Abp. Craig Bates - 1987
Archbishop Craig was my pastor and my family's pastor for over 30 years. His ministry among us focused on:
--reminding us every chance he had that G-d loves us
--building strong families
--equipping men to fulfill their G-d-given roles
--teaching our children - the next generation
--reaching out to those in recovery
I looked forward each week to his final blessing – a simple summary of the Good News – so simple the children all knew it – yet so profound that it had the power to unlock and encourage hearts that haven’t known the truth that…
“Remember the Gospel: That God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them. God loves you, God has forgiven you, God is not mad at you, and God will never leave you nor forsake you.”
We called it The Lake George Blessing, perhaps because it was first used at a convocation in Lake George, NY.
In March 1987, a friend - Dory Anne - invited Eileen and me to visit her church. That first Sunday a young couple was baptizing their first child. They shared with us that Jessica’s birth was a miracle. They were unable to conceive until members of the church laid hands on them. Eileen and I were in the same place that Sunday.
Coincidence or God-incidence?
Their faith and the faith of the rest of our church helped us to trust that God could do a similar miracle. The men in my morning prayer group prayed over me while I also pursued medical options. Two weeks before I was to have surgery, Eileen called me at work to say that she was pregnant. I felt like Issac must have felt when his father - Abraham - with knife in hand was poised over his chest about to kill him. In my case, it would have been a doctor's scalpel and it would have been aimed a little lower. As God would have it, John’s birthday (Oct 8) ended up being the same as Jessica’s.
Coincidence or God-incidence?
I'll let you decide.
Of all that he taught me, his wise one-liners are what I remember most. To this day, I find myself using them in conversations with family and friends. Here are some of my favorites:
"I have clay feet...that begin at the neck."
On His Early Days in Ministry (more humility):
“Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing; and Lord, you know that I don’t know what I’m doing; and Lord, in a few days these people will know that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” Ps 127:1
“…on this rock I will build my church…” Matt 16:18
On Marriage to Cathy (his wife):
“I married up!”
On Sermons and Obedience:
“We are all educated well beyond our level of obedience.”
On Second Chances:
“God sees our potential, not our past.”
On Personal Responsibility for Sin:
“I made a list of all of my problems and found one common denominator – me!”
On Holiday Stress:
“It’s just one day – 24 hours”
On Determining Your Priorities:
“Your checkbook and calendar show your priorities.”
On Being Faithful to God:
“The trouble with living sacrifices is they keep jumping off the altar.”
“All can, some should, and some must.”
“I’m God and you’re not God.”
“Temptation is tempting.”
“Deception is deceiving.”
First Words to Perspective Suitors of His Daughters:
“Let me show you my sword and gun collection.”
“Man is a self-made creature who worships his creator.”
“They’ve quit smoking and taken up self-righteousness.”
“You can’t out give God.”
“God doesn’t need your money and I don’t need your money. Tithing is for you.”
“Takers are losers, givers are winners.”
His Favorite People:
“My spiritual father was a gangster.”
On Struggles and Your Testimony:
“You’ve got to have a test, otherwise you just have a ‘mony’.” (see my testimony above)
“The opposite of faith is fear – not doubt.” “But perfect love drives out fear.”
The Purpose of Church:
“The church exists for non-members.”
“The church is not a hotel for the comfortable but a hospital for the wounded.”
His Charge to Men:
“A Man of God:
-Leads With Courage
-Stays With It
-Seeks An Eternal Reward”
Bishop’s Life Verse:
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” John 15:16a
MY 2019 THANK YOU LETTER
Hello! This is a looooong overdue “Thank you!”
I’ve been meaning to do this for over two years. I’m reminded every time I share some of your funny and deep wisdom quips with friends and family. Several times a week, they add spice and humor to the three-way conversations in our home. The other day, as I talked with one of my sisters, I used at least four of your one-liners. Ever consider stand-up theologian as a retirement gig?
What I remember from the 30+ years we shared the road...
Your concern for the least, lost and lonely as evidenced by your defense of the unborn and your support of The Bridge House and guys trying to start over on firmer ground.
Your wisdom in including the 12 Steps in the heart and soul of the church - in all its rooms - not just in the basement. G-d has used these Steps to show me dark areas that needed Light and this “renewing of my mind” is transforming all my relationships, beginning with the most important ones – Eileen and John.
Your ministry to men - we probably fit into the above category of “least, lost and lonely.” : ))) This is so necessary considering the shortage of healthy male role models.
Your vision that to forge a healthy and holy future, we must start with our children.
Included in the above, I thank you for taking John under your wing at a very impressionable time in his development.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
And, for me, probably the most important - your humility.
“Clay feet that begin at the neck…”
…is how you described yourself. This self-effacing humor enabled me to take to heart the previously mentioned wisdom because I was able to look past your face and see the Teacher’s face. I always felt like you were walking next to me, not in front of me. Kinda like the guys on the road to Emmaus.
Said another way, the Treasure you possessed was housed in a head-to-toe jar of clay. That helped us see past your humanity and realize where the Power Source was.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Kids say the darnedest things
Of all your one-line lessons that I use a lot is the one that I feel best highlights your humility:
“We’re just like one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.”
You walked among us as one of us. Glad to have shared the road with you.
“Go into all the world and preach the good news…”
In closing, a few weeks ago John told us about your RV adventures. At one point in your walk you were addressed as a “VR” (Very Reverend). Should I now call you “RV”?
At this place in the journey, music and scripture have become very meaningful. I was never big on bible study, so I’m amazed (and blessed) that scriptures are just welling up in me at all kinds of times. I suspect it might be the result of my relatively recent connection to Jesus as a fellow traveler (beggar) on this ride. For the time, I’m not focusing on his divinity, but rather on the amazing example he provides of how to live a full and complete human life. I actually think this is the first time I can say I truly have a personal relationship with him.
I added the above personal note to encourage you that while this sheep is not currently in a particular sheepfold, I’m in good hands and growing closer than ever to the Shepherd.
Music is my other new discovery and just like the scriptures that well up, so do songs. This is happening in spite of your very funny,
“If you can remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.”
All of my friends from that era love it.
I’m writing a lot and use songs frequently to under-“score” a point. So, when I heard about your road trips, I recalled Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” and wrote the following for you and Cathy:
“Cathy, I said as we boarded the RV in Pittsburgh. Malverne looks like a dream to me now....”
I’ll leave you guys with a song that kinda sums up your ministry. It’s from our wild and crazy, drunk on the new wine of the Spirit, charismatic renewal days.
Yes, this popular Christian ministry to children even has an asparagus character – Junior!