Mark Bidwell

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.

 

 

7 Comments

  • By Pat A., April 30, 2012 @ 8:06 am

    This reflection is a reminder to folks to get up off their keisters and do for others, whether it is something concrete like feeing the hungry or something intangible like encouraging them when they’re down. It’s hard to get that point across. You did.

  • By Sharon E. Cathcart, April 30, 2012 @ 10:26 am

    Rev. Mike, thank you for sharing this. I think we all have been in a place where we didn’t say things we wanted to … only to have it be “too late.” While I am a strong believer (through unfortunate circumstance) in telling people that they are loved and valued while they are still with us, I’ve come to believe that people know it from the Spirit world as well. Thank you.

  • By Rev Terri Miller, April 30, 2012 @ 10:29 am

    Thanks for the reminder I wish you would have sent the letter too. a lesson learned so that you will be able to do it the next time.
    Thinking of you

  • By Gail Bumala, April 30, 2012 @ 10:44 am

    Amen, Michael. What Evelyn said is especially important to remember. Generally I think that’s true, unless there is a pattern of doing the worst thing one has ever done. Some things are so bad, they’re hard to overcome. I had a friend who ended up in a similar circumstance to Mark’s. He’ll never practice in his profession again. His friends still love him and care about him, but the community will never forget.

    It’s tough when your professional licensing entity is also your main support entity.

    I also know the pain of feeling I should reach out to someone and then it’s too late. I’ll hold that regret forever, but hope it’s made me more apt to reach out in time-to be a better friend.

  • By Mary Jo Bradshaw, April 30, 2012 @ 11:02 am

    Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking story, not only as a reminder of the importance of reaching out to people when they are hurting but also because of the important reminder from your friend Evelyn. I recently wrote to someone who contacted the church and said essentially the same thing to him. There are a lot of hurting people in the world – like Mark Bidwell – who need to be loved back to wholeness.

  • By Robert Clark, April 30, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

    Retrospection is always a reminder of what we “must do.”

  • By Bryce Current, May 3, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

    Another pastor abandoned/thrown away by our denomination. How typical. Though you did not send the letter, your prayers and active concern for Mark say so much about your compassion and charracter. I think Mark knows of your concern and love. You are a pastor at heart. Thank you.

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