The following post was written by Rev. Ed Moore.
My nephew Ned became an Eagle Scout toward the end of summer, and most of the family gathered in a United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania to witness the award, support Ned and, of course, celebrate. Though Ned didn’t expect a gift, I presented him with a family artifact I’d curated for many years: the Lou Stanley Memorial Compass.
Lou Stanley was a classic West Virginian who lived near our home when I was growing up and occasionally worked for my father. Right out of central casting, Lou rolled his own smokes, wore a Freddy Krueger hat years before anyone heard of Freddy, drove a ’37 Chevy pickup (“Put a ’39 rear end in it,” he once allowed), confessed to having run moonshine “back in the 30”s,” dealt in guns to earn some extra income, was hygienically indifferent, and spoke what even then was a vanishing Appalachian dialect. But Lou was a kindly soul, and one day presented me with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers compass dating from World War I. Solid brass it was, with a thick lens, engravings attesting to its provenance, and a beautifully etched dial that spun freely – when unlocked – and unfailingly pointed true north. I kept that compass safe and secure for years, long after Lou had driven the ’37 up to the pearly gates and flicked some home rolled ashes at St. Peter’s kiosk (Peter probably let him pass after exacting a promise he’d dunk himself seven times in the river of the water of life).
Who better, I reasoned, to curate the Stanley Compass for the next few decades than Ned, an Eagle Scout, and rising millennial Moore? So now the artifact belongs to him, and it has fallen to my brother Will, his dad, to convey the oral tradition of Lou Stanley in all its colorful, multisensory, detail. This will require many evenings by the fireside and, for Ned, an expanded appreciation for the Appalachian Mythical Tradition. I’ve no doubt Ned and Will are both up to the challenge.
I confess to some mixed feelings as I parted with the compass: I had come to think of it as my own, a piece of property belonging to me. But then I remembered that my life this side of the vale is impermanent and that, like Aaron’s staff (see Numbers 17), the Stanley Compass had the power to reinforce critical, tribal memories. Ned will understand his dad, three uncles, and his own West Virginia lineage better after Will answers the question, “Father, why is this compass different from all other compasses?” Each time Ned watches its dial spin to true north, he’ll recall whence he came.
Serving in what United Methodists call Extension Ministry (more tribal stuff, different tribe) for the past six years has honed my understanding of this important aspect of The Calling: the privilege of sharing what’s been learned in the journey. My spiritual attic is filled with things analogous to the Stanley Memorial Compass, many of them stored away as sacred reminders of lessons hard – or joyfully – learned in the thirty-five years since I was ordained Elder. It has been a privilege to sort through these as I’ve worked with the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke, dusting off the more significant among them and bequeathing them to pastors with whom I’ve served these last six years.
If we think of life’s journey as a succession of seasons, then retirement might be the season of harvest, when we take stock of what we’ve stored up across the years, sort out the more grace-ful artifacts, then give them away. We won’t have lost them – I can still recite the Lou Stanley narrative easily – but will have, in the act of giving, enriched the recipients’ lives by trusting them to curate the gifts. Isn’t this what we experienced years ago in baptism? In ordination or licensing by the church? Every time we stood behind a pulpit or the Lord’s Table? As we were trusted, so now we trust others . . . just as Mary Magdalene, entrusted with seeing the risen Lord, gave away that Good News as soon as she could. That’s church, thanks be to God.
Rev. Moore is the Director of Educational Programs for the Clergy Health Initiative and an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.