Well, you cannot. Pastors may try to be superman most of the time, but we cannot be at two places at once, especially if both those places are in two different countries. This was the challenge I faced as I was leaving for Zambia. A dear widower in my church who had been battling cancer for two years, died the day before I left. I was with him his last 15 minutes on this earth and for that I am grateful. However, this is a funeral I really wanted to be there for and preach. I had spent a lot of time with this sweet saint and I wanted to finish my task as his pastor. But, in the providence of God, this was not to happen. So, what can you do when you are out-of-town and someone in your church dies?
1) I called the family and made arrangements with them about the service. I spent my last two hours in the USA on the phone with the funeral home and the family trying to iron out the details of the service. I got their permission to allow another of our pastors to do the service and connected them with the funeral home, since I had primarily been the one organizing these logistics.
2) I wrote a eulogy at the airport and emailed it to be read in my absence. Although I could not be present, everyone knew I still knew him the best and it was his request I preach his funeral. With the approval of the family, I proceeded to send this on with hopes it might be the next best way to fulfill my word to represent him. Here is a portion:
It is with great sadness that I write this to you, not only because Jim is gone, but I am unable to be with you, grieve with you, and celebrate his life. Yet, I still wanted to share of my great love and appreciation for this man. I knew Jim and his wife in a casual sense my first couple of years at the church, but when his wife died so suddenly, my senses to care for Jim were heightened. We talked on the phone, I visited him, and through those conversations I learned something important about Jim. He adored his wife. He missed her terribly.
One of the things he loved doing with her was to go out to eat. Jim had not gone out to eat by himself since her death because he didn’t want to sit there and think about how much he missed her. That made sense to me. I said, “Well, Jim would you go out to eat with me?” Jim paused a moment and then replied, “ Hmm, I think I might do that.” For the next 7 years until Jim got too sick to go, he picked me up from the church about every 4-6 weeks and we went to lunch together. Those are moments with Jim I will always cherish now that he is gone.
3) Once I had done all I could, I let go. Once I got on that plane to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, my availability to help ended. I had two choices. I could have fretted over not being there, or realize I had done all I could under the circumstances and I needed to be fine with that. I had an important task before me to train pastors in Zambia and they were not going to be served well by me if I entered that task distracted with half my heart at home. Pastors, this is a great moment to remind us all we cannot do it all. Even if others expect us to do it all, we cannot. Be faithful to do what is within your power, then let go and trust in the providence of God in that moment.
I am told the funeral went well. I am grateful for Pastor Adam Embry reading my eulogy and serving in that capacity. The family was appreciative of my efforts to honor Jim in my absence. Remember, pastors do what you can, but realize your less than ideal circumstances are under the rule of a sovereign and good God. He will place us where he wants us, even if we think we should be somewhere else.
Pastors, how have you handled this kind of situation when faced with it?