Remembering a Saint

On All Saints Day yesterday, I was particularly thinking of my father-in-law, Dennis Ellett. He died at the terribly young age of 61 on April 28, 2007. His heart just stopped.

He never finished building the partially-constructed airplane in his garage. He never carried out his plans to smuggle Bibles into China. He never met his youngest grandchild.

He never saw the daylilies bloom at my congregation’s new church building. I was actually in South Dakota for his funeral the weekend the congregation came to consensus about buying the building. And the daylilies were purchased as a memorial to Dennis. Their startling beauty each summer reminds me of the encouragement my father-in-law gave me while he was alive.

Even though we didn’t talk theology a lot, I know Dennis and I disagreed on many points of biblical interpretation. When I became a pastor, I wasn’t even quite sure what he thought about women pastors. But I learned.

There was something about the way he asked about my ministry every time we talked. Something about the way he listened when I answered him. Something about the way he said he was praying for me.

Something that conveyed that he had the utmost respect for me and the position to which I was called. Something that conveyed that I had accepted an enormous spiritual responsibility and I had better not screw it up.

Nobody—before or since Dennis—has talked to me about my ministry in this way. It was his greatest gift to me ( . . . well, besides my husband, of course).

I talk with people who are somewhat in awe of my position; they seem to think I am somehow spiritually special and live life on a different plane. I talk to other pastors about the business of church and the annoying and mundane aspects of leading the people of God. I talk with plenty of people who don’t seem to care that I’m a pastor at all—or maybe there is simply a mild curiosity because I am young and female.

But when Dennis talked to me about my ministry, I wasn’t young or female. I wasn’t talking about a mere job. I felt deeply respected and incredibly humbled all at once.

Every time he asked about my ministry, I felt the incredible weight of pastoral responsibility rest upon my heart. Every time he said he was praying for me, I felt the deep grace of Christ rush over me. His earnest support at the beginning of my ministry was an essential part of the foundation for my pastoral identity.

I miss him. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. Always when the daylilies bloom. I miss him and I thank him for teaching me about the gravitas and grace of being a pastor.

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