A little over a year ago I decided to get on a plane and go do what I had been promising to do (for a very long time)—visit my mentor of over 35 years, Ralph Osborne, former president of Faith at Work (not to be confused with latter day iterations of the movement). Faith at Work was the original champion of small groups.
Ralph came into my life in the mid-70s when we were both on staff at Hollywood Presbyterian Churchunder Lloyd Ogilvie’s leadership. They were incredible post-Henrietta Mears years and both Ralph and Lloyd had been friends for a very long time. In fact, Ralph led Lloyd to Christ back in the day.
When he joined us, Ralph was coming out of his assignment as president of Faith at Work, an organization that helped thousands of Christians take off their masks and become more transparent and congruent in their faith. I was pleased to have him “parenting” me through some complicated years in my life. I lost my dad when I was 7 and Ralph helped me write the script for adult life that I wasn’t very good at writing for myself.
One day I walked into Ralph’s office and was clearly depressed. Sensing I was not feeling particularly worthy to be in ministry, he sat and listened while I jabbered on about my shortcomings and failures. He interrupted my leakage with a phone call to his assistant.
“Do we have any doughnuts left, any coffee?” he said.
She replied, “We have half a doughnut and some very lukewarm coffee.”
“Bring it in, please,” he said.
Ralph broke the doughnut, spoke the words of institution, invited me to dip the confectionary in the spent coffee, and we took communion together. Sacrilegious? I hardly think so. To this day, it is the most meaningful communion of my life.
He assured me that morning that Christ didn’t shed his blood for perfect people, only perfecting people. People who, even approaching death, would never feel particularly worthy of receiving it. It was never to be about our worthiness, but always His sacrifice for sinners.
Ralph was a "Grace" guy and taught me so much.
So, I got on the plane and trekked to West Chester, Pennsylvania where Ralph had moved years earlier with his wife, Dorothy. They lived in the beautiful Hershey’s Mill complex with lakes, gardens, and manicured green spaces. It is a kind of heaven on earth, and it seemed an appropriate place for Ralph to wind down.
I spent two days video taping my 90-year-old friend and, between our talking sessions, he drove us to nearby restaurants where everyone knew (and loved) him. It was notable that he had never stopped ministering to people. Servers would flock to our table just to get a "hello" from him. He would talk to them as though they were the most important people in the world.
In 1984 I moved from Southern California to Northern California and, in the kitchen, deep in the bowels of Hollywood Pres, I told Ralph that I didn’t know if I could live without his presence in my life. He turned to me, and with deep humility and a very rascally smile, said, “If I mean so damn much to you, I guess you’re just going to have to go and BE me.”
There is never a day that I don’t think of that mandate. If Ralph was the hands and feet of Christ, I needed to follow his lead.
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