My relationship with my grandfather as a member of his family is nearly indistinguishable from my relationship with him as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. That says more about him than it does about me.
Nobody loved the church more than Daddy Monk, and nobody since the Wesley brothers has been more Methodist than he was. John Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist” reads like a biography of Monk Bryan.
+ “He is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy … He cannot but rejoice.”
Daddy Monk could get so tickled that he could hardly speak. It happened, for example, when he was recounting a crazy story about our old dog Runzel. He would begin the story, and pause to allow his deep chuckle time to rumble, offer a few more words, chuckle some more, pause and collect his thoughts, a wistful smile on his face. You couldn’t help but laugh along with him.
But he could also deliver a punch line with a weighty episcopal presence as he stood before a room full of people hanging on his every word, sending the crowd into gales of laughter as he stood at the lectern, the only hint that he had been joking a tilt of his head or a tiny twinkle in his eye.
And then of course, he could sit still in the midst of his family, as the frenetic activity of our post-lunch playtime took place, a happy smile on his face, humming a tuneless hymn tune somewhere deep in his chest. Always happy, but maybe never more so than when his family was gathered together.
+ “…his heart is ever lifted up to God, at all times and in all places. In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing. In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him, and everywhere ‘seeing Him that is invisible.’”
I used to be painfully embarrassed when Daddy Monk would insist on praying before a meal out at a restaurant. He was not subtle about it, either. We had to join hands and he made a great show of bowing his head and closing his eyes just to embarrass me further, or so I thought. And then he couldn’t just say a little grace and be done, it was always a lengthy exposition that utilized all four points of the quadrilateral and contained quotations from the prophets, gospels, and an epistle, ending with a psalm. Okay, so I exaggerate a bit.
Every morning, Daddy Monk did the Upper Room devotion with my Nana, then with Twila, and always including anyone who was a guest and joined them for breakfast. Reading the devotion’s title, the scripture passage, the devotion itself, and then the prayer was only half of the morning devotion time, though. After the Upper Room was done, he got out his hymnal and found the bookmark he had left in it the previous morning. Opening to the hymn, he would read (or invite someone else to) the hymn title and author, tune name and composer, along with the dates of both. And then we would read the hymn aloud.
+ “And he accordingly loves his neighbour as himself; he loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all mankind, to every child of ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh.’ That a man is not personally known to him, is no bar to his love…”
Daddy Monk called us every Sunday night. Late. It was usually after kids were in bed, and just about when the grown-ups were, too! Sometimes he had a topic to discuss (worship styles, sermon preparation, getting young people to church) or some happening to report (a good concert, a book study, a sermon) or maybe a question to ask (are the kids ready for school, how was your vacation, what’s the latest with your foster kids) - but no matter what we said to each other, the main thing was just to connect.
He maintained connections with an astonishing number of people. I cannot begin to tell you how many people he sent notes, cards, emails on a regular basis. People in Maryville, in Nebraska, in Columbia, in Junaluska, in Dallas - the love in his heart for people could not be contained. He loved deeply, and he loved broadly. And there were no strangers in his world, only potential friends that he had yet to talk with.
+ “…he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.”
See, the way Daddy Monk was when he was “being a pastor” or “being a bishop” is the same way he was when he was “being a grandfather.” I can’t separate “Bishop Bryan” from “Grandfather Bryan” because he didn’t; he was just Daddy Monk. Well, only a few really called him that, but those who didn’t only refrained from doing so out of deference to his title. He would have loved for everyone to call him Daddy Monk, I suspect.
I suppose love the church so much because I love him so much. And is the converse true as well? Do I love him because I love the church? I wonder. How much of what I do and who I am is because of his influence in my life? Would I be here, an itinerant preacher in the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church currently appointed to serve as pastor of Campbell United Methodist Church in Springfield Missouri, if not for Monk Bryan? If he wasn’t my grandfather?
Daddy Monk taught me that a job is not done until the tools are cleaned and put away in their proper place.
He taught me about fresh peaches sliced on vanilla ice cream.
Daddy Monk taught me that generosity and frugality are not mutually exclusive propositions.
He taught me to enjoy Dr. Pepper.
He taught me to pat horses’ faces and say “ho there” so they won’t be startled by your approach.
Daddy Monk taught me that telling a story always makes a point better than just making a point.
He taught me to care that our highways are being destroyed by semis and our world is being destroyed by wars.
He taught me that a great hymn always says more than a systematic theology.
Daddy Monk taught me that church is family and family is church and you don’t have to be a different person in the pulpit than you are anywhere else.
He taught me more than I can write, more than I can remember, more than I ever could be. There is no one in the world I wanted to please more, no one I more wanted to be proud of me.
Yes, I will miss him. Even though it has been in the back of my mind for years and year that “this might be the last …” I wasn’t really ready for him to be gone. No, I knew he wasn’t going to live forever, but then again, I was kind of thinking that he was going to live forever.
My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee …
Make Room--A Sermon for Christmas Eve
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