Last Tuesday evening, after greeting off a plane from Fort Lauderdale, I was informed that one of the members of our church had been rushed to the hospital. A little before 9 p.m. I walked into the emergency room. It was determined that he would be admitted and I left the hospital around 1 a.m. It’s what I do. I’m not a celebrity, a televangelist, or a mega church CEO. I am a pastor, a shepherd, a priest. Isn’t that what all pastors do?
Some years ago, a man in the church I served would leave after the Sunday service and, shaking my hand, would always say, “You know, you’re my second favorite preacher.” After receiving this response for several months, I finally asked, “Who’s you’re favorite preacher,” He replied, “Kenneth Copeland.” Copeland was, and is, a major league TV and conference preacher.
Some time after that exchange, my friend had a massive stroke. I rushed to the hospital and stayed with him and members of his family in the intensive care unit. Somewhere around 2 a.m., I suggested that his wife go to the waiting room and try to get some sleep. I assured her that I would keep watch by his bedside. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, he awoke to find himself in bed with tubes and machines everywhere.
“Where am I?” he asked. “You are in the ICU at the hospital,” I answered. “I had a stroke, didn’t I?” he inquired. I nodded in the affirmative.
“How bad is it?” he asked.
“Well, you’re awake, talking, and alive.” I shared.
He thought about this and said, “What time is it?”
Looking at my watch, I said, “It’s about 2:30 a.m. on (whatever day it was).”
“Hmm,” he mused. Then looking at me he asked, “What are you doing here?”
I leaned in, smiled, and said, “I had to be here. Kenneth Copeland couldn’t make it.” He smiled wryly and lay back on his pillow.
He survived his ordeal and, after much work and effort, came to church some time later in a wheelchair. After the service was ended, he met me at the door, smiled, stuck out his hand and said, “You know Kenneth Copeland?” I nodded. “He’s my second favorite preacher!” he said with a grin.
Once, a young pastor asked me, “How long does it take before you can farm the hospital visitation out to someone else?” My reply was something like, “Why in the world would you not want to be with a member of your congregation at one of the most important moments in his or her life? Why would you want to leave that to someone else? If you are a pastor — a true pastor — where else would you want to be at that significant time?”
All these years later, I still think those are important questions. Jesus said the good shepherd knows his sheep — and that they know his voice. It is not heroic to be at the hospital at 1 a.m. It is, or ought to be, normal behavior for good pastors when someone is in trouble.
Besides, Kenneth Copeland can’t make it.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com.]