I saw in the paper the other day that Gerald Fincher had passed away. Rev. Gerald Kemp Fincher was an important guy as I was coming up because Brother Gerald was the minister at Mabelvale United Methodist Church back in those days. I had the occasion to visit with his daughter a couple of years ago. She said that her parents were in poor health. I found out when I read the obituary that Mrs. Fincher died last November.
I refer to him as "Brother" rather than "Reverend" because when I was a kid, that's the way that the Methodist clergy, at the least the Methodist clergy as it obtained back in Mabelvale, referred to itself.
I started out at Oak Forest Methodist (not yet United) which is not too far from where I live now. The pastor there was Brother Clint Burleson. His daughter Katie and I spent countless hours playing board games on the front porch of the parsonage. Brother Bob Trieschman followed Brother Clint. He used to play touch football with us on the church parking lot.
We moved to Mabelvale when I was in the 5th grade. My first preacher there was Brother Ben Hines, followed by Interim Pastor Arthur Terry. He went by Brother Terry, possibly in recognition that he was damn near 80 when they stuck him in there and that it might have been unseemly to address one so elderly by his first name. By the time I hit Hendrix College, Brother Gerald was on the job.
It occurs to me that Brother Gerald's generation of Methodist preachers might have been the last one to eschew the honorific for the more humble title of "Brother." I still find myself addressing the clergy at my church as "Brother" from time to time out of force of habit, which is understandable given my history with the issue. At least the males of the species. But unlike today, there was no other kind that I was aware of back in the day.
Anyway, Brother Gerald was a very important man in my life and not just because he was a good guy. Which he was. But, as I have written in the past, my father died in December of my senior year at Hendrix. And I had applications pending at law schools all over the place.
The issue of how this was gonna get paid for was El Problemo Grande. Hendrix and Tulane introduced me to the Student Loan Guarantee Foundation. Brother Gerald got me hooked up with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church (Really. That's what it still calls itself.), which loaned me money to go to law school. Reasonable minds may disagree as to whether financing a legal education was a fit purpose for this program. But I wasn't gonna turn it down if they were gonna loan it to me.
Looking back on it, the machinations I had to go through each semester were kind of comical. As I recall, I only had to sign one note for each school year. But every semester Brother Gerald had to certify that I was indeed a Methodist of good standing. And every semester I had to submit my bona fides to the campus minister (I forget how I addressed him) at the Wesley Foundation at Tulane in order to get the loan funds disbursed to the Business Office over in Gibson Hall.
I was telling my buddy Don this story the other night after I had learned of Brother Gerald's passing. He allowed as how, based on his recollection of my allegedly sinful ways in law school,in which Don was equally complicit much of the time, it was evident that Brother Gerald didn't quiz me too carefully about my Christian journey in Orleans Parish.
Which was true. I'm guessing he didn't much care. Either that or figured that I wouldn't get into too much trouble. No, he mainly wanted a report on how things were going each semester. He wanted to know if I was OK. Sometimes, not always, he would have a little extra money for me that an always anonymous donor would funnel through him. It wasn't much. Gas money mostly.
But it was a gesture that said, "We're proud of you. We still love you back home."
Contrary to the noise from certain sectors of the media and politics, the vast majority of "success stories" are not completely self-made. Most everybody I know didn't get to where they are today without the assistance of others. I know I sure as hell didn't.
And I've tried to pay it forward and to pay it back. Because, in part, because that is what Gerald Fincher and all of the other mentors and encouragers that propelled me along would have wanted.
Rest in peace, Brother Gerald. I will always remember you. And be grateful.