Becky Brooks Jackson: Of Saints and Steel Guitars:
An Improbable Friendship
Mitch Albom has Tuesdays with Morrie. I have Thursdays with Robert Vaughn.
Robert and June showed up one Sunday morning at Windsor Park Baptist Church where I served along with other worship leaders in a praise band. An elderly couple in Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, the Vaughns appeared in all ways to be “churched.”
It was no surprise to find out then, that Robert was a retired Southern Baptist Pastor. Time had already siphoned his strength and diminished his vigor, but on this first Sunday after relinquishing independence and moving in with their grown son, Robert and June wanted to worship with Christian brothers and sisters. Many of us gathered around this impressive, silver-haired gentleman in his suit and tie.
Though frail in form, Robert still possessed a thundering, ministerial voice and our pastor, Grover Pinson, often called on him to pray a blessing before a meal or a benediction over our congregation. Like the booming bells in Wagner’s Parsifal,<Brother Robert’s simple utterance, “Our Father…” silenced colicky babies, fidgety children, and possibly all the screeching crickets within a square mile. Windsorites certainly perked up when Robert called on God, but I wondered if his voice didn’t cause the great cloud of witnesses to turn and pause as well.
One Sunday, Grover informed us that this solemn, stately pastor also played a mean steel guitar. That night we worshiped with our usual praise band accented by this Grand Ole Opry octogenarian. It was a hoot!
A few years after Robert and June joined Windsor, I was slated to preach my very first sermon in chapel at Logsdon Seminary on our South Texas School of Christian Studies’ campus in Corpus Christi. Unbeknownst to me, Pastor Grover spread the word and on the day of chapel he showed up with a number of our sainted senior adults, including Brother Robert.
I was pretty sure that Brother Robert possessed a strong strain of fundamentalism and wondered if he had, perhaps, come to spy out my liberty. Yet after I preached, he told me I did a fine job and exuberantly thanked me for the message.
The next Sunday, he called me over to his pew and when I leaned down to greet him, he declared, “I want you to know that I have NO PROBLEM with you preaching! You are called!”
Now, my granddaddy was also a Southern Baptist preacher, and while he was living would not have condoned me preaching from any pulpit. So Brother Vaughn’s pronouncement felt to me like a surrogate blessing from my own grandfather.
Since our initial meeting, Pastor Vaughn has endured heart surgery and multiple set-backs, including months with a respirator which ravaged his clarion voice. Now he speaks in a whisper and requires a breath for every word or two. This man who loves to sing and worship, can only stand briefly and whisper lyrics.
To make his loyalties clear to his fellow congregants, in every service and on every song, whether favorite old hymn or contemporary praise, he follows the lyrics in the bulletin and lifts his free hand in praise to God. Every music minister needs at least one Robert Vaughn in her congregation!
I spend a little time on most Thursdays with Brother Robert, but I have lost track of when our meetings started. He asked me one day to come by to play hymns and sing for him. Then, after a few visits, he admitted to me that he wanted to play the steel guitar again, but needed someone to sing to keep him on track. Otherwise, “Pass me Not, O Gentle Savior,” frequently segued into “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and his practice sessions became frustrating. So now we worship together with an old steel guitar and my rapidly aging voice. And we share joy.
The Wednesday night after my new congregation called me to be their worship leader, Pastor Grover telephoned me and described how Brother Vaughn made his way to Windsor’s business meeting, shuffling along with his walker. Robert stood and in his halting, whispering voice, made a motion that the congregation license me to the gospel ministry! What a gift of affirmation!
Though we are no longer members of the same local church, Robert and I still meet once a week as health and schedules allow. We sing through at least five, sometimes as many as ten hymns. (Every now and then, with an impish grin on his face, Robert breaks out into to some Hank Williams or Johnny Cash, too!) We share concerns and then we pray for each other. We pray for strength to serve and breath to praise until the day God calls us home.
Like Robert, I love to worship God through music and I thrive on leading others to do the same. If the Lord allows me to live as long as Robert, my voice will become more brittle, my asthma will scar my lungs, and arthritis will steal the dexterity I need to play the piano or cello. But Robert is preparing me to live a life of praise when the gifts of youth are gone. And when at last “nothing in my hand I bring, safely to thy cross I’ll cling.”
At the end of each visit, Brother Vaughn always thanks me for my time and asks me not to forget him… Forget him? That is unthinkable! As Paul reminded his beloved church at Philippi, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 1:3-6
Becky Jackson served as a pastor’s wife as well as a volunteer church musician and worship leader for twenty-four years before answering a personal call to ministry. When her husband, Doug, became a professor, Becky went back to school and completed a BA in Music from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (2010), and an MDiv from Logsdon Seminary (2012). Between those two degrees, she trained and completed her first marathon. Becky serves as the worship leader at Lexington Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, TX. She and her husband Doug have two grown sons, Jay and Landry, and a rescued Bullmastiff named Spurgeon.