Last Friday, I had the honor of participating in a Service of Death and Resurrection for long-time Hayes Barton member, Virginia Byrd. Virginia was the mother of members Kristen Byrd and Leslie Koscielniak. For over ten years, Virginia battled Alzheimer’s disease and has not been able to attend our services or events. Prior to the onset of her disease, she was an active member of our Congregational Care Ministry, participating most often in Stephen Ministry. She was also the mother of our Visiting Friends Ministry which has brought great joy for many years to members of our In-Crowd.
When a pastor participates in a memorial service, it is customary to meet with the family and learn more about the one was has died. It is a joy to listen as family members talk about their loved one and remember some of the ways that person marked their lives. I always learn things I did not know. In this case, I discovered that Virginia had a successful career as a high school teacher. She had been the type of teacher to go the extra mile for her students. She was able to see potential in her pupils, and her excellent teaching at several high schools in our state, including Sanderson and Enloe, changed the lives of many students through the years.
There was one student in particular whose story amazes me. Last year, our District Superintendent, Reverend Leonard Fairley, came to Hayes Barton to offer a program during our Well Connected Sunday School Class. During his time with us, he shared that he had grown up in poverty in Laurinburg with little family support. He spoke about how people in the community and in the church offered him and his siblings encouragement and resources through the years. After our time together, Leslie went and introduced herself as one who had grown up in the same city. Reverend Fairley inquired about her maiden name. When she shared with him that she had been Leslie Byrd, he immediately asked her if Virginia Byrd was her mother. His face lit up as he realized he was speaking with his high school teacher’s daughter. Leonard shared with Leslie that Mrs. Byrd had encouraged him to do well in his studies and work hard to develop his gifts. She had been a strong voice in his youth helping him to believe that he could accomplish things in this life that he had never dreamed possible.
Obviously, Virginia saw something in Leonard and took the time to tell him that he had what it took to rise out of the poverty of Scotland County to do great things in this world. This past summer, Reverend Fairley was consecrated as a Bishop in the United Methodist Church. As he knelt on that day, he held in his heart the truths that Virginia taught him long ago. She had seen in him what he could not see in himself and had helped him to change his perspective. Amazing.
What a legacy! To leave this earth having lifted another human being out of dismal circumstances to a place where he or she can live into the amazing person God created them to be. That, my friends, is a mark of a life well lived. In a world that so often focuses on the negative, points out what is considered wrong and bad, and dismisses those who are not of great status and power, seeing the “other” and reaching out in positive ways to that person is, simply put, what Jesus modeled. He noticed, he reached out, he taught and healed, and lives were transformed through encounters with the Christ. As those who call ourselves Christians, we are expected to do the same.
Who around us is living below their potential? Where are circumstances not conducive for growth and success? Let’s pay attention to those the world does not see. Let’s pray that God will help us to see people through God’s eyes. Who knows? We might be helping to change the life of a future Bishop!
Blessings and love, LuAnn