Glenn Wagner remembers a friend whose life-changing decision to love, after the example of Christ, remains a source of encouragement.
GLENN M. WAGNER
Michigan Conference Communications
I am grateful for many people in my life who are positive examples of Jesus’ love. These persons awaken in me a voice of prayer that says, “Lord, thank you. Help me to grow like that.”
Larry was one of those spiritual influences in my life. He was a beloved United Methodist clergy colleague. It was my privilege to work with Larry at Community United Methodist Church in North Muskegon for nine years, from 1992 until Larry died in 2001.
I continue to be inspired by Larry’s life-altering choice to take a public stand for Jesus on one of the world’s important issues.
The Rev. Laurence Waterhouse was born on February 12, 1921. I met Larry when I arrived in North Muskegon to serve as senior pastor of Community UMC in 1992. Larry was a much-beloved member of the pastoral staff at the church, where he served as pastor from 1982 until his retirement in 1986. Larry continued to bless the church as a part-time minister of visitation for 15 years until his death at age 80 on Pentecost Sunday, June 3, 2001, making his 19-year tenure of service the longest of any pastor in the 141-year history of the church.
Following Larry’s memorial service at Community UMC on Friday, June 8, 2001, his widow, Elizabeth “Libby” Waterhouse, presented me with this wood carving of grasping hands as a final gift from Larry. She said, “Larry wanted you to have this.” She then shared with me the cherished history behind the gift.
In 1944 Larry was inducted into the United States Army for duty in the Second World War. He served as a rifleman and radio operator. Larry fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded by a sniper’s bullet as his unit attempted to take the bridge at Remagen.
The field surgeon determined that Larry was shot while his heart was contracted during its normal beating. The contraction constricted his aorta just enough so the bullet whizzed past it on its way through Larry’s body. Half a heartbeat later, the bullet would have nicked Larry’s main blood vessel, and he would have bled to death. The surgeon remarked, “God must have something else in mind for you.” Libby added, “Larry lived knowing that his life was a gift saved by the grace of God.”
In 1945, Larry returned to the United States and began work for the U.S. Postal Service. He married Libby, and together they raised a family of three children. But, she shared, “God kept working on Larry.” Finally, at the age of 31, she told how Larry made a life-changing decision to respond to a call to ministry and quit his job at the post office. Larry enrolled and graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, FL, in three years, followed by three more years of seminary to earn his Master of Divinity degree at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. He served congregations in Florida and Michigan.
In an early pastoral appointment in Florida, Larry took a bold stand in the still-segregated south during a time of heightened racial tensions. Larry was asked by his parishioners what he would do if persons of color came to their church. Larry responded, “I will do what I know Jesus would do. I will welcome them with open arms and invite them to sit in my seat.” Unfortunately, he was branded an offensive name in the local paper and reassigned to another church because of the controversy over his locally unpopular stance for racial inclusion.
During this period of turmoil, Larry began a correspondence with someone who also faced the difficult effects of racism with holy courage. Larry’s widow Libby concluded, “Desmond Tutu sent this carving of hands to Larry from South Africa as a gift in gratitude for their friendship.” Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Archbishop from South Africa, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his stand against apartheid and his work for racial reconciliation in his country.
I will always treasure the power of Larry’s personal witness, which was itself inspired by other witnesses of faithful courage before him. When I think of Larry’s life-changing decision to risk siding with Jesus publicly on an issue of consequence, I hear that voice prompting me, “Lord, help me to grow like that.”
We all face difficult decisions weighted with personal and public consequences. Like my friend Larry and millions of other faithful followers of Jesus, I pray that we all can find the courage to make our decisions after the example of Jesus. Jesus’ beloved disciple John remembered the promise of Jesus’ loving sacrifice when he declared in his gospel, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, so that whosoever believes in him, will not perish but will inherit eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Larry’s ashes are interred in the Memorial Garden at Community United Methodist Church in North Muskegon just beneath the window of the pastor’s study. The spirit of the living Christ that gave him the courage to make and live with his loving decisions still lives on even in the face of opposition.
Larry Waterhouse’s example has helped me be guided in my own life by the belief that God cares for us all.
Prayer: God, help each of us grow after the life-changing inspiration of your great love for us. Grant us wisdom to know your will and the courage to live in the direction of your great hopes for us. Thank you for those persons whose personal examples of faithfulness encourage us to follow your path.
~ Desmond Tutu photo credit~ Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons