan Sprague, sat with Dad instead of in the audience, missing the service, so that my mother could sit with our family and see everything live instead of on a television monitor. When Dad’s turn (and mine) on stage came, my District Superintendent, Rev. Benita Rollins, went backstage, took Dad’s arm and gently guided him onstage, walking with him all the way on and off (even picking up the stole that Dad had dropped on the way), and held him steady as the bishop prayed over me.
At home, family, friends, and church members who were unable to be there in person, were able to watch the whole thing as the service of ordination was live streamed over the Internet. Many reported that seeing my Dad appear and make his way slowly across the stage brought them to tears. Just thinking about it now does the same for me.
None of it could have happened without the amazing, generous, thoughtful, and giving spirit of everyone involved.
Many thanks to Bishop Hopkins, Bishop Robert Fannin, Rev. Rollins, Jan Sprague, Paul White, Ruthie Wheeler, Jan Yandell, and so many others who were there, who helped, and who, together, made it possible for my family to experience a moment we thought might be impossible.
(If you’re terribly curious, if you go here, picture #41 in the slideshow is me, with my Dad behind me.)