Pastor’s Pen – July 2012

I still have it.  It’s a classic.  It’s the newsletter article that appeared in “The Circuit Rider”, published by first United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon on January 31, 1982.  Here is the pertinent passage, the one I’m sure Bishop Calvin McConnell read with great interest:

I have been notified that I am to be appointed District Superintendent in June.  I do not regard it as an honor; it is not a promotion,  it may face-savingly be described that way.  It is a punishment meted out to me for reasons which I may deserve but which have not been told me.  So I would appreciate it if you would refrain from congratulating me on this change.

That’s the way Dr. Raymond E. Balcomb notified his congregation that after 19 years he would no longer be their pastor.  Ray (I was honored to be among those who could get away with calling him that) died on Sunday, June 10.  As you now know just from the above paragraph, he was quite a character.

Ray Balcomb was the finest preacher in our conference.  Even those he rubbed the wrong way (and there was a few) would have conceded that.  I heard he would have loved to teach preaching at one of our seminaries.  He would have been an excellent professor.

He was also a very good District Superintendent, in my opinion anyway.  That job did not fit his natural gifts quite as well, but he rose to the challenge.  He did miss the discipline of weekly sermon preparation.  to fill that void, he did something that had a big impact on my ministry.  He started publishing a weekly “Preacher’s Notebook”.

I still have two thick notebooks full of these.  He would begin each issue with a “Speaking Personally” column.  Then he would have a collection of short articles, some written by him, more gleaned from his reading.  Everything published was intended to be of help to aspiring preachers.  As I have been reviewing past issues, I am reminded of what a quality publication it was.  He was convinced that good preachers could be great preachers and that all preachers could be better preachers.  And he was convinced that it was well worth the effort.  He loved to quote Bishop William Quayle (1860-1925): “The sin of being uninteresting is in a preacher an exceedingly mortal sin.  It hath no forgiveness.”

Ray Balcomb was anything but uninteresting.  He would say what he thought.  Bluntly, forcefully, brilliantly.  He always spoke with clarity.  Occasionally he spoke with charity.  He could be a bulldog or he could be a teddy bear.  More often he was a bulldog.

He was never my District Superintendent.  I think I would have loved having him as my District Superintendent.  We became friends through the years we served on the Board of Ordained Ministry of our
Annual Conference.  But Ray was the immediate past District Superintendent of the church in Portland I served for 11 years.  So I heard many Ray Balcomb stories!

The one I heard the most was a remark he made at a Church Conference held at the church.  It was a church that had been quite large, but had been in decline for a number of years.  He pointed to the statistical trend and commented, “I’ll give you ten years.”  That single comment so offended them (and woke them up!) that they were highly motivated to reverse that negative trend when I came to be their pastor.  As it turned out, we ended up thanking Ray Balcomb.

I did discover later that we weren’t the only church that heard those words, “I’ll give you ten years.” Apparently it was part of his stump speech.  And many of those churches didn’t get mad enough to prove him wrong.  Many were dead or comatose ten years hence, just as he had predicted.

I told the story at Delbert Perry’s service of a comment over heard at a funeral: “Most of the really interesting people aren’t here anymore.” How true.  Delbert was one.  Ray Balcomb was another.