Our constant friend

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

With the reality of Pastor John Weber’s retirement finally sinking in, I know I have to seek my usual therapy of writing about it. No one could possibly deserve the rewards of his good life more than Weber.

I have files of Weber columns and feature pieces from which to borrow anecdotes. The question is whether to use past or present tense.

The rakish grin in photographs of the 1970s reveals a gold tooth glinting from behind a black moustache. The impression of the man is that he would make a marvelous villain in a burlesque routine:

“You must pay the rent!” “I CAHN’T pay the rent!” “You MUST pay the rent!”

The second impression is of restless energy so near the surface that it would seem perfectly rational to find John Martin Weber in two places at once.

Indeed, members of the congregation of Christ Our Shepherd in Peachtree City suspect that he may have discovered how to apply a loaves and fishes twist to clock and calendar.

Sent in 1974 by the Lutheran Church in America to organize a congregation in Peachtree City, Weber was then called by the congregation to be its pastor. Drawing from a diversity of personalities and a cross-section of faiths in this young community, he pulled together Christ Our Shepherd Lutheran Church, saw it through chartering in 1975, a building program in 1997-78, and to young maturity as the church ended its first decade by grappling with problems of space for worship and Christian education.

SAlong the way, Weber extended his ministry by becoming the first paramedic in the county, serving with Peachtree City’s fire and rescue department as a paramedic, volunteer firefighter and chaplain. He is also a certified police chaplain, and frequently finds himself in the role of confidant, counselor and compassionate bearer of bad news.

He has been a frequent lecturer on “On Death and Dying” in the metro area and, in addition, a CPR instructor-trainer for the Georgia Heart Association. He also volunteers with the American Red Cross in emergency response training.

Publicly ebullient and open, the private man wrestles constantly with priorities. His life appears to be ruled by a pocket calendar or a Blackberry, depending on which decade you’re probing. Whether covered with tiny hieroglyphics or tapped on with a stylus, that little notebook ruled his days, signaling to him an endless round of meetings, counseling sessions and administrative duties. The demands on his time require continual assessment, yet he somehow pulls it off and manages to be where he needs to be.

Usually. His missing the wedding of a cherished friend in 1984 was the source of much good-natured ribbing from the congregation, but plunged him into an agony of embarrassment. Characteristically, he opened his heart in a letter to his parishioners, and emerged with bonds more firmly forged than before.

Weber’s priority list had and has a high slot for family. His son, Brent, is the youth director of a large church and is the father of John’s adored grandchildren. Daughter Britt recently married Chris Burns. She teaches 1st grade at Fayette Elementary School.

His wife, Ginnie, his children and “grands,” are the bright lights of his life. Ginnie credits his steady support with her successful mid-life return to college and nursing school.

The Iowa native can – and does – chew gum and walk at the same time. He runs and thinks at the same time. He drives to hospital calls and listens to taped studies at the same time. He wrote sermons and planned a year’s calendar while recovering from back surgery.

But if only one characteristic had to be identified to explain the affection with which he is almost universally held, it would likely be his ability to make those with whom he comes in contact feel so very special. Every member of Christ Our Shepherd Lutheran Church feels as though there is something special between themselves and their pastor.

Indeed, he acknowledges that his motivation comes from his belief that every human being is a unique creation of a loving God and, as such, merits respect and concern.

That Weber himself is unique, no one will argue. He has shattered the somber image of yesterday’s clergyman and brought to those who know him a new concept of the church in the world. And whether he was first seen in a fire helmet or jogging shorts, it’s the grin with the gold tooth that remained in the mind’s eye, and the genuine caring of a colossal heart.

(Don’t stare when next you see him. The gold tooth was replaced long ago.)

For 34 years, our friend and pastor has been the constant in our lives. I can’t imagine getting through the illness and death of our daughter, Alice, without his comfort and support.

He probably spent more time in court than most of the indicted. Innocent or guilty, he believes everyone deserves due process and a steadying hand. His contributions to the development of Emergency Medical Services in Fayette County cannot be overstated.

We’ve always tried to keep him from knowing we’re having medical tests or surgery done. “Go sit with someone who has a real problem, John,” we say. “You’re wasting your time sitting here with us.”

He smiles impishly. He remains seated. He is our constant.

John Weber’s last service as our pastor takes place this Sunday at 10 a.m. at Starr’s Mill High School. It will be an emotional day for his parishioners. You are most welcome to join us, but bring your own tissues. He’ll have his.

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