On Feb. 17, a local sign company sent a crew to Byng’s New Bethel Baptist Church to erect a large sign identifying the church and giving times for two Sunday services and for the Wednesday evening prayer meeting.
The church sign has room for a humorous or philosophic statement that expresses an opinion or attitude of a spokesperson for the church, or it may express an attitude toward life with which most people can identify.
The Byng sign presently tells us, “The key to Heaven was hung on a nail.” Jodi Jackson says she first saw that saying during travels with her late husband, David, and she jotted it down in her journal.
It is in memory of David that the new sign was erected. For several years, he and Jodi have been in charge of Outreach, and, after his death last November, his family decided that a sign would be the best means of continuing his interest in making the community aware of the church’s presence.
The Jackson family is not alone in their desire to have their deceased loved ones immortalized through a tangible gift to the church.
After the death of my family's youngest son, Richard Paul, in 1992, George and I joined forces with our second son, Ralph, and his wife, Diane, to fashion three stained glass windows for the front of the church.
My husband and I provided the materials and our son’s family did the crafting in their shop, Art in Glass at Madill. Ironically, we had to add a shade over the stained glass windows shortly after their installation because the late afternoon sun caused a glare in the eyes of our pastor as he looked directly into them as he delivered his evening sermon.
I have since had two more losses with deaths of my husband, George, in December 2006, followed by my son Ralph’s death in November, 2012. I have not yet thought of a gift that is exactly right for them. (I’m open to suggestions.)
An interior stained glass window was installed by Priscilla Myers and their son, David, in memory of her husband, Duane Myers. Since Duane had been a skilled fisherman who had frequently hosted “fish fries” for his church family, it is no surprise that the window in the church office depicts Jesus receiving the gift of the loaves and the fishes from a young boy.
When Fred Taylor, beloved music director, died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2003, his widow, Ruth Ann, ordered a set of carillon chimes placed in the church as a memorial to him.
The chimes not only sound the hour and half hour, but also play several of Fred’s favorite hymns for a 15-minute concert prior to both morning and evening services and before the Wednesday night prayer meeting.
I never hear the chimes without thinking affectionately of Fred and his love for music and for his Lord.
Margaret Painter was one of the sweetest and most gentle women I have ever known, and her death of a heart condition in November 2006 was a great loss to all of us who loved her. Her husband, Bill, and her son and daughter-in-law, David and Debbie, had a prayer bench placed in front of the choir loft in her memory.
Seeing the new sign for our church caused me to think about memorial gifts to the church and wonder a bit about what prompts them. I think there are several reasons.
One is gratitude to fellow Christians for their prayers and compassion shown during the illness and death of the loved one. I remember, for example, that Paul lived only two and a half months after he was diagnosed with cancer, but our family was surrounded with a support system that had to be experienced to be believed.
There is no way to really say adequate thanks, but a memorial gift makes a stab at trying to do so. Secondly, if the gift is something that the deceased person had previously seen as a need, there is satisfaction in carrying out their wishes.
Finally, we survivors find it hard to accept the fact that after a very brief time, that person who was so important to us will no longer be of any importance to anyone else. It is our feeble attempt to gain a smattering of immortality for them.
At the risk of being thought a bit unstable, I confess that I can imagine the departed loved one peering over the bannisters of Heaven and giving us a grin and an “Atta’boy!” for our efforts in their behalf.
I suppose a student of psychology would primly tell me that a memorial gift enables the survivors to find a measure of closure to emotional anguish, but I like my daydream of a grin and a high-five better.