February 07, 2019
Recently, in the pocket of a suit I was wearing, I found the notes for my comments at the memorial service for my friend Rev. Tom Graves in 2012. Reading through those reflections, I was struck by how timeless Tom’s values are, and how the things he taught me about life continue to be so relevant to today.
The metaphor I used for my remarks that day was of Tom as a bridge-builder. Bridges are about bringing things together, about connections that make things better, and Tom was always building some connection for me.
The first and most important example was his connecting me to a God who loved me and was pulling for me, always wanting the best for me, as opposed to an entity sitting back waiting for me to make a mistake (which happened often) so that punishment could be exacted. This occurred during my high school days when Tom and Linda were serving Key Memorial UMC in Sherman.
Connections, the powerful expression of God’s love.
Later examples of connections include Tom’s service to our TMF board and Leadership Ministry. As chair of our grants committee, he helped us connect the passions and desired outcomes of thoughtful donors with the life-changing ministries of our grant recipients. While facilitating groups within our Leadership Ministry, Tom connected the intellectual and spiritual needs of clergy with the resources necessary to help those clergy live into their God-inspired potential.
The stewardship of our God-provided potential, whether it be our individual potential, the potential of our congregations and communities, the potential of our denomination or the potential of the world, depends in large measure on the creation of connections. And TMF, at our best, is about forming connections.
Certainly, an important example of this is connecting those who desire a social impact from their investment with congregations who are creating or expanding ministries and need a loan from us to fund those ministries. Investments into our Methodist Loan Fund provide the liquidity for us to make loans to churches, so they can better serve their communities through life-changing connections.
Connecting clergy and their leadership potential with the resources needed for them to reach that potential through our Leadership Ministry is another example.
Connecting generous donors with ministries reflective of their passions through donor-advised funds and other legacy giving instruments is one more. And the examples go on, including connecting the ministries of a congregation with God’s unique call for them through our Holy Conversations work. Our work here at TMF continues to confirm the importance of connections.
A year before his passing, I had the honor of presenting Tom Graves with TMF’s highest award, our Medallion of Merit. At the conclusion of his remarks upon accepting the award, he recited from memory “The Bridge-Builder” poem below. Like the bridge-builder in the poem, Tom Graves taught me that “connections” are a powerful expression of God’s love that can transform me and the world. And his bridge-building implied faith that the work of connecting would continue on the other side. May it be so!
What bridge may we help you build?
by Will Allen Dromgoole
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”