Saint Barnabas and Saint Nora

by the Rev. Paul McLain


Tuesday of last week marked the Feast of Saint Barnabas. His name means “son of encouragement.” His original name was Joseph, but when his fellow apostles recognized his gift for encouraging others, they changed his name. Early on, Barnabas sold a piece of land that he owned. He took the money he received and laid it at the feet of the apostles, where it was used to meet the needs of the community. Barnabas teaches us that the gift of encouragement first comes out of generosity. It is a generosity not just of material possessions but of spirit, a spirit that wants to see others succeed and prosper.


After Saul of Tarsus, a fierce persecutor of Christians, had his conversion experience with Christ on the road to Damascus, he returned to Jerusalem to preach and serve Jesus. But the Christian community there remembered him as the man who sought to kill them and would have nothing to do with him. Barnabas took the initiative and dared to re-introduce Saul to the community. It was Barnabas who told them that Saul’s conversion experience was real. Because the disciples in Jerusalem trusted Barnabas, they came to trust Saul, who became the Apostle Paul. 


Encouragement is taking a risk to support and affirm someone seeking to turn their life towards Jesus. Encouragement involves looking for and recognizing other people’s gifts, especially those they have no idea they possess. Encouragement is giving someone a little touch of hope.


Last week, our diocesan community experienced the death of a Barnabas in our midst. Nora Witmer, longtime senior warden of our elder sister church Immanuel LaGrange, entered the nearer presence of God. Nora and her husband Wally often participated in Calvary’s online Morning Prayer services. She always had words of encouragement that lifted anyone in her presence. When Nora called, listening to her unique Southern accent with a melodic quality was a joy. Nora didn’t have a conversation with you; she ‘dripped sugar’ with you. She imbued her sweet spirit into your being with each syllable.


Steve Smith, a Calvary staff member and Immanuel parishioner, shared that during their worship time this past Sunday, a lone mockingbird could be heard chirping the most beautiful, melodic song throughout the service. Nora’s sweet, sweet spirit is still with us, always encouraging us.


Who is your Barnabas? Who in your midst could use a little touch of ‘dripping sugar?’

4 thoughts on “Saint Barnabas and Saint Nora”

  1. I love this, Paul. Sometimes we forget that our words and actions are more helpful things to give than material gifts. I have so many memories of people helping me as I have traveled through life. Their kindness has enriched my life more than any material gift could.

    1. Thanks, David. I’m glad this spoke to you and challenged you. You are an encouraging presence in my life and in the lives of many.
      Love and Blessings,

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