My friend Claude passed away this week. Claude Smithmier was a retired pastor, although he never retired from the ministry; he just stopped getting paid for it. He’s probably done more funerals than anyone else in the North Georgia Conference since he was often called back to do services long after he had left a church. He was 89 years old. Besides being a Methodist minister, he had also served as the state and national chaplain for the American Legion.
I first got to know Claude when I was serving at Field’s Chapel at Lake Allatoona. I was staying home with our boys at the time and took the church part-time to continue my ministry and to keep from driving my husband crazy.
The church was a small family chapel; most everyone who came was related by blood or marriage. On a good Sunday we would have around 50 in worship. The church had once sat on the main highway between Canton and Cartersville, until the Army Corp of Engineers showed up one day and made Lake Allatoona. All of a sudden, instead of being on the main thoroughfare, the church sat on a dead end street that led to a boat ramp. You couldn’t get people to come down that street for a free chicken dinner, much less for church. We know. We tried it once. We cooked up a bunch of chicken to give away for free and no one came.
I’ll confess there were more than a few Sundays when I was less than enthusiastic driving out there to preach. The pews were uncomfortable, the parking lot gravel, and the nursery non-existent. In other words, we had none of the things “experts” say a church needs to grow.
I would be sitting there on Sunday, while the lay leader was leading the first part of the service, trying to psyche myself up to preach another Sunday to the blessed faithful when Claude when slip in through the back door.
Whenever he showed up, it was like someone had turned the lights on. His presence had that kind of effect, not just on me but the whole congregation.
Why he would drive out there to worship was a mystery to me, but I was glad he did because his presence was a great encouragement to this young, struggling pastor. He never offered advice, just a positive word, a hug, and an “I love you” like he meant it. Nothing made me prouder than to have him introduce me to others as his preacher.
When I left Field’s Chapel, Claude and his wife Charlotte, who I also adore, made their way over to Hickory Flat where my husband was pastoring. Now Herzen became the beneficiary of Claude’s ministry. Eventually he became Herzen’s pastor of visitation. He would visit the sick and the shut-in and refuse to take a dime for it. After a year or two at Herzen’s insistence, Claude finally relented and let the church at least pay for his mileage.
Claude liked to give people little tokens of God’s love. To the adults he would hand out little pocket crosses and Serenity Prayer tags. For children he would pull a balloon from his pocket and make a balloon animal or pull out a dollar bill and make a ring.
Claude would also pass out rocks. If you were talking with him and you said something critical, he would hand you a rock as a subtle reminder to “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I still have a few crosses, Serenity prayers, dollar rings, and, yes, a rock. I guess it’s time to pass them onto others. The rock I’ll keep, though, it’s a good reminder not only for me to guard my mouth but also of the man of God whose life exuded the love and faithfulness to which I aspire.
See you Sunday,