The best gift I ever received was something I never wanted. A few days before I finished my 12th and final year as pastor of a church I loved deeply, the congregation’s lay leader shuffled into my office. Nobody had bothered to vote James Alexander in as lay leader; he just was the leader of the laity, the godfather of a sprawling church family united largely by their love for this giant of a man. James was 89, but he seemed as if he had centuries on him. Wise, solid, very southern, with a gravelly voice and surprisingly undiminished physical vigor, he wore overalls in a pretty dressy community.
James C. Howell is senior minister of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and author of What Does the Lord Require? Doing Justice, Loving Kindness, Walking Humbly (Westminster John Knox).