|“I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
The last words he ever wrote were scribbled in the little diary he kept beside his chair in the living room. They express the simple philosophy that characterized my Dad: “We will carry through.” That statement, written in 1982 when it was becoming apparent that Edwin and Vera could no longer manage at home alone, manifests that same quality of basic confidence, even in the face of evident defeat, that the writer of Timothy expresses so simply and eloquently: “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
He did keep the faith; he finished his course; he carried through. On October 11, 1986 Edwin Edward Sylvest finished the course he began here in this very place an June 3, 1896. The cycle is complete; the soil that bore him, that nourished and sustained him, the soil that he cultivated, now opens its arms in final embrace to receive him. He and Vera began their life together just down the road at Uncle Dolpho’s store. Now, an October 15, 1986, their bodies rest together, freed at last from the burden of flesh too strong to die, yet too weak to endure.
Dad’s last years were spent in a bed in Quitman, Texas, a place very like these pine-covered hills that he loved so well. His slow decline gave us occasion to reflect many times on the meaning of his life. In so many ways it seemed so senseless for his strong body to live beyond the ability of his once good mind to function well. Then we began to understand! He was living just as he had always lived. Without complaint, patiently, quietly, he was keeping the faith, carrying through, doing what he was given to do.
Edwin’s sense of vocation was clear and unwavering. He was called to preach the gospel. Many of you knew him as a schoolteacher. His love of learning inspired us all to push the limits of ignorance until truth shone through. Although he had earned his Doctor of Theology degree at the Baptist Bible Institute in New Orleans, and could have had a satisfying career as a teacher, he was persuaded that God had called him to preach!
Some of you knew him as a Baptist preacher. Many tines I heard him speak fondly of people and places he had served, but when a call didn’t come he finally decided that God’s calling was stronger than denominational loyalty. He became a Methodist and served faithfully as a pastor in the Louisiana Annual Conference, sometimes in places my mother felt the bishop had been mistaken in sending him to. But he never wavered. The Lord had called; he kept the faith; he carried through.
Many were blessed through his ministry, not least his sons, who were sometimes restless with the “PK” (preacher’s kid) role expectations placed upon parsonage children. We were formed in the faith. His values and faithfulness continue to guide us and beckon us along the way toward the fulfillment of our vocations.
Dad loved his family! He loved you. I remember well being in your homes, hearing your names fondly recalled in conversation. You are his people; this is his land! With sadness that masks deeper gladness we lay him to rest here today. He carried through; he finished his course.
Edwin’s faithfulness is testimony to the faithfulness of God who calls us all to love and to serve, not always in places that draw the acclaim of others. His life reminds us that honor and integrity are God’s gifts and that they endure even when the body is broken. Even in death they shine forth more clearly as beacons for us.
Each of us has a vocation. We are all called to serve God in serving God’s children. In meeting their needs life is fulfilled. For it is in loving that we are made to share in the love that never dies, that death cannot destroy. There is no circumstance that separates us from that love. There is no circumstance in which the gift of faithfulness is not given and received. Because God is ever faithful “we will carry through.”
Edwin has finished his course; he has kept the faith! So shall we!
|Source: Journal Louisiana Conference, 1987; p. 329-331 By Edwin E. Sylvest, Jr.|