Life abundant in love


We wept at Barclay Brown's funeral. Those of us who had loved him and been loved by him. We wept and sang. Told funny stories. Remembered him. Celebrated him. Thanked him.

We thanked him over and over again. And wept and said goodbye.

Most of you probably have never heard of Barclay Brown. He was a United Methodist minister who led a Columbia congregation in the early 1970s. Then he left to become a full-time pastoral counselor and psychotherapist. That's how a lot of us first met him. We came to him in pain and crisis about our constricted lives, failing marriages, struggling families, stressful jobs or dying loved ones.

Eventually, he and his wife moved their family to Westminster where they sought and found a closer-knit community. He sang in his church choir, acted in the local theater, founded a healing arts center and continued seeing patients.

Barclay wasn't famous, celebrated or illustrious. He didn't invent any brilliant psychiatric theories, write any pop-psychology best-sellers, appear on any talk shows, hold any high offices, win any awards, hit any home runs. So when he died suddenly last month, he wasn't mourned by millions.

Rebuilding troubled lives

But this was a man who changed people's lives. He did it one at a time. Usually in the privacy of his small office. There, over the years, he worked with hundreds of men and women, empowering them to face and overcome their problems, and inspiring them to rebuild unhappy lives, troubled marriages and distressed families. Because of him, many of us are different -- better than we were or ever would have been.

You may not have known this particular person. But if you've been as lucky as we were, maybe you've known someone like him -- someone who has had as much impact on your life as he had on ours.

Who are these incredible men and women who touch us so deeply? Who change our lives? Whose presence prove so pivotal? Where do they come from? How did they get that way?

It's more than a simple matter of vocation. Though many of these people do work in the helping professions. But for all the good done by ministers, counselors and teachers, only the most exceptional ones actually change many lives. Yet you can stumble across the most unlikely mentors in the most unexpected places.

Maybe it's a matter of talent. Barclay certainly had plenty of that. He wasn't just well-trained and highly skilled. He had the natural ability to counsel without lecturing or preaching. He largely did it by sharing himself -- his warmth and excitement, his own experiences and feelings, the lessons he'd learned in his own life and the difficulties he still faced. Especially the difficulties of being a man.

A leader of men

This man touched a lot of men. He took us by the hand -- individually and in groups -- and led us into new experiences of ourselves. Into our feelings and vulnerability, into intimacy with loved ones, and into sharing ourselves with other men. For many of us, this was frightening stuff. But Barclay had the ability to make us feel secure enough with him to risk the journey.

He had the knack of being able to go far down the path ahead of you without making you feel as if you were left to trudge along by yourself far behind him. I always felt that he was walking with me -- that the two of us were exploring together, sharing the adventure, even when I knew he'd been over the same terrain many times before.

Skill and talent, however, can't account for this rare ability to change lives. There are lots of talented, trained professionals who never touch anyone that deeply.

Maybe it's a matter of motivation. Barclay wanted to serve. He centered his life around that intention -- as a husband and father, a clergyman and a pastoral counselor, a friend and a neighbor, a healer and a teacher.

Those roles formed concentric circles around him, so that they all reinforced each other. This man's life wasn't scattered. It was focused on his values: faith in God, love of wife and family, belief in marriage, devotion to friends, commitment to community, dedication to service.

At his funeral, this inscription was printed on the program:

"I shall pass this way but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

That was the spirit in which he lived. But I cannot find -- even in those powerful words -- an adequate explanation for this man.

Maybe these special people, like Barclay Brown, simply have a calling -- some clear and compelling mission to reach out and touch us while they are here. They come into your life and mine as a gift and a blessing. When they leave, we can only weep and try to express our gratitude and appreciation.

Tim Baker writes from Columbia.

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