Greg Howell admits he was a little disgruntled at the couple that came in their motorized wheelchairs to the Saturday night Connections service at Community Grace Brethren Church, Goldendale, Wash., where he serves as pastor.
The service is always preceded with a meal.
“They would come and they would eat,” he remembers. “And they would pile up their plates again and ride out before the service [began].”
“I was a little ticked about this,” he confesses. After three or four months, he made a comment in staff meeting. “I said, ‘It’s okay they come. I wish they’d stay. It’s kind of too bad that they are using us.’”
David Quilici, then the youth and worship pastor at the church, looked at Greg and said, “They have names. Do you know their names?”
“I confessed I did not,” remembers Greg. “I knew his first name was Victor and I didn’t know anything else about them.”
David had been sitting with them while they ate. He learned the couple had some serious health issues, and was disabled and financially handicapped. They weren’t the typical middle class family that the church generally attracted.
It wasn’t long before Victor Cone and his wife, Jessie (that are their names), began to stay for the service, along with her brother and sister-in-law, who lived with them. When the need for volunteers for Wednesday night childcare was announced, the couple stepped up to help.
For the pastor, it was more than the filling of a need.
It was a change of heart – his own.
“The bottom line is my heart had to change to realize the reason we did Saturday night Connection was to not reach the same people we were reaching [on Sunday morning], but to be sure we were reaching the community, and this was part of our community,” he says.
Jessie and her brother, Tim Rebman, were both baptized not long after the couple volunteered to help. The family has continued to be active in the ministries of the church.
It took a reminder from a young staff member that regardless of economic, physical, or spiritual status, everyone has a name and is valued in the sight of God. “They are real people,” Greg acknowledges. “And it changed my heart about all of the people that come, anytime.”
Send a note of encouragement to Pastor Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.