Archived Story

Argument teaches valuable lesson

Published 11:22am Saturday, January 12, 2013

I learned something important from Jim Spencer. It’s a lesson our whole country needs to learn.

Jim, a retired Birmingham attorney who lived in Alexander City with his wife Gayle and son Jimbo, died last week after a year-long battle with cancer.

Jim was a member of St. James’ Episcopal Church with me. Both Jim and I were Lay Eucharistic Ministers of the church.

In the Episcopal Church, we have communion – the sharing of consecrated bread and wine – during most church services. An ordained priest will bless the bread and the wine, and usually distributes the bread, while we Lay Eucharistic Ministers are authorized by the church to function as chalice bearers, serving the wine to the congregation.

Being a card-carrying LEM takes our responsibility a step further … we are allowed to take consecrated bread and wine off the church premises and to hold a Communion service for those who are not able to attend church.

I’ve served as a LEM in several churches for more than 20 years now and it is a meaningful part of my life and ministry.

Several years ago, when Jim and I were both members of the vestry – the church’s “board of directors” – we found ourselves on completely opposite sides of a heated dispute. Jim, a lawyer, and me, an editor, were two people who were quite comfortable voicing strong opinions. And our voices were both active concerning this issue. At one point, Jim even wrote me a letter suggesting that I should leave the church.

I threw away his letter and did not take his advice.

And for a while there were hard feelings between us.

But I knew then, and know now, that Jim was doing what he thought was right for the church just as I was doing what I thought was right for the church. We just had different ideas about what was right.

And over time, the hard feelings faded away and our relationship healed.

Last year, when Jim’s illness prevented him from coming to church, I had the opportunity to bring communion to his house. Gayle and my wife, Mary Lyman, were both there. I read the Communion service in his living room and the four of us shared bread and wine and then had a good time talking together. It was a holy time, a meaningful moment that I will remember the rest of my life.

I was just as honored to serve as a Eucharistic minister at Jim’s funeral.

I’ve thought about Jim a lot during the past weeks, about our relationship, about our argument, about our post-argument relationship, our common faith and our roles as LEMs in the Episcopal Church.

And what I’ve learned is that it is quite possible for people to disagree strongly – very strongly – and still honor, respect and serve each other.

I wish all our national politicians could have shared that lesson.

Too often today, Americans seem to be so polarized that we focus only on our disagreements, effectively throwing out our much larger commonality to the detriment of both sides.

The current debate raging in our national government, the tax-raisers vs. the expense-cutters, the conservatives vs. the liberals, is just such a strong issue. Both sides are doing what they believe is right (I hope). Yet there seems to be very little honor, respect and service between the differing sides.

What both sides desperately need is the healing which comes from honoring and respecting each other despite disagreements, which allows both sides to serve each other by forging a mutually beneficial path.

I know it is possible, thanks to Jim Spencer.

And I’ll never forget that lesson.

Please join me in praying for Gayle, Jimbo and the entire Spencer family.

Boone is publisher of The Alexander City Outlook.

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