Life is a gift, a free gift. It comes to this one and that one as it will, and moves on. I never had a right to Ray Wishart as a friend in my life. Ray was a gift, a special and unexpected gift who just happened to me.
It started in 1998 when I retired from parish ministry and came home to Holy Nativity, Panama City, and Ray was there. He sat next to me behind the altar on Sunday mornings, under the Christ, under Jesus. If the sermon was overly long, I would notice Ray looking up at the Christ figure for the real message.
Everyone who knew Deacon Ray has stories. Ray was a teacher for forty years - maybe the most popular and loved teacher in the history of Bay County. He taught several generations, all of whom will be remembering their Ray Wishart stories.
One of my stories is that for a while I got to be Ray’s teacher. He enrolled in a course I was mentoring and offering at Holy Nativity. It must have been 2003. Education for Ministry (EfM) is a four-year course offered at locations around the world by the School of Theology at the University of the South. Those first four years, Ray was a gift to me and to members of the EfM class, so much so that I began to see something more. Remembering that people had stirred and prompted me by asking me decades earlier whether I’d considered ordained ministry, I started asking Ray the same thing. We had lots of chats about it, especially late evenings after EfM. Ray and Jesus took it from there, and everyone who knew Ray knows the rest of that story - it doesn’t need my telling. As for EfM, before that part of the story ended, I took Ray in as co-mentor, and in time he and I were leading three different EfM courses together, three classes a week at different times and places. In 2010, when I had to step out for health reasons, Ray simply continued. What a gift he was.
This morning I have to keep reminding myself that I never had a right to Ray and our friendship; he was a gift. A gift of God’s gracious loving-kindness. Thank you, God.
Why, God? Why?
Deacon Ray Wishart for St. Andrew’s, Panama City, died from injuries incurred in a bicycle/truck accident on Monday, August 22. His funeral was held Saturday, August 27, in Panama City. Ray was a devoted deacon in the Diocese and a teacher of 40 years at Mosely High School. Tom Weller is priest associate at Holy Nativity in Panama City.