We have a new minister at the Nevada United Methodist Church. Lester and I know some of the things she must be feeling since we have been the new people in a church several times when Lester was the new minister on his first day. The Reverend Linda Pagel wore a name tag her first day so that the congregation would know who she was. It wasn't needed. Everyone was eagerly watching for their new pastor and most already knew her name. However, she had no possible way to know all of our names. She had met a few of us and we were impressed that she did remember the names of those she had met earlier. That is where she and I differed.
Usually at the end of the first Sunday Lester and I would sit back at the parsonage and test each other on the names each of us did remember. I would ask, "Who was that lady who wore a red hat (remember this was several years ago) and looked a little like Mary?" Of course, Mary was the organist at the last church. Lester would want to know where she was sitting because that was his focal point. Then he would wonder about the child that sat next to him during the children's sermon. He wanted to know if I noticed who his parents were.
This type of conversation would go on until our daughter would protest. "You'll get that all figured out before the summer's over. Can't you talk about anything else?" No, we couldn't because we were so anxious to know the names of all our new friends -- or those we hoped would be our friends.
As I watched Linda last Sunday with her seeming ease in meeting each of us, I thought back to all the hundreds of people we had met in a similar way. Many of them are no longer living since Lester has been a minister for 50 years. Most of the wonderful friends from his first church have died or at least are getting as old as we are. Even the youth and children from those years are grown and gone, have grandchildren of their own or have matured so much that we couldn't recognize them.
Of course we have also known many people who were not members of the churches he served. Our children's friends and their parents, my own co-workers in whatever job I held in that town, the neighbors that lived near the parsonage, the teachers, doctors, dentists and other professionals that we knew added to the number of names we learned in each place where we lived.
Then I began remembering all the people I knew before I met Lester, and the ones we both knew the years we were at the university, here in Vernon County and other places where we lived before he entered the ministry and his friends who were in the Army with him. There was no end to the numbers we could think of. But we often could not come up with the names.
If heaven is like some people picture it -- where we will meet all our loved ones who have gone on before us -- will I be able to remember the names of all those I meet in heaven? I am sure that many of those we met through the years will more certainly have been welcomed into heaven than maybe I will be. But if, by chance, I do arrive, will I be given a black mark because I can't remember the name of the wonderful woman who had an angel food cake waiting for us in the refrigerator our first day in a new parsonage? Or if the secretary, who covered for me in one of my jobs when I had a stomach problem, would come to greet me, will I be able to call her by name?
I suppose that names may not be important in heaven. Maybe St. Peter will be like our daughter Susan and tell us to just let it go and forget about trying to remember everyone's name. But if I don't remember their names, will they remember mine?
If they would have name tags in heaven, what would they fasten them to? Maybe the names could be imprinted into whatever fabric we will be clothed in. Or perhaps we'll just be given numbers and forget about our earthly names. I'm not sure that would be my idea of heaven, however. Like the theme from the TV Show, "Cheers", I like to go where everybody knows my name!