When a new priest comes to a church, one of the things for which she or he prays is that the interim has done his or her job in preparing the congregation during the transition. The new priest also prays that the interim might be a little unlovable, so that when she or he arrives, the congregation will embrace the new priest with open arms. When I was coming to St. Nicholas, I prayed these same prayers. God only answered the first of these prayers for me. Not only did I have big shoes to fill in the absence of Beverley, but I also had to contend with the equally large shoes of Tom Jones.
When I heard that St. Nicholas’ interim was the former longtime rector of Trinity, Columbus, who was beloved by the members of St. Nicholas, and that he was planning to stay at St. Nicholas as a worshipper, I confess, I cringed.
I had heard so many horror stories of beloved priests who stuck around during the new regime only to undermine the new guy. Yet I quickly realized the first time I talked to Tom that this was solely my issue and that he had his own life to live and he wasn’t in the least bit interested in undermining me in my first gig as rector. Instead, I found very quickly that he saw his ministry as one of complete and utter support for this young and inexperienced rector.
He first told me that he was planning to take a while off while I settled in, yet was only a phone call away whenever I needed to ask him a question. Tom knew the horror stories of interim rectors, too, and did everything he could to dispel such negative projections new priests might have on interims. I once asked Tom why he didn’t wear his collar to church on days when he wasn’t celebrating or preaching. He laughed, and said, “Does a police officer wear his uniform when he’s off-duty?” Tom wasn’t interested in being anything other than a worshipping member of the congregation, letting me be the priest.
However, whenever I needed him to be a priest, he humbly and graciously answered the call. Not just when I was on vacation and needed someone to fill the pulpit, but when I had a pastoral conundrum and needed some advice. Tom provided a calm, pastoral presence in times when being the rector meant being at odds with popular opinion. He taught me how to be calm in the midst of the storm, like Jesus in last Sunday’s Gospel.
I once went to eat with Tom at the Yogurt Shoppe in Columbus. What a mistake that was! The minute we walked in, nearly everyone called, “Father Tom!” “Hey Father Tom! How are you?!?” “Where have you been, Father Tom?” We barely got a chance to have a conversation because we were interrupted so many times. Later I learned that going to Panera was a much better choice.
Tom has become my image of what life is like for a priest after he or she retires. Traveling to distant lands, visiting often with family and loved ones, occasionally popping in to preach the good word, and just as quickly dash out the door. This gives me great hope that there is life after full-time priesting.
I knew that Tom and Nan were planning to move to Nashville to be close to their family. When Tom told me it was dependent on selling his house, I figured in this market that it might be a while before we had to say goodbye. I was caught off guard Sunday when he pulled me aside just before the service to tell me that things were speeding up and this was their last Sunday with us. If only we could throw a party, make a big to-do! But that really wouldn’t change the way any of us felt in saying goodbye to Tom and Nan. In the end, Tom said goodbye in the most gracious way a servant of the Lord can do, not with pomp and circumstance, but with quiet humility and grace. If only we all could learn to enter, serve, and depart with such a posture.
The Vestry and I unanimously passed a resolution last night at our June meeting. It’s lengthy, but rightfully so for all Tom and Nan have meant to us all. It’s really the least we could do.
Whereas the Rev. Tom Jones served in the Chattahoochee Valley Convocation of the Diocese of Atlanta for nearly 30 years, and
Whereas Father Tom served as priest, pastor, and preacher as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Columbus, for 17 years, where many current St. Nicholas parishioners were members, and
Whereas Father Tom served as a catalyst for the forming of an Episcopal congregation in Harris County, recommending the Rev. Beverley McEachern to serve as founding vicar and rector and mentoring her in that role, and
Whereas Father Tom served first as pastor and supply priest during Rev. Beverley’s illness and then as interim rector after her death, and
Whereas Father Tom and his wife Nan have supported St. Nicholas by their faithful stewardship of time, talent, and treasure, and
Whereas Father Tom has specifically supported our current rector, the Rev. Jeff Jackson, through counsel, prayer, friendship, and through supplying as preacher and presider of Holy Eucharist, and
Whereas Nan has supported Father Tom in his ministry for many years as his companion and spouse,
Be it resolved that the Rector, Vestry, and congregation of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Hamilton, Georgia, give our most sincere gratitude and love to Father Tom and Nan Jones for their service to Christ and his Church.
Thank you, Tom. For everything.