I’ve never really understood why we would refer to someone who “fell from grace.” I think I know what is implied – a person made a big mistake and it cost them a lot – but the grace of God never runs out. Sadly, in human terms, grace for the “fallen” tends to be in short supply more often than we’d like to admit.
Such was not the case in the recent passing of two great men in our church.
First, Charles Powers, who succumbed to the effects of a massive stroke but only after hanging on for several days longer that doctors had predicted.
Then, last Friday evening, Tom Blankenship, who had a sudden, massive heart attack and died almost instantly.
These were great men for lots of reasons.
Charles and his family were known to me virtually all my life. My dad and Charles met at Estes Park, CO at the first International Institute (now known as [NYC] Nazarene Youth Conference) in 1958. They were later colleagues in ministry as Charles pastored the Norman Grace Church of the Nazarene while my dad was at Western Oaks in Oklahoma City. Daddy was one of the speakers at Charles’s funeral and I was moved not only by how well he spoke, but also by the depth of a longstanding, almost 60 year friendship.
Charles was a WWII veteran who became a pastor. His sons were my friends as well. Charles is generally referred to by almost everyone as “one of the nicest, kindest men I’ve ever known.” He was just four months away from his 89th birthday.
Tom Blankenship was practically joined at the hip to his wife of 60 years, Edna. Tom and Edna had a house full of trophies for their prowess on the golf course and in the bowling lanes. But they also have trophies in the lives of their family.
We know their family well, primarily because their daughter, Karan, went to college with us and married another of our best friends, Dwight Gunter. Their two sons, Tab (Thomas A. Blankenship, Jr.) and Dan are dear to us as well.
The Blankenships lived all over the US and, I think, three foreign countries while Tom was in the military. They eventually settled back in Nashville in 1972, where they’d first met, right across the street from Hunters Lane High School. They also made themselves at home mostly at Grace Church of the Nazarene and then at Trevecca Community Church shortly after Dwight became the pastor there in 2002.
Most every Sunday for the last decade or so, TCC folks could count on Charles Powers to take his place each week near the front of the sanctuary to help serve communion. Tom was always stationed just inside the rear middle door to the right, assisting folks with a place to sit and tending to the several members who used wheelchairs.
Neither man spoke very loudly with their voices, but their lives screamed consistency, kindness, and commitment. Both also seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of grace for the fallen.
Last night at the visitation with the family and friends of Tom Blankenship, my wife and I watched as Ann Powers shared a poignant moment with Edna Blankenship. Their husbands were both gone within days of each other and with no real advance warning.
They’ll need each other and they’ll need their families and they’ll need their friends. And they’ll need the grace of God to sustain them.
People make mistakes or commit grievous sins and we say they’ve fallen from grace. What that actually means is that we’ve either given up on them or that we don’t think they deserve another chance at redemption.
The graceful exits from this life that I’ve observed in my friends Charles and Tom cause me to want to follow their example of extending grace to all, whether I think they deserve it or not.