|I was asked to say these words at the funeral of George Harkins by George and his family. George was my pastor at First United Methodist Church in Hammond. He died on October 23, 1981. George and I talked about this day, several times. At times he needed peace from the feeling that he was a burden to his family, his friends, and his church—but he wasn’t, you know. And those things all of us shared with George will lighten our burdens in the days ahead. For he gave us a chance to minister—and he taught us—if we allowed ourselves to be taught.
We have traveled a journey with George, to one degree or another, traveled a journey through two years. Months of pain, of anxiety, of worry, of doubt—and now of grief. But even though we have traveled with him, and tried to minister to him as he has ministered to us—we have not really understood his suffering, that of his family, or even ours. No one knows what George went through—but George. No one knows what his family; his friends went through—but the person who had the experience.
But George understood some of our problems. Why some could visit, and some could not. Some could minister; some could not. Some wanted to help; and others could not find a way. So George—to the last—gave us something—the love of a man trying to understand us. For this he understood and forgave. Robert Frost said:
“. . . the nearest friends can go with anyone to death, comes so far short they
might as well not try to go at all. He, from the time when one is sick to death,
one is alone, and he dies more alone. Friends make a pretense of following to
the grave, but before one is in it, their minds are turned and making the best of
their way back to life and living people, and things they understand.”
But he gave us some lessons too. I never visited that he wasn’t concerned about someone else. On my next to last visit I told him that I would be in California for a week. He said, “If I die before you get back we’ll wait for the funeral.” A concern about me and my need to be there on burial day. No one visited without being welcomed as a friend. A local policeman, who didn’t know George, told of visiting him because of what he had done for policemen in town and of the moving visit and dialogue he had. No one needed help that he didn’t try to help. He treasured friends, and seemed to love everyone, whether they loved him or not. He talked about the treasured importance of friends. He marveled at the kindness of many. Friends meant much; he enjoyed the fun, fellowship, but most especially the loyalties engendered by good friends with whom he could relax and for whom he could care.
So, he was battling to understand to the last; and he was teaching us to the last, that a part of what it means to be in a congregation is: to be friends one with the other; to love one another; to help one another; to forgive one another. And he constantly asked for prayer. He wanted us to pray for him and each other. All of us have prayed a lot these two years. And how meaningful that experience has become. On one of my last visits, George said, “I know that you pray for me daily; I feel it. But today I need to hear it.” So we held hands and I stumbled through a few words. And we left. Whether we admit it or not, we cried together. We became closer—to each other—and to God. George left us these few things—and more. But the lesson that we must try to understand each other; love each other; pray for each other are important things to learn.
John 14:1-7, 15-17, 27
A service of worship celebrating the life and triumphant victory of George W. Harkins was held on October 25, 1981 at First United Methodist Church in Hammond. The celebration was conducted by his Bishop, J. Kenneth Shamblin; his District Superintendent, Kirby A. Vining; his Pastor, Angus L. Carruth; a fellow minister, Lael S. Jones; and the Conference Lay Leader, Dr. Tom H. Matheny.
|Source: Journal Louisiana Conference, 1982; p. 156 By Tom H. Matheny|