The man that hired me at the first rescue mission at which I worked 32 years ago, took me to lunch last weekend. His name is Ernie. I had not seen him for 15 years.
Ernie was the best boss I ever had. He was not afraid of new ideas. In fact, virtually every time I heard Ernie pray, I heard him ask God for new ideas for the mission programs.
After I had been at the mission for a few years, the Executive Director and Ernie asked me to start an alcohol recovery program for men. I had no idea how to begin. I decided that I would start by attending AA meetings as a means of learning from the people who seemed to know what they were doing.
I went to an AA meeting at an Alano Club in nearby Glendale, California. That was where I read the 12 Steps for the first time. I immediately recognized the recovery potential of the steps.
I began to build a alcohol recovery program around the steps. It took a while to get it functioning, but in time, it became a good program.
When I first started developing the program the other chaplains were outraged. They felt that I was abandoning the Gospel for 12 Step programing. The weekly Chaplain’s Meeting became hard for me to endure. Ernie took it for awhile. After a few weeks Ernie laid down the law to the other chaplains. He said with total firmness,” You men stop this negative talk. We are going to let George experiment with the 12 Steps. I won’t allow you to continue this criticism. Leave him alone.” I was never bothered by the other chaplains about the steps again.
Ernie also recognized that the white maleness of the mission staff was a serious limitation to the effectiveness of the ministry. I would not describe Ernie as liberal. It was more that he was very practical. It seemed logical to him that the gender, race and ethnicity of the clientele should be reflected in the staff.
Ernie is a true servant leader. One time I was the speaker at an off site halfway house the mission operated for women and their families. Ernie and his wife lived in an apartment out back behind of the larger house used by the women.My evening began with dinner in the big house with the families. Ernie and his wife Lois, were not in attendance. After dinner, I realized that I had left my Bible in my car. I needed it to lead my Bible Study.When I got to my car, I found Ernie under the hood. He was very surprised and a little embarrassed. He was cleaning my battery posts.
I had an old car and four little kids. Ernie knew me well enough to know I would not think to do appropriate maintenance on my car. He wanted to take care of my car for me.If I had not caught him doing it, I would not have ever known he had worked on my car. I was deeply touched.
I have many more examples of good experiences with Ernie.Recently.Recently Ernie called me to invite me to lunch. With all that wonderful history between us, I could not .wait to see him again.
When the day of the lunch finally came. I was so happy. Our time together was an exercise in mutual concern and respect. The love was palpable. We exchanged small gifts and small talk. We also retold our mission stories.The lunch with Ernie was healing for me. I feel I was unjustly treated by the mission board at the time I left. That bad feeling diluted my memories of the good times I enjoyed at the mission. The good memories are near me again. Having my good memories back is one more thing I owe Ernie.