Goodbye, Encourager

As of this year, I’ve been in pastoral ministry of one form or another for 39 years. I’ve been blessed through those years to have known a few of God’s people whom I would call “encouragers.” Unfortunately, the ratio of encouragers to discouragers is, well, discouraging. Nevertheless, one good, faithful encourager can do a great deal to get a person up when he’s down, moving when she’s stuck, back on track when veering off course, motivated when the “umpf” is waning.

One of the greatest encouragers I’ve ever known recently died and is now present with her Lord whom she loved. Alice Newton was a charter member of our church—one of only three remaining!—and I’ve been privileged to be her pastor for the past 16½ years. Up until a year or so ago, I could count on her to be in every service every week: Sunday School, Sunday morning and evening services, and Wednesday evening. She turned 93 last August and still drove herself to church for the morning service until just a couple months ago. Without it at all coming off as trite, on the way out the door every Sunday she would tell me with a sparkle in her eye, “Thanks for the blessing!” She hadn’t been doing very well the past couple months and ended up in the hospital for a brief stay. When I went to see her, as soon as I walked in the door and before I could say a word, she asked weakly, “How’s Nico?” Two weeks later she was in the nursing home. Again, I walked in the door to her room and she wanted to know right away how Nico was doing. Chris and I visited her again the day before she died, and true to form, “How’s Nico doing?” she wondered. Nico is my five-year-old grandson, and she seemed to have a special place in her heart for the little guy. I was struck with her concern for him when her own health was failing!

But that’s Alice, the Encourager!

More than anyone I’ve ever known, Alice leaves behind a legacy of writing encouraging notes to scores of individuals. Only the Lord knows the number of letters, cards, and notes she’s written through the years. I’m sure she could have enjoyed quite a few luxury items had her postage fund been spent on such lesser things for herself! I personally received dozens of such notes while serving as her pastor. Here are just a few of the comments she wrote:

  •  “Thank you again for such a special Senior Luncheon…. Thanks, Chris. And Pastor, you are my favorite Master of Ceremonies.” (3/7/12)
  • “Thank you for sharing your hurts with our church family, allowing us to share the hurt and keep you in our prayer before our Intercessor. We are hurting with you. This note is written from a very thankful heart…. You have taught us the real meaning of serving,…of being courageous in discouragements and disappointments….” (1/23/12) 
  • “I sit week after week soaking up the blessings of God’s Word, yet, have not taken the time to thank you….” (11/24/13) 
  • “I have been very lax in writing you the thanks I have in my heart for you as my pastor. It is so special to be able to look forward to each Wed. PM Bible Study, for each SS lesson, and each sermon on Sunday…. Thanks to you and Chris for your example of love, faithfulness, and respect for one another.” 911/10/14)
  • “I’m learning so much and gaining so much to apply to my own life.” (2/15/15)
  • “I do want to thank you for the special service you planned just to help a comfort this grandmother’s heart.” (2/24/16)
  • “Thank you for coming by on Wednesday morning. I appreciated your bringing in the garbage cart. And I am enjoying the Cubs games on the radio, so thanks for allowing me to use [the radio/cd player] a little longer.” 10/8/16)
  • “I cannot close this note without thanking you for your prayers and the hours spent in preparing messages to ‘feed’ me. A special thanks for your message on ‘Don’t Waste Your Afflictions.’ That was so special, and I have the notes in my Bible.” (2/3/17)
  • “It is hard for me to thank you enough for the precious message Sunday morning. I needed that message…. I’m not sure how well I expressed my thankfulness for Sunday’s message. Maybe you can read between the lines.” (4/26/17)
  • “The sermons on remembering the Reformation were precious. By His Word alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, to the praise of His glory…. Thanks to you and Chris for your faithfulness to one another, and being unashamed to show it.” (11/7/17)
  • “The [Maundy Thursday] service Thursday night was beautiful. The hymns blended so well with the Scriptures.” (3/31/18)
  • “I had to write and tell you what a precious message you gave us Wednesday night. I needed to be reminded that prayer is the life blood of the church.” (4/27/18)

Well, that’s just a sampling. It’s enough to make a pastor want to get back to the study, get down on his knees, and keep on keeping on! I trust the Lord will raise up another Encourager…and I pray I can develop a measure of such grace.