Bernice Smith wasn’t a colleague. She wasn’t one of my teachers. And she wasn’t my pastor at one time. Yet, she did pastor me, and taught me. As a Christian friend, I figure you could say she and I had a collegial relationship.

Bernice was a member of the last church where I served as pastor. By the time I got to town, she was on the frail side. She lived in a modest retirement community, and wasn’t really up to attending church. If she had been active at one time, that is, serving on committees or working on the rummage sale, or leading circle meetings, I wasn’t aware of it.

But here is the thing that made Bernice so special, not only in my life but in the lives of many other folks in that church. She still had the strength to dial a telephone, and she still had a heart that cared for people she could reach by phone. So, she called us. Not every day, but regularly. And ever so briefly.

I would be at the church office and would answer the church phone. This was before “caller ID” was so popular, so I wouldn’t know who was calling until I heard her crackily little voice: “Good morning, Jeff. This is Bernice Smith. I just called to ask how you were doing today. I hope you are well.” I would express my appreciation for her call, and assure her that I was fine.

“Well, that’s good. I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you this morning. I won’t keep you; I have some other calls to make. Have a good day, all right?” Yes, I thought. Now that you have blessed me with your thoughtful call, I will indeed have a good day!

Such a simple gesture. Church members told me of her calls to them, and how much it meant to them. I hope they told her, too, how much it meant.

Her calls came for only a few months early in my pastorate. Her failing health stilled her calls, and then her life. I still tell people about Bernice, about how none of us, as we age or face some disability, can do all we used to do for folks. But as long as we are able to push the buttons on a phone and speak into it, we are able to pastor the lambs in our care. We are able to teach and act out simple kindnesses, and we are able to build a community of neighbors who remember to reach out and touch somebody’s heart.

Bernice taught me that. And now I am sharing her kindness with you. I wish I could have called you.

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