Uncle Bill finally made it back to church after 70 years. He stood at the doors of that same church as a young man and had been denied entrance. Yesterday, they let him in.
He grew up as the son of a Brethren minister. As a teenager, he determined that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become an ordained minister. He attended the Brethren seminary-until the war broke out.
After several of his friends had been drafted, he decided he would join the Air Force. He trained as a pilot. After training, he had a chance to go back home one more time before he was sent overseas. He wanted to surprise his family by showing up at church.
Uncle Bill rode a bus all night to get to the church in time to hear his father preach that Sunday morning. As he got to the back door, he was greeted by an usher. “I’m sorry Bill, I can’t let you in because you’re wearing a uniform and that uniform represents war. As you know, we are pacifist. We are opposed to war, even this war.”
My uncle told me that story when he was in his early 90s. It had been 70 years and he still teared up when telling about that experience. His love and respect for his father never wavered. He told me once that his father was the best man he had ever known.
But the scar of the experience of rejection by the church stayed with him. He made a point of telling me that he had refused to fly bombing raids during the war because in his heart he was a conscientious objector as well. Even after the war, he never made it back to church.
Until last Sunday. The family held his memorial service at that same church. They left some of his ashes there in the cemetery next to his mother and father’s grave. It seemed right. After all, he had already left a part of his heart there 70 years ago.