From the Pulpit: Saying the hard things in the nicest way possible — very Minnesotan

January 21, 2019

How many friends can you remember who left a deep impact in your life? My guess is the number is significant. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

This month Autumn Ridge Church will lose both a preacher and a friend. I, for one, am not looking forward to this transition.

I first met C. John Steer in 1990, when he had been at Autumn Ridge for less than a year. It was May, and he had just weathered his first Minnesota winter. John wondered why anyone would live in this “dreadful” climate.

We met for breakfast at Perkins South (let all true Rochesterites now bow our heads in a moment of respectful silence). I tried to answer his questions about the Minnesota dialect by explaining the subtle differences between “Not that bad,” and “Could be worse.” Although John never uttered a “you betcha” or “dontcha know” in his life, he was sincere in his attempts at cultural adjustment.

Three years later, I was going through a very difficult time — my own “dark night of the soul.” When I thought about who I could reach out to, John Steer came to mind. Our telephone calls were a lifeline in a difficult experience.

When we decided to move back to States in late 2013, the door opened for me to join the pastoral staff at Autumn Ridge Church. One well-meaning pastor in the community told me, “You have been a friend of John for a long time. You won’t be able to work on his staff and maintain that friendship.” After a few years, I asked John if we were still friends. With a typical “Steerism” John responded, “Woody, why would you ask me such a daft question?”

Good point.

In December 2015, my father fell asleep at home in Rochester and awakened in heaven. His death was unexpected. I am not sure how he heard or when he arrived, but suddenly John was there, sitting by my mother’s side. While I dealt with all the public servants and the funeral director, John patiently sat by my mother, reading Scripture, praying, and listening to her stories. She never saw the body as it was taken out the front door. John was telling her about growing up in England. I am thankful he was both a pastor and a friend that night.

John’s sermons were typically memorable. He gave a New Year’s sermon a year ago that was great. “Six Secrets of a Harmonious Home” was funny and practical. His series on Lamentations was the first I heard in 40 years of ministry. And I envy his ability to say the hard things in the nicest way possible.

Thinking of John’s sermons, I share some wisdom from C.H. Spurgeon — a nineteenth century preacher John has quoted approximately 3,406 times. “If Christ is not all to you, He is nothing to you. He will never go into partnership as a part Saviour of men. If He be something, He must be everything, and if He be not everything, He is nothing to you.”

Thank you, John, for making Christ everything, as you have served as preacher, pastor, and friend to many in the Rochester community. I am confident you will continue to do so in the years to come.

Woody Roland is pastor of missions at Autumn Ridge Church. Pulpit runs on the Saturday faith pages and features reflections from area religious leaders. To contribute, contact Life Editor Jeff Pieters at 285-7748 or life@postbulletin.com.

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