Mr. Jones was–no is–an icon

This isn’t Jim Jones but it may as well be.

You all know him. He’s the guy who is there “whenever the church doors are open.”

Jim Jones won’t be attending Grace Church in Roanoke this Sunday, but only because his funeral is today. He was 90.

Okay, he may have missed some services lately due to declining health. I don’t know because I don’t live in Roanoke anymore. But when I went to church there starting in 1966 as a two-year-old (Dad was the pastor), he was always there. Always.

If the church doors were open, whether worship service or Bible Study or Saturday work day, you might wonder how many people were going to show up. But you knew Mr. Jones would be there. Dad, Mr. Jones, and whoever else decided to come.

Jim Jones and wife Emily

According to the obit, he arrived at Grace Church in 1966, the same year I did. I am suspicious of this. Jim Jones has always been in Roanoke, since its founding, and he has always been at Grace Church, since the beginning of time. At least in my mind. I don’t have a conscious memory that doesn’t include seeing him up in the pulpit a couple times a week leading the hymn singing or making announcements or providing some other service or function for the church. When someone else better arrived on the scene to do it, he stepped aside with total graciousness and looked for other ways to serve. He was always serving, always smiling, always appreciating, always believing.

Today they sing cooler songs, praise music and such. But my spiritual formation cannot be understood without including years of my early psyche singing along with Mr. Jones to: Bringing in the Sheaves; When the Roll is Called Up Yonder; Jesus is All the World to me; I’m So Happy and Here’s the Reason Why; and dozens and dozens of other old faithful tunes. While they may not make the canon of all time classics (neither will the praise tunes, probably) they contained a more important element: a guy who really believed them leading the charge. That’s a nice thing for a young kid to observe several times a week in an age craving for authenticity.

The church asked me to speak at their 60 year reunion last year. Before I spoke, Jim Jones was on the agenda. There he was, up in the pulpit, speaking and providing old memories. It had been 30 years since I had been to the church, but, for me, nothing had changed. The world was still stable. Jim Jones was in the pulpit.

You know, the big dogs can be a little volatile, my Dad included. They reach great heights, then take a plunge. Think Jimmy Swaggart or Charles Stanley. Or even King David in the Bible. But it’s the Jim Joneses of the world that help us all keep the faith. They never waver. He is my Rock of Gilbraltar.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Jim Jones modeled that. He is an icon. An archetype. A legend. I guess I could say I will miss him. But the truth is, Jim Jones is never leaving my memory.