The Important Work Of Remembering
William Howard Taft had good reason to neglect his friends, but he did not do that.
In 1908, Taft served as the Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt. That same year Taft resigned his post to run for President. He was a busy man with thoughts directed toward the campaign and the grueling schedule it necessitated.
While Taft marched toward the White House, the journalist William Allen White was preparing a biographical sketch of Taft for The American Magazine. The article necessitated a great deal of correspondence between the two men. As Doris Kearns Goodwin notes in her book, The Bully Pulpit, Taft took great pains to focus on his friends. He "meticulously credited every mentor and benefactor who had helped him facilitate his success." In one letter Taft wrote,
Taft's words resonated with me. My past is a photo album of people and memories, snapshots of "old friends" who have helped me along the way. Dr. Bill Stepp is one of those friends. Bill was a key part of God's "domino effect" of circumstances that led to my current role at Spanish River Church.
I first met Bill while I served as Dean of the Chapel at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Bill was the Senior Pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church, which was adjacent to PBA. The university was building a new chapel in those days and needed a temporary meeting place for our Thursday chapels. Since Memorial was an easy walk for our students, I stopped by to talk with Bill about the possibility of using the church sanctuary. There was no hesitation. Of course we would be welcome.
That gracious spirit characterized the man I would grow to love and appreciate. As I prepared to leave that day, Bill said, "Let's have prayer," a phrase I would hear repeated again and again in the coming years. Our friendship blossomed. We spent quite a few afternoons having discussions about life and ministry, often at Bill's second office, Dunkin Donuts.
I went to Palm Beach Atlantic thinking it would be "my last stop." That would not be the case. I did not want to leave PBA, but three years after arriving I felt that it was the time to go. Those were difficult days. Bill was a friend who walked through those days with me. In fact, as my time at Palm Beach Atlantic was coming to an end, Bill and the leaders of Memorial invited me to serve there. Memorial became home. Bill, a solo pastor, welcomed me and entrusted me with authority and responsibility. I am grateful for that spirit of generosity.
I came to Memorial as a credo baptist. Bill loved to tease me about it. "I can't wait until the day you baptize babies," he would say. "You would make a good Presbyterian." Little did he know his words would prove prophetic. A short eighteen months later I would leave Memorial to serve at Spanish River Church where I become an ordained Presbyterian minister in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).
Shannan and I look back on our days at Memorial with great fondness. We call those eighteen months "our gift from God." Memorial was home and we were treated like family. Humanly speaking, I have Bill and the elders of Memorial to thank for that. After reading Taft's words, however, I don't think I have said "Thank you" well enough.
Perhaps it is that characteristic of being forward-thinking and forward-looking that impedes my remembering. Maybe it is just being inconsiderate. Possibly, it is a mixture of the two. I do know this, I don't want to be counted among the "mean men" who forget those who helped them "on an early day and over early difficulties."
Thanks Bill. Thanks for welcoming me, for listening to me, for praying for me, for mentoring me, for empowering me, for entrusting me, for encouraging me, and for so lovingly caring for me and for our family. You are shepherd's shepherd. I am grateful.
Today you stand for many "old friends" who helped me in earlier days and over earlier difficulties.
"The meanest man ..." from William Allen White, The American Magazine. May 1908. Quoted in The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2013. Page 539.