To Don: Goodbye and Thank You

In 1996, Seinfeld aired an episode called “The Fatigues.” (Has it really been that long ago?!?) The episode featured Jerry dating a woman who spoke well and often of her mentor. Jerry and his friends, a collection of self-centered individualists, were puzzled by the mentor/protégé relationship. “What’s in it for the mentor?” asked his friend, George.

In a mentor, we find someone whose wisdom, knowledge, and experience helps us to grow. Sometimes, mentoring programs are formal. The pastoral training program in which I’m currently enrolled will eventually require me to have a mentor on record. There are objectives to achieve, hours to be logged. Sometimes, mentoring just happens and we don’t even know it.

In my early 20’s, I didn’t realize that I was being mentored. I had moved back home after graduating from an out-of-state college. I was lonely, awkward, and lacking in confidence. I started hanging around with the musicians at my church, singing and playing the keyboard.  Don St. John was the worship music pastor. Without realizing it, I began to learn from him.

Don was a gifted musician and strong leader. He wasn’t a temperamental artiste; he was unruffled, kind and patient. Our choir and band rehearsals were focused and productive, but there were plenty of witty remarks and chuckles. He urged us to strive for musical excellence while constantly reminding us that worship, not performance, was our highest goal.

That was a time of significant personal growth for me. Don saw potential in me, giving me more and more opportunities to develop both my musical and leadership skills. With his encouragement, I became more confident in my abilities.  After 13 years of watching, listening to, and learning from Don, I left the church for a new assignment.

I became the Director or Worship Music at a new-start church. I’ve been at it for 9 years now, and the things I learned from Don continue to affect my ministry. When I run a rehearsal; when I’m looking for impactful music that will draw the congregation into worship; when I’m managing the schedules and dynamics of a talented team of volunteers…Don’s influence is always there. “What would Don do?” is something I think about.

In 2010, when I was packing up to leave for that new assignment, there were lots of hugs and goodbyes from my band and choir mates. Don was the last person I hugged on my way out. I was vaguely aware that this goodbye was the hardest for me. I didn’t know it then, but that goodbye ended a significant chapter in my life.

This week, as we begin to mourn Don’s death and reflect on his life, I am keenly aware that being his protégé was a great privilege.

A truly great mentor is hard to find,

Difficult to part with, and

Impossible to forget.

(author unknown)

Don, you have been an inspiring mentor. Saying goodbye to you is heartbreaking. You are impossible to forget because, whether they know it or not, my congregation benefits from your faith and your wisdom every time I take my place on the platform. Until we sing again, my brother…


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