I’ve been to a lot of funerals, way more than most folks my age. For five years I worked for my cousin, Rooney Bowen. He owned the Chevrolet dealership and the funeral home in Vienna. Cars and caskets were our specialties. I’ve played the piano for many services. That began when I was a teenager at Harmony Baptist Church. For 35 years I worked at a small-town bank, a bank where our customers were also our friends. That added a number of funerals to the total count.
I officiated at the funeral for Donnie Carpenter. His wife, Mattie, asked me to have the service. I told her it might be best to have a preacher. She said there was nobody Donnie would rather have than me, that whatever I said would be fine. I called my pastor for some guidance. I read a few verses of scripture, then nervously rendered some personal comments. Mattie told me Donnie would have been pleased. I think he would have too. I plan to ask him about it, but no time soon I hope.
I’ve attended funerals for people who were well known and the church was overflowing. And I’ve been to a graveside service where it was just Rooney, the preacher, and me. I’ve heard some exceptional eulogies and pastoral comments. But of the hundreds of services I’ve attended, there is only one that I remember the message quite so well.
It was the service for Henry Offenberg. The message was not based on the exceptional things that Henry had done, but on things that were rather simple and even mundane.
Henry was one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever known. He was a quiet man, easygoing and even tempered. He was three grades behind me at Unadilla Elementary, but the school was small enough that I knew him well. We grew up and I became his banker. Regular trips to the bank were the norm in those days. I saw Henry often. He always had a slight smile that seemed permanently affixed.
He died way too young from a tragic vehicle accident on January 7, 1998. Many of us were used to seeing Henry drive his truck at a slow and steady pace. His death was a shock to our whole community.
Reverend Tommy Daniels conducted the service at Unadilla First Baptist Church. He asked the question, “Who will stand in the gap for Henry Offenberg?” Tommy spoke only briefly about the leadership roles that Henry had taken, things like serving on the Board of Deacons. He focused instead on the quiet role that Henry played, taking care of things that few would readily volunteer for.
Early in Tommy’s pastorate in Unadilla, Henry went to see him. Henry told him he was there to wash his car. Tommy assured him he didn’t need to do that, but Henry insisted. He told Tommy that there were a lot of things he couldn’t do, but this was something he could. He said he planned to keep his pastor’s car clean. Tommy tried to pay him the first few times. Henry made it clear he wasn’t washing his car for the money. He just wanted to show his pastor he cared about him.
Tommy told about Sunday night services and how Henry would stay to turn off the lights. Most folks left soon after the services ended, but some would linger, wanting to visit with friends or talk to their pastor. Tommy would tell Henry to go on home, that he would take care of the lights. But Henry would decline his offer. He would tell him it wasn’t any trouble to stay.
I left that service with a whole new perspective of Henry Offenberg, a newfound respect for him that still causes me to examine my own Christian service.
Sometimes God needs us for jobs that are highly visible, jobs that maybe even carry a bit of prestige. But more often He needs us for those tasks that are routine and behind the scenes, those things that go unnoticed and unappreciated, things for which we receive no public accolades.
I knew Henry Offenberg quite well. I’m thankful that his pastor helped me to know him even better. Henry washed his pastor’s car. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. It seems to me that Jesus and Henry have a lot in common.
Henry’s example of humble service hit real close to home that day. That’s why it’s the funeral that I remember most clearly. I’m still remembering Henry, because Henry still needs remembering.