Benjamin Vrbicek writes a moving post about a long term friendship that grew out of an EFCA Church in St. Louis, Missouri. I saw this the other day and wanted to do a brief article about this because I found it emotionally warming. Often when writing about difficult subjects when I see something unique and neat I want to push it to help give balance and show some of the unique aspects of the EFCA.
“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:4 NIV
Taken in the weight lifting room at the University of Missouri -Columbia.
Benjamin Vrbicek co-leads Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with Jason Abott, who is leaving to pastor a church in Illinois. One of the early articles this blog wrote about Benjamin was a critique to a post at The Gospel Coalition. You can read that in, “Some Thoughts on Ministry Success Being an Idol.” Benjamin as I learned is one of the most prolific authors inside the EFCA’s Eastern District. He publishes at The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Desiring God. If you want to read more about Benjamin you can do so in, “Brick Lane Community Church Joins The Gospel Coalition, and Challenging a Misleading Statement from Steve Estes Church.”
Benjamin published a very tender post about a friend in his life from an EFCA Church in St. Louis, Missouri. I would encourage you to read that post in, “Enduring Grace: Praise for Tom Reidy.” What stands out in this piece is the love, admiration, compassion, that has endured against moves, changes in family, and job. From my perspective its about a friendship that is based on differences. Different ages, different careers and one that even endures moving and changes in life. For example how many people lose friends when they move because they fall out of touch? There are a lot of lessons in this post that strike me. Plus in reading a lot of blog posts, church newsletters, and more I honestly consume a lot of material. Benjamin’s post is very tender, loving and sensitive. Let me lift a couple of sections to make my point. The first one deals with how they met.
I met Tom twelve years ago at Salem Evangelical Free Church in St. Louis. My wife and I and our young family attended Salem while I studied at Covenant Theological Seminary and worked as an engineer for a construction company.
Tom retired a few years ago, but he spent his whole career working for a large aerospace and defense contractor. I mention this because our first meaningful interaction was related to this. I can’t be certain how the topic came up, but somehow warfare and bombs were discussed in a men’s Bible study. Tom and I seemed to connect well, and we set up a breakfast date at McDonald’s to talk about the ethics of weapons of mass destruction. Tom had “top secret” clearance, so I never really knew much about the specifics of his work. He could have told me, but then he would have had to kill me.
We had dozens and dozens of breakfast burritos over the years, sometimes discussing what it meant to be a Christian employee, sometimes discussing how we might better love our wives and children, sometimes how to better love our church, sometimes what we were learning in the Bible, sometimes a tricky aspect of theology like election and God’s sovereignty, and sometimes—perhaps often—the struggles in our lives. Then we’d pray for each other and head off to work. I can’t know how many days and weeks were altered for the better because of those discussions and prayers, but without any cliché, if we had the eyes of God to see everything, I’m sure those meetings could rightly be called life-changing.
And the next one is about how they keep in touch and affirm each other.
For the last eight years of full-time pastoral ministry, I’m not sure if Tom has skipped listening to a single sermon of mine. I don’t know anyone else who could say that. My wife even occasionally misses my sermons when volunteering in the nursery or when one of our children is sick. But not Tom.
A short email arrives in my inbox every Monday or Tuesday morning the week after I preach telling me what moved him in the sermon. And it’s not just that. Though he lives in St. Louis, he keeps up with our church preaching calendar and knows when I’m up to preach, often sending a text in the middle of the week asking how goes the sermon and what ways he can pray for me. It’s Wednesday morning as I’m editing this paragraph, and he literally just texted me “How’s the sermon coming along?” And my bookshelf at church has at least a dozen books he’s sent me from my favorite authors. It’s fair to say that I know no one like Tom.
Benjamin’s post reminded me of the quality of a loving and affirming friendship, which I think many people have forgotten and others have lost. Recently here in the Washington, D.C. area I purchased a ticket to see the musical Dear Evan Hanson in the Kennedy Center. One of the themes in that musical is about how social media can divide and leave more people lonely than ever. But in this post by the EFCA pastor in Harrisburg one sees the value and warmth of a deep and caring friendship. I would encourage you to read the rest of the post here.