Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ed Bayliss

Did I ever tell you about my favorite elder?

Ed met Doonie (Nell) at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and thought she was a lot older than she was. He asked her out to the New Year’s Eve dance at the Peabody. He was 25 years old and had no idea she was 15.

They dated for the next 4 years and one day they eloped and got married. Doonie used to say it was because she did not want to take an English exam.

Ed, a former Presbyterian, became a member of the church of Christ and was devoted to it the rest of his life. He worked as a cotton salesman for the American Cotton Shippers Association and that brought him to the northeast in the early 60’s.

His work would bring him to Massachusetts where he and his wife would worship with the Natick church of Christ. When I arrived on the scene in 1986 Ed was one of two elders. He was in his 80’s when I met him.

I would spend the last three years of Ed’s life working with him and during all of that time he ministered to me.

Ed had a quiet way about him. He did not speak much but when he did his words were worth listening to. He seemed to be a man who understood how life had changed him through the years. He was always open to listen and was refreshingly honest.

He would often encourage me in regards to my work or a class I taught but his words were always few. I preached on the providence of God once and in an unusual display of appreciation he went on and on about how it was one of the best sermons he had ever heard on the subject.

He had a great woodworking shop in his basement and he helped me on a couple of woodworking projects.

When he was diagnosed with cancer he took the news in his usual stoic manner. And the cancer did not take long to necessitate home hospice. They set up a hospital bed in Ed’s room and to give Doonie a break I would go and sit with him through the night the last few weeks of his life.

The first few nights he knew I was there with his water and his medications but later as his condition worsened he had know idea who was next to his bed. He could not use a bedpan and so when he had to go I would pick him up like a child, cradled in my arms, and set him on the portable seat.

Once he’d finished I would clean him, lift him back into his bed, and comfort him by softly singing a hymn or reciting the Lord’s Prayer. This is not what I pictured ministry to be in “The Preacher and His Work” class in college.

One rough night near the end Ed was experiencing some discomfort because of his medication that required me to lift him and clean him almost a dozen times. During one of those times, heavily medicated, Ed whispered, “Jesus,” as I moved him back to his bed. I thought maybe I’d hurt him – but he was calm.

I remembered Jesus’ admonition that when you have “…done it for the least of these you have done it for me.”

Ed was being Jesus to me. Even in his dying Ed was teaching me, ministering to me, admonishing me and training me.

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