Not long after I first arrived at Calvary, the Reverend Bill Kolb sent me an email welcoming me to Calvary and Memphis, letting me know we share a mutual interest in pastoral care and inviting me to lunch at a midtown restaurant at 2:30. I emailed Bill back and said, ‘This all sounds wonderful, but there must be a typo in your email. Don’t you mean 12:30 for lunch?’ Bill emailed me back and said that as I get to know him, I would understand that he really did mean 2:30!
We had several late lunches over the last five years and looking back, I wish we had more. Bill was a wise, thoughtful, kind, caring and humorous mentor, colleague, and friend. But he was more than that. Bill would often refer to me as Brother in his emails. And there was a sense in which he really was my elder brother in ministry.
Bill had the gift of encouragement. A couple of months into the pandemic Bill called me one day. I immediately wondered if he was having more health problems or if he was reporting on a pastoral care check-in with a parishioner he had volunteered to make. Instead, Bill said he was simply calling to check on me! He asked how I was doing. He listened to me. Then he let me know he was thinking about and praying for me and that he was available to be there for me in any way that might be helpful.
The apostle Paul wrote a lot about encouragement. I believe he did this because it was what he first encountered when he came into the Christian community. He had been Saul, the fiercest persecutor and enemy of the Christian community. After his dramatic “blinded by the light” conversion, two of the first people he met were Ananias and Barnabas. While at first skeptical, Ananias tended to Saul, gave him food and drink, and taught him about the way of Jesus that would now guide his life. Most importantly, Ananias did not call him Saul. He called him ‘Brother Saul.’ By doing that Ananias let him know right away that not only was he accepted, he was family.
When Saul returned to Jerusalem to preach and serve Jesus, the Christian community there remembered him as the man who sought to kill them.
And they would have nothing to do with him. Along came Barnabas who took the initiative and had the courage to re-introduce Saul to the community. Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement,’ vouched for him and told them that Saul’s conversion experience was real. He told them about the great work for Jesus that Saul had already done in Damascus. Because the disciples in Jerusalem trusted Barnabas, based on his re-introduction, they now trusted Saul who became Paul. Paul later paid the gifts of Ananias and Barnabas forward by being a mentor and elder brother in the ministry to Timothy.
Bill was an Ananias, Barnabas, and Paul to me. One of the last emails I received from him was a little gift of affirmation with an encouraging message about our pastoral care ministry with a parishioner who had gone through the very difficult death of a loved one. He signed the email ‘Brother Bill.’