On a chill November day, Mother and I represented the family at a dedication. The new marble bench in the church courtyard reads “Pastor Lee A. McDaniel, 1973 – 1990. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” It could just as well say “Pastor Lee A. McDaniel and St. John Lutheran Church.” It was, I believe, a match made in heaven.
When Pastor “Mac” first visited St. John in Cumberland, Md., an Appalachian community, it was love at first sight—not just for the bright, airy sanctuary but for the congregation itself. He was a hands-on pastor who would beat the ambulance to the emergency room or sit vigil all night with a desperate parishioner. Once he appeared at a hospital in Washington, D.C., two hours after receiving news of a vacationing congregant’s heart attack. He frankly admitted that preaching and administration weren’t his greatest strengths. But love was. And St. John’s people loved each other and him, in return. This congregation of helpers and givers responded to his quiet, simple caring.
Jokes flew—about his bagpipe playing and the cookie sheet he banged to simulate thunder during Good Friday services. He just grinned his rueful grin. He went to bowling banquets and church league basketball games, and fished with the All-Weather Sportsmen. He got the church involved in the community, from the rural work camp for troubled boys to the Cambodian refugees needing a new home.
St. John presented him with laid-off blue collar workers and a depressed economy. Pastor Mac gave away much of the money he was given for weddings and funerals. When he asked, folks volunteered. They knew he would be there, and they chose to be there too.
Within a year after his retirement in December 1990, Pastor Mac and his wife, Maude, both developed cancer. The congregation closed around them with lifting arms and carried them forward—they had no choice but to recover. But when Alzheimer’s claimed Pastor Mac in the years to come, the parish surpassed itself. Caregivers came forward. Visits, calls, cards abounded. Parishioners sat with him in church while Maude sang in the choir.
And when Pastor Mac died in March 2005, his funeral was a celebration—of love and thanks and the symbiosis that was his and this congregation’s. He used to say, “I’ll never make bishop.” And he never did. But maybe his reward was St. John—and he was theirs.
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