I attended the visitation for Dr. McGhee yesterday, driving two hours to pay respects to someone who God used to help me mature as a Christian and pastor. As in any school of higher learning, the selection of an instructor requires a review of the academic qualifications of the candidate. However, in God’s school of learning, God gives and adds qualities to those he will use to train younger Christians to accomplish his purpose. The following is a list of some of “Doc’s” qualities which were beneficial for my personal growth.
I never called him anything but Doc. He had worked hard all his life leaving the rural Wayne County to attain a position as professor at West Virginia University. Along the way he taught high school students as well as educators. At the visitation I asked one of his former students who was now retired if Doc ever graded on the curve. He gave me a strange look which spoke volumes. However, a former high school student who is older than my fifty-three years of age told a story that Doc carried his high school students on his back. Doc expected excellence in those he worked with because he expected excellence in himself. He was honored as Outstanding Teacher at WVU. His other awards spoke of his hard work and yet, he was also compassionate when compassion was required. He taught me the pursuit of excellence in ministry was not about perfection because that goal is unobtainable. Excellence meant you used all the gifts and abilities for God for he is worthy of the attempt.
Doc’s passion outside of his faith was agriculture. This was evident by the nearly 1/4 acre of ground he farmed behind his house in Kingwood. Even at ninety years of age, Doc roto-tilled, planted, tended, and harvested this garden like the first farmer, Adam tilled Eden. Bowed over by age, Doc lumbered in the garden with physical infirmities, and with his crop in hand would deliver the produce of his hands for others to enjoy. Doc called it “feeding the pigs” and one time, I saw him walking up our steps at the parsonage on bad knees so we could enjoy this bounty all summer. With both education and expertise in farming, he taught me patience. A farmer knows the day you plant is not the day you harvest. Farmers also have to place their faith in the benevolence of God for rain and sun. Patience does not mean laying back and waiting for God to act or the attitude of “what will be will be.” Patience means continuing the work God has called you to do until he is ready to move you. This served me well years later in a difficult ministry in which leaving would have been easier, but patience brought about a resolution of a generational problem in that church.
Doc and Mildred, his wife of 67 years had a sense of humor which served them well in life. Their own life was filled with trials they undertook with Mountaineer pride. They lost their only son years before and took to raising their grandchildren for a time. I cannot imagine the pain of a parent concerning their child but their humor was often stated in such a way you found yourself in the story until the punch line and Doc’s laughter mean he had pulled you into the joke. One time Mildred came to me and said, “Pastor, do you want to know how we managed to stay married as long as we did, I will tell you.” Expecting to get a lesson I could use to share with couples seeking to get married, I encouraged her to continue. She said, “Years ago we made a decision to go out twice a week.” Nodding my head and listening intently, she continued. “Yes, I go out on Tuesdays and Mac goes out on Thursdays.” In Proverbs 17:22 the Bible says “a cheerful heart is good medicine…”. When Doc was taking Mildred to Wayne County for the first time, they traveled down the road and off in the back woods. As the road became more narrow, Mildred asked him if he was taking her to the ends of the earth. Doc said, “No, but you will be able to see it from there.” Humor helps in difficult times of ministry because the end of the same verse says, “but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” In ministry, laughter has helped me cope with tough times.
I spoke of compassion as one of Doc’s traits. The end of my ministry at Kingwood followed the pattern of many brother pastors who left with pain and hurts. At an associational meeting at another church we received a call stating Vicki’s uncle had passed away and we needed to leave. As we got into our car Doc walked up and motioned for us to roll down the window. Doc, bent over by years of pain, both physical and emotional, hobbled over to door and leaning in patted Vicki’s arm. She had also been hurt at the church but his touch, and saying, “We miss you” came from his heart. Doc did not mince words when he spoke. There was no religious double-speak. If Doc didn’t like something, he would say it. He was never crude nor crass and was still able to get his point across. You could trust his words. I learned the best way to speak was calmly and directly without allowing anger to mix with my words. When years later a member of the church came into my office and began using offensive language toward me, I calmly remained in my office chair and pointing a finger at him said, “You will not talk to me in that tone of voice.” This man immedicately changed his attitude. In years gone by other pastors would be provoked into joining this man and all that happened was they came down to his level.
There is now a vacant seat in the sanctuary of Kingwood Baptist Church. The home stands empty except for the memories. The field is now filled in with grass and weeds unattended for the last two years. However, a saint has moved on. Doc, there are no boards or committees to sit on in heaven. There are no fields to attend. There are no more students to teach or teachers to train. You now get to rest and fortunately for you, God has given you an eternity to learn how. God bless you, Doc.