|Pastor and "Bunica" (Romanian for "grandmother")|
I cried good-bye last week to a God-sent elder and friend, Brother Mervin Potteiger.
The first time our family “met” Brother Potteiger was the day he called the home phone and spoke with Brian for a few minutes in autumn 2005. Brother Potteiger rang all the way from Romania to introduce himself before he and Sister Potteiger crossed the ocean and caravanned from Pennsylvania to Michigan to establish yet another new home in the Bethel parsonage.
It was the weekend of my 19th birthday when Pastor and Sister Potteiger were installed at Bethel. I considered their arrival a special birthday gift from my heavenly Father. I had asked God for a pastor who could be a friend, and somehow, I was quite sure He had answered that prayer even before I met the Potteigers.
After Brother and Sister Potteiger arrived, I knew God had answered my prayer. Their four-and-a-half years of ministry at Bethel were rich and full. We used to tease Brother Potteiger because at the end of every month as he looked over the upcoming weeks in his date book, he would say, “Well, it looks like ___________ [fill-in-the-blank with any month] is going to be a busy month!” Every season was brimming with service and ministry.
Though it took the new pastor most of a year to learn our names (Amy made him a cheat-sheet for his Bible; the paper was lined with pictures, names, ages, and a brief description of our current school status/study program for all the girls between 15 and 25), we knew he cared about each of us “young folks” deeply. In fact, he used to tell us about specific prayers he would pray, asking God to raise up full-time ministry workers from our tiny congregation.
Last August, Kendra (“Kindra” as Brother Potteiger would say) and I joined Brother and Sister Potteiger for their church’s annual picnic. Brother Potteiger told Kendra and me he thought we’d matured over the past few years. Of course Kendra told him the feeling was mutual :).
He panted for breath and seemed depressed as he talked about how little he could do now. His body was a rusting shell of the award-winning athlete and gifted handyman he had once been.
I cried inside after I left, because it’s hard to see someone you love trapped inside a confused body. I wanted to remember the Brother Potteiger I knew from our years together at Bethel.
Brother and Sister Potteiger shared their life with us—stories and insights from their years in New Mexico, Canada, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Romania. They showered us with love, and opened their hearts and their home—where there was always an abundance of dessert! We shared happy times (he officiated at Joel and Judith’s wedding) and sad times (they walked with us through the journey of good-byes to our final two grandparents).
One thing I loved about Brother Potteiger was that he was a real person. Even though he was a pastor, he knew he wasn’t perfect. Rather, he was a man focused on learning to know God better even after multiple decades of life with Christ. Sometimes he said things he shouldn’t have. Sometimes he had to apologize. As he preached and taught our young adult Sunday school, he shared stories of challenges he had faced, mistakes he had made, and things he had learned from personal experience (i.e. don’t pinch your wife’s nose!).
He told us about being posted (as head cook) by the Bishop to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico when he was a teenager. He’d reminisce about the first time he met Sister Potteiger—he was elbow deep in raw ground beef! And he told us about his pal Dallas Shelly. In fact, he told us so many stories about Dallas Shelly we started wondering if Dallas was just a legend and didn’t really exist! (I have since met Dallas Shelly; he is indeed a real person.)
Brother Potteiger wasn’t afraid of teaching through less-common books of the Bible—how many exegetical messages have you heard from Song of Solomon? (yes, verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter.)
When he led our Sunday school class through the book of Proverbs, we Millennials probably almost drove him crazy with our ridiculous side-comments and snickers. That said, Brother Potteiger wasn’t afraid to have a bit of fun, or to allow us some giggles at his own expense… or maybe even for his benefit-?! Kendra’s front-row-pew antics cured him from saying, “I’m simply saying” repeatedly in his sermons!
One of my favorite silly memories with Brother Potteiger was the Sunday that each of us girls walked out of the sanctuary and greeted him with a different religious title as we shook his hand: “thank you parson/rector/vicar/preacher/reverend…” After about five designations he shooed us all away.
Another fun memory was the time our congregation decided to host a yard sale to benefit the church building project. We girls showed up bearing boxes of freshly baked cookies, cinnamon rolls, and bread for a bake sale. Brother Potteiger felt obligated to support our endeavors (for such a good cause too!), and by the end of the day I think he had sampled at least one of each type of the sweets. I’m sure Sister Potteiger had to put up with a mess of hyperactivity by the time he finally arrived back home that evening (he went a bit crazy under the influence of too much sugar).
One of the most ridiculous “Brother Potteiger stories” happened one fall during deer season.
When Brother Potteiger looked out the parsonage window and saw a “lady hunter,” he was immediately filled with concern about her aim. His chief fear: What if she were to shoot in the wrong direction and send a bullet through the new urinal he had just installed in the men’s bathroom at church?! Even as he relayed the story to us it didn’t seem like reality had set in that his worry was quite absurd!
Brother Potteiger was a champion. Not because he was a perfect man, but because of his constant focus. His deepest desire was to serve Jesus, and along the way to encourage everyone around him to serve Jesus too.
That’s why I cried last week as I said good-bye to a man who has been a faithful inspiration in my life this past decade-- a pastor God sent as a special gift to me, to share a little piece of the road He’s weaving as I walk this journey called life.
2 Timothy 4:7-8