Saturday, May 14, 2022

Much More Than a Name

Trinity Lutheran Seminary
Columbus OH
I was in a non-traditional situation. Most students spent their third of four years at an internship site. Due to personal decisions, employment, and summer classes my final year of seminary education was my internship year. To my benefit these unique circumstances provided me with an exceptional supervisor. My year exploring the daily practice of pastoral ministry was mentored by Rev. Vernon D. Bigalk. Individuals whom positively impacted my adult life and vocational options can be counted on one hand. Vern and his spouse (Karen) inhabit a significant portion of that space. Vern's hospitality and willingness to listen instantaneously etched my initial impressions of our year together. 

Shortly after arriving in Richmond IN, I was invited to the Bigalk residence to meet the family and share a meal. It was verbally stated and non-verbally conveyed that I was not only welcomed, but expected to be a part of their home and family. It was not a restrictive demand. Instead it was a gracious invitation. During my first week settling into the eastern Indiana city, Karen arranged a date with their recent house guest. Brenda, beginning an internship at a Holistic Health Retreat Center near Earlham College, needed a room for the weekend. Brenda's supervisor knew the Bigalk family well. Open doors and open arms were a Bigalk hallmark. One date led me on an unknown path. Karen's desire to have Brenda enjoy a night out of the house developed into a marriage relationship which continues today. 

Vern's ability and desire to listen was well known in the area. He provided pastoral care to anyone, at 

Rev. Bigalk
anyplace, at anytime. While being a tremendous asset, it also demanded great energy emotionally and spiritually.  Vern's body and spirit were strained under this burden of pastoral care. After time away from congregational leadership, along with the support and care of his family, Vern returned to pastoral ministry. These wounds were deep, but not debilitating. His skills for listening and understanding were enhanced by his lived reality. His broad smile and deep laugh were more readily displayed than in previous years. 

Over the decades our relationship deepened, as well. Sharing brokenness and grace, strength and turmoil, good laughter and copious tears, and an overall grace-filled outlook on life became foundational. Vern and Karen marvelously handled the request of Brenda and I to provide a renewal of vows marking our 10th Anniversary of marriage. Seeing that they started our relationship we wanted their boost to continue the complex, challenging, and satisfying relationship of marriage. 

One thing I did not understand initially was Vern's decision to no longer be an active pastor. His gifts and skills in pastoral care and preaching were shared on a part-time or as needed basis even though he was "officially"

Signature smile
retired. This abrupt decision baffled me. A person with so much insight, grace, hospitality, and humility said, "No more." During the past months I have come to not only gain more understanding, but more appreciation for his decision. There is a time to "lay down the mantle", to allow others to lead as they see fit. What was important and significant in the past does not necessarily apply to the present. It is also an act of grace and respect to allow others to respond with their gifts and skills to address the current setting. Vern had a keen sense of his value and his gifts, but he knew it was appropriate to step aside and embrace a calmer, grace-filled life.

I had a small part in the Prayer Service following his visitation. It was enough. The connection with his children and their families, the renewal of relationships, no matter how brief was deeply important.    

Vern and Karen
Vernon D. Bigalk. It is a name easy to mispronounce. However for myself, is is much more than a name!

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