For a friend’s passing

I can’t remember if it was the first time I was annoyed by Vince Stults, but it was certainly one of the earliest such moments.

Vince and I sat at the sort of table deemed picturesque if it sat on a cobblestone street under a cafe’s awning. Instead, it was just a too-tiny round table in my small kitchen in the last house I’d rent during my years as a single man. Furniture was not my forte, and even now I can’t stop thinking about how silly the memory feels, two adult men huddled over this child-sized tabletop.

Vince and I had served together in leadership at the same church for a few years. Now out on my own as the pastor of new church plant, I needed his advice. Fortunately Vince never said a word about my uncomfortable setting.

Vince-mapWhat Vince did tell me was annoying. I remember that much. In hopes of confronting a couple problems within our church community, I’d asked Vince if he wanted to hang out and help. He graciously agreed to drive 30 minutes and sit in my kitchen and listen to my problems. Then came his advice: it was vague and esoteric. He wasn’t nearly as concerned with the problem as I wanted him to be. Vince, as I’d known him to be all along, was always focused on the bigger picture.

Even as I’d ask questions about the immediate need for a new place to meet in, Vince would remind me that the place would shape the ministry we were going to have. At other times, I would ask questions about specifics — about specific issues between specific people — and Vince would often take the conversation into the bigger values of community and the kingdom of God. It’s not that Vince was trying to be difficult. Rather, he could see beyond the symptoms to the virus, beyond the parts to the process. It wasn’t the short-term solution I’d wanted to hear, but it is what I needed to focus upon.

Yesterday I read the news that my old friend had passed from here into eternity. Glioblastoma. A tumor or tumors in the brain. My first thought was this memory of our conversation and myriad others like it — always over a cup of coffee, always about the bigger picture, always about the kingdom of God. I’d never brainstormed with someone so much about what real Christian community could look like. He was constantly reshaping the world in his head, from as it was to as it should be.

Reading the responses to Vince’s passing makes me realize I was hardly the only one. Vince was always available to pray and listen and share. His wife, Connie, nurtured others in the exact same way, a hospitable duo who were always friendly and faithful in their service. Vince’s heart matched his head, and he used both to encourage, to serve, to shape, to challenge the Christian communities around him.

To an old friend who shared so much of his heart and mind along the journey, I can only say that I hope you’re enjoying the biggest picture of them all.

See you then.