I was reminded how important this story is to other clergy and parishioners when a recently retired pastor told me he has retold this tale to every congregation he served. This story comes from a congregation I served. I tell it as best as I can recall.
Our Savior Lutheran Church in Jefferson City, Mo., was offered a new, larger organ to replace the very small electronic one that had also been donated. The old organ was placed downstairs, with the thought that it could be used for Sunday school openings or fellowship gatherings.
At about the same time, a pastor who had previously served Our Savior was organizing a mission congregation. Visiting Our Savior, he noticed the new organ and asked, "Do you ever use the old one?" On hearing it wasn't being used, he asked, "If we build, do you think I might have the old organ for our congregation?" I told him to remind me when building started, and I would bring it to the church council's attention.
Less than a year passed when I received the news that they were in the process of building. The pastor inquired if the mission could have the old organ, which he would pick up.
I went to the next council meeting and asked: "Could we donate the organ in the basement to the new mission church started by a previous pastor?" I was told that not only was it donated by a member of the congregation, it also had a memorial plate (which I had never noticed) that read: "In memory of my loving wife." The council agreed it had no problem donating the organ, but said I must first ask the donor.
I called him the next day and he said he would stop by my office. When he came in I had no problem presenting the question, as he visited me often and was in church every Sunday. So I said: "You know a previous pastor has started a mission church. They are beginning to build so he approached me about donating the organ you gave the church. Council agreed to that donation but first wanted me to check with you."
At that point he put up his hand to stop me, saying, "They should know better and you should know better coming to me with that question. That was a gift to the church, it belongs to the church, and it's up to the church what to do with it. The organ was donated in memory of my wife, and it no longer belongs to me. If the council decided to burn it in the backyard, I would come to watch and be in church the next Sunday."
With a smile he added, "Is there anything else you need? If not, I'll see you Sunday." As promised, he was in church as always. When he died he donated his home to the church, with the provision it be sold and the proceeds used in whatever manner the congregation saw fit.
I never hesitated to tell this story to fellow pastors. I now share it for all to hear.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers