One hundred years later I was a young United Methodist pastor serving a 4-point charge in Frederick, Maryland in 1984. I had only been ordained for 3 years when American Methodism turned 200. My husband was serving a 3-point charge at the same time and we had two small children. Life was busy and full. The General Conference of the United Methodist Church would be held in Baltimore that year and we brought our church members down on school buses to see that great musical extravaganza in the Baltimore Civic Center. There was a souvenir coin minted for the bicentennial as there was for the centennial. We bought these heavy brass coins and put them in our pockets and remembered the grand and glorious celebration of our church’s rich history.
What a surprise to receive a little box from my father that year with a necklace inside. Dad was an antique collector and had somehow run across an original souvenir coin of the 1884 centennial. He realized how precious this was given the celebration we were having for the bicentennial. He had the coin dipped in silver and made into a necklace with a long silver chain. I remember showing it to church historians at the time and everyone agreed it was the real thing and that it was indeed a collector’s item. The silver did not make much sense to people but it made a lot of sense to me.
My father had a friend who he knew for many years who was a silversmith. Ray covered things in silver and polished silver and made silver jewelry. Dad always loved silver and when he would find some antique or unique thing he would have Ray dip it in silver. It was shiny and beautiful and made something drab and plain become something rich and valuable. He often would find items that were silver that had tarnished from years of not being polished and he would recognize it for what it was and get Ray to polish it up and it was transformed into a glittering prize. That is the kind of person my Dad was. He saw the good in everyone, even the tarnished souls of life and was always willing to give and help and give people a second chance. He saw silver in everyone even covering them with the silver of forgiveness and dignity when necessary.
Once when he worked at the Post Office as a supervisor the Postmaster at the time was intent on firing one of the clerks in dad’s office. At the hearing my dad spoke up for him and he got to keep his job because of the testimony of my father. The displeased Postmaster promised Dad he would never get a promotion again for challenging his authority in public. He never got a raise but he covered that worker in silver and he got to keep his job and his livelihood. Dad taught us that people are more important than money.
He would feed birds, rescue cats, build squirrel houses, give $20 bills to people on the street, listen to anyone’s story, and he served his community and his church with humility and grace. Dad spent his life finding a way to polish up something or someone. We need more people like this in the world.
Fast forward to July 2008 when I was elected bishop, and assigned to the Philadelphia Area. I got that silver necklace out of my drawer and stared in wonder at the face on the coin: Bishop Simpson of Philadelphia! I was now the bishop of Philadelphia. How amazing to be wearing his face on my necklace and to know that I was following this mighty bishop’s work into the future of the church’s third century. How amazing that 24 years earlier I had been gifted with such a coin that was like a tiny impossible prophecy that came true.
Dad went home to be with the Lord over the weekend. No more silver will be coming from his hands or heart in this life but perhaps the streets of heaven will soon be paved in silver once Dad gets settled up there and has a talk with God about it. And I know that Dad is up there because he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, who covered his sins and all of ours and made us shine like silver because of the righteousness of Christ.
Dad leaves to mourn his faithful wife and loving family who are charged with following his legacy of love that polishes up the tarnished places in this world and if necessary covering it all with the silver of grace and forgiveness.