Last Saturday afternoon, June 4, Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, held a special worship service of thanksgiving to God for his servants Vernon and Betty Gundermann. It was my challenging privilege to be the preacher. Sermon title: God’s Gifts. Your Legacy.
It was a privilege because Terry and I were blessed to have Vern for our pastor during our nine years in St. Louis when I served as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Vern was an excellent pastor in every respect. I also considered him the best preacher in the LCMS.
Sadly, not all of our nine years were filled with joyful activities and experiences. Particularly during some of my most difficult days in office, I had the “privilege” of receiving communications from or attending meetings with people who my dear Terry aptly describes as “joy suckers.” They sucked the joy right out of life and ministry.
At such times, Pastor Gundermann had an uncanny, almost surreal, perhaps even supernatural way of knowing and feeling the struggles we were experiencing. Incredibly, upon returning from such joy sucking experiences, Terry and I were greeted, virtually every time, with a phone message from our pastor, assuring us of his prayers, his love, his support, his encouragement.
In addition to Vern’s wonderful pastoral ministry of encouragement and support, his dear wife Betty became a very important person in the life of my dear wife Terry. Not many folks who live outside a pastor’s home know or understand the unique concerns, stresses, frustrations and worries of a pastor’s wife. Betty possessed a keen sensitivity to what pastors’ wives were likely to experience, including a pastor’s wife whose husband had become a national church president.
In our toughest times, Betty was there for Terry, to encourage her, to cry with her and to laugh with her. Betty was and to this very day still is an indescribably close friend of my dear Terry.
Preaching at last Saturday’s service was a challenge because Vern’s normal activities and abilities have been altered by the effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Knowing what to say and how to say it was tough. Yet through it all Vern maintains a realistic attitude of joy and thanksgiving. I pray the Spirit blessed my words.
In one of his weekly updates, Vern acknowledged that no longer will he be able to say or sing a single word. He also wrote: “Life is good. Life is changing. Life is good. Do keep Betty in your prayers. Every change for me adds a task to her life! She now shaves me, puts on my socks and so much more. And she does it all with a good spirit. Little did we understand [on June 25, 1961] the words of our marriage vows ‘in sickness and in health.’ It is not easy living with one who cannot speak and whose eyesight is quite dim.”
Last week hundreds gathered to thank God for Vern and Betty Gundermann! It was a day to remember! God has given them many gifts! They will leave a legacy!