About a year ago I participated in a work day at our church building. Our assigned task that Saturday morning was to knock down some interior walls in order to make preparations for a complete remodel of our teen center. What I found is that church walls are solid. They were not constructed with the intent of ever being torn out. I found slinging the sledge hammer to be almost as exhilarating as shooting weapons out at the firing range with the police officers I serve with. (Jan finds it disturbing to see how much of a rush that is to me.) That bulky sledge hammer got pretty heavy after a period of time. But it was a good feeling to see the walls finally come crashing down.
Joe Bagby was the beloved preacher for the 4th and Elm Church of Christ in Sweetwater, Texas for nearly 14 years. I never knew him, but I have very dear friends in that West Texas town. He was a huge blessing to their community. I think the members of his church and others would be amazed to know that he spent most, if not all of his tenure there swinging a sledge hammer. Believe me that is hard work.
He spent 14 years tearing down church walls that everybody else thought could not be penetrated. But he kept swinging. I know it must have been a tiresome job at times. It was difficult and tiresome, because churches have been good at building solid walls of sectarianism for a long time. As the years go by, those sectarian walls have a way of becoming increasingly solid. I have friends and colleagues in ministry who talk a lot about unity, but I have never seen them swing a hammer before…
Based on what I have heard from a variety of sources I don’t think Mr. Baby was one inclined to waffle on his convictions. But his love for people and willingness to reach across all kinds of religious aisles opened opportunities for him to swing the hammer and chip away at some pretty imposing walls. There is no telling how much good was done over a period of years.
Joe passed away Saturday afternoon. The church he served faithfully is grieving this week. I think it would be more accurate to say that the entire community is grieving, because he helped eradicate a lot of walls. People from churches in the entire town feel a closer affinity and appreciation for one another. The unchurched no doubt have a better perception of Christians period. In the process, I am convinced that no one has violated their convictions.
They will celebrate his life tomorrow afternoon. I wish I could be present to pay my respects as well. But I am traveling to Bowie tomorrow to lead critical incident debriefings for the troopers and family members with The Texas Highway Patrol impacted by the loss of a trooper in a line of duty car crash. I will have the privilege of serving all kinds of people coming from all walks of life in that setting. I think Joe would want me to be in Bowie. And I think he would tell me to throw a sledge hammer in the back of the truck before I leave. There will be no shortage of walls to tear down. As I said in a previous post, when I grow up, I want to be like Joe Bagby. May God bless his family tomorrow.