I first met Mark Bidwell at a church conference about ten years ago. We were both youngsters in our denomination, and I remember him as a fun and friendly guy. He had a couple of teen-aged kids and being a dad was a huge focus of his life. He had recently become the pastor of MCC Detroit, and he was what I wanted to be: a successful pastor with a good family life.
We continued to run into one another at various church conferences over the years. It was always great to see him. It’s a long way from Michigan to California, but I’m sure that if we’d lived closer we would have become good friends.
Late last September, things changed for Mark. He made an extremely bad mistake. Mark brought a stranger home for a one-night stand. They used illegal drugs. The stranger died. Mark called 911. The media picked it up and the story was everywhere. Mark resigned his position with the church. He resigned his duties as a volunteer police chaplain. Our denomination suspended his ministry license.
I keep a list of people whom I remember in my daily prayers, and Mark immediately went on it. I started work on a letter to Mark. I was very concerned for him. Regardless of the good work that he’d done over the years, I did not believe that he would ever be a senior pastor again. Once you’ve been a pastor, it is very hard to do anything else, and I was worried that he would lose hope.
My friend Evelyn Vigil is a prison chaplain, and she says, “People are more than just the worst thing that they’ve ever done.” Did Mark make a terrible mistake? Yes, he did. But he was much more than just the worst thing that he ever did. Mark had dedicated his life to helping people. People who were hungry were fed because of his church’s ministry to those in need. People who were mourning were comforted because of his presence. People who were in despair were given hope because Mark took their side.
As Christians, we believe that all people can be forgiven. We believe in the transformation of human lives. We believe that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace, and no one is without hope.
I began my letter to Mark, but I couldn’t get it quite right. I was worried that I was perhaps making unwarranted assumptions about what he might be feeling or thinking. Was I was being presumptuous by inserting myself into a situation in which I had not been asked to intervene? After an hour or two of work, I stopped writing and threw away my awkward and incomplete draft.
Within three months, Mark was dead.
I wish I’d sent that letter.