As a young man, Bill Wangler landed a job with the railroad. For a depression era kid, that was a big deal. It promised a good living and security. A short time later he met my mother and when they married on Christmas Day, 1945, they celebrated the love they'd found and looked forward to building a home and raising a family.
Tucked in his first Bible which now sits on my bookcase is a yellowed letter. It is a letter of recommendation written on June 16, 1955 by my father’s foreman on the Wabash Railroad. The text of the letter is simple and so is the reason it was written. My father had wrestled with working on Sundays. His faith was firmly in God and his life was built around the work of God on earth, the church. His foreman worked with him as long as he could, but eventually my Dad believed he had to choose between the job he loved and Jesus. He chose Jesus.
I don’t believe it was a legalistic approach to the Sabbath as much as it was a passion to be part of the church that drove my father. It was a huge step of faith. He never again would earn the kind of money he might have earned if he had stayed with the railroad, but his Sundays weren’t for sale. God provided. We never went without. The house got built, the family raised, and my father distinguished himself in a career of customer service. But it’s not my father’s Monday through Friday career I want to talk about; it’s those Sundays.
Sundays were extremely predictable around the Wangler house. Early, Mom would prepare a roast or chicken while my Dad peeled potatoes. Then, while Mom continued preparing, Dad would engage in the most difficult ministry of the day: getting the kids out of bed. Eventually we would leave for church and Sunday was on.
Mom and Dad were always serving. They taught, they cleaned, they cared for, they picked up and dropped off. Mom was missionary president and Dad served on the church board. In addition, he directed and drove a bus ministry for kids. When the services began, Mom and Dad took their place in an “amen” pew, 4th row, on the center aisle, organ side. No pastor ever had stronger encouragers and supporters than Bill and Hilda Wangler.
After Sunday dinner, while the kids played and the adults went down for a nap, Dad would drive to the county jail and hold church services. By 4:30 he was back home and preparing to load the family into the car for Sunday night.
Sunday nights after church were my favorite time. My parents would host other couples or the pastor or visiting evangelist at our home. The dining room table would be buzzing with conversation and laughter. Never did I hear my parents talk negatively about the church. Eventually, inevitably, the conversation would get serious, the Bible would come out, and tears would be shed as people poured their hearts out at the altar that was the dining room table of Bill and Hilda Wangler. As a child there was something warm about those times. I didn’t want them to end and they often didn’t until late into the night.
By my calculations, from the writing of the letter of recommendation on June 16, 1955 until the Monday my father died on February 9, 2009, there were 2,732 Sundays. On a vast majority of those save a few for vacations or illness, my parent’s Sundays were invested in the work of God through the local church.
They took their faith seriously and I and my brother and sisters were recipients of that faith. They loved people, each other, and our family. Dad was respected in the work place and our neighborhood. Mom was a natural leader. They were students, both of them reading voraciously. They were deeply loved by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All in all not a bad return on the investment of Sundays.
So, in my Dad’s memory and as an honor to my mom, here’s to all the weekend warriors that commit to carrying on the mission of the local church.
You prepare the environments. You shake the hands. You listen to the hurts. You teach the children. You park the cars. You unlock the doors. You turn on the lights. You set up chairs and then take them back down. You lock the doors when it’s over. You listen to the stories. You open your homes. You show up early. You leave late. You reschedule and prioritize around mission. You take bullets of criticism for pastors. You invite your friends and neighbors. You give your money. You use your talents. You sing. You play an instrument. You run a soundboard. You take out the trash. You make the coffee. You fold bulletins. You host a small group. You teach the Bible studies. You receive, count, and then deposit the offering. You update the database. You load the message onto the website. You make sure the baptistery is filled and, God willing, the heater is on. You take the Gospel to nursing homes and jails. You welcome guests. You help regular attenders. You fill communion trays. You pray in anticipation and show up in expectation that God is going to change someone’s life the way he changed yours. And he still does.