My friend and fellow church member, Bill Harden, went home to be with the Lord in 2010. His beloved wife, Louise, joined him last week. They were quite a pair. Bill inspired his family and friends with his cheerful humor, durable smile, and artistic craftsmanship. Louise loved flowers, good food, and quality time with family and friends. Her life was a bouquet of encouragement, love, and compassion. At the memorial service for Louise, the family chose to decorate the chapel and atrium of our church with spring flowers and birdhouses.
Although Bill invested much of his career in the travel planning business, as a retirement hobby Bill carefully constructed birdhouses in a variety of shapes and sizes. In addition to the dozens of birdhouses Bill gave to others as gifts, an assorted collection of birdhouses adorned the mantle and the hearth in the Harden home.
Around 2008, Dr. Jim Pleitz and I were each honored to receive a unique birdhouse as a gift from Bill. Built especially for the pastor and pastor emeritus, these church-shaped birdhouses were built from the wood removed from the floor of our former education building, affectionately known as the old library building, which was severely damaged during Hurricane Ivan and eventually demolished a year later.
I have strategically placed my birdhouse in front of the chair where I have my quiet time early in the morning. During my prayer time over the past several years, this birdhouse has become a wooden parable of how I understand church in the 21st century….not the bricks and mortar of our campus…but our ministry…our mission…our spiritual community.
While most of the wood on this birdhouse came from the old church, Bill also incorporated new lumber into the birdhouse, creating sort of a two-toned effect, a phenomenon that reminds us that our church is a composite of the old and the new, a merger of our heritage and our dreams.
For the perch, Bill installed an oversized doorknob front and center, which reminds us that a healthy church needs a big door, one that swings both ways, welcoming us to worship and sending out to serve. And that big door needs to be open wide, perhaps wider than ever, as we welcome old friends and new neighbors with Christian hospitality, else we will become cliquish and stagnant.
Above the door is a cross. Intentionally placed over the entrance in a location similar to the street number or family name on your home, this cross explicitly identifies the occupants as followers of Jesus above all else.
And finally, Bill went online and ordered a miniature spire which now sits atop the steeple pointing upwards, beckoning us to look heavenward to God for our hope and our strength.
Following the memorial service for Louise, a couple of young family members stood at the chapel door giving to each person in attendance a package of seeds, which they were encouraged to plant in memory of Louise. In ways too numerous to mention, Louise was all about planting seeds for the future and preparing for the next generation. And the seeds she planted will bear fruit for generations to come.
Our friends, Bill and Louise, are now together in their eternal home, but they left behind an ongoing testimony, personified in wooden birdhouses and a few seeds. Perhaps their story gives us a bird’s eye view of the future, a future wherein a church that merges the best of the old and new, and plants good seeds for the future, flourishes and bursts into full bloom.
(Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)