Life is a gift, isn’t it. A free gift. Life comes to this one and that one as it will, and moves on. I never had a right to Ray Wishart as a friend in my life, Ray was a gift, a special and unexpected gift who just happened to me. It started in 1998 when I retired from parish ministry and came home to Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, and Ray was there and one of those who sat next to me behind the Altar on Sunday mornings, behind the Altar and under the Christ, under Jesus. If the sermon was overly long, I would notice Ray looking up at the Christ figure for the real message.
Everyone who knew Ray has a story this morning, stories. Ray was a teacher for forty years, maybe the most popular and loved teacher in all the history of Bay County, and he taught several generations, all of whom will be remembering their Ray Wishart stories this morning.
He wasn’t a teacher only, he was a gift. In fact, one of my stories is that for a while I got to be Ray’s teacher, he enrolled in a course I was mentoring and offering at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church starting, it must have been 2003, and Ray signed up. It’s EfM, Education for Ministry, a four-year course offered at locations round the world by our School of Theology at Sewanee, the University of the South, and I offered it here, and Ray registered. Those first four years, Ray was a gift to me and to members of the EfM class, so much so that I began to see something more, and started asking him, remembering that people had stirred and prompted me by asking me decades earlier, if he had ever considered or felt a call toward ordained ministry. We had lots of chats about it, especially late evenings after EfM, and Ray and Jesus took it from there, and everyone who knew Ray knows the rest of that story, it doesn’t need my telling. As for EfM, before that part of the story ended, I took Ray in as co-mentor, and in time he and I were leading three different EfM courses together, three classes a week at different times and places. In 2010 when I had to step out for health reasons, Ray simply continued. What a gift he was.
This morning I have to keep reminding myself that I never had a right to Ray and our friendship, he was a gift. A gift of God’s gracious lovingkindness. Thank you, God.
Why, God? Why?