My friend and former parishioner Vernon Mason died this week. Vern was a real treasure. I hope that every minister of the gospel has had a person like Vern in each place they have served – I have been so fortunate to have people like him alongside me in each pastorate. Vern was the person more than any other, at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Gore, who was a friend and confidant as well as parish member. In a season when ministers were being encouraged to be professional and to ‘keep the lines clear’, I was fortunate to have a companion who allowed me to be me – he did so without feeling compromised by the different responsibilities we held – he was blessedly free – comfortable in his own skin and therefore able to enter a level of calm that enabled him to be trusted. Vern was a respected elder in the church – a person who did not seek or need to be noticed in the role, and therefore someone with the capacity to befriend the minister and provide a range of ways of being supportive and do so without fanfare. With his treasure of a wife, Joyce, Vern offered me and my family hospitality, practical and understated spiritual support, a listening ear, a place of refuge/sanctuary, and time out on the golf course where he allowed me to vent… something I needed to do from time to time. I never felt judged, only supported and embraced. He was also very wise and quite funny… he had the ability to play with the things hovering around me that seemed so serious; he taught me to see the big picture and to not take myself or the situations before me, too seriously. He was one of those people who discovered how to walk on the earth lightly – I have a feeling that these sort of people are those who Jesus describes as the meek who will inherit the earth… the people who actually get to live life in its fullness… the kind of people who are truly free. I think he was both extraordinary and ordinary… extraordinary in his ordinariness… one of life’s treasures. He is among a small group of men who have been my closest mentors in life and I have long mourned the loss of him as a regular presence in my life.
Vern and Joyce were the people who I found hardest to leave when I moved on, and even then, I did not feel judged. He was selfless in his encouragement.
I talked to him last week – he relayed a story that illustrates his playful humour… he said “Martin, do you remember me telling you on the golf course one day that I hoped to get to 83 years old and dying after being shot my an angry husband? Well, I have got to 83, but I think I might need a manual to find out how to do what it is that would cause an angry husband to shoot me!”
Farewell Vern you gracious and generous man. Thanks for modelling for me the kind of life that I was trying to preach about!