A Memory of Andy Lester

Andy Lester
Andy Lester

When the phone rang on a February morning in 1989, I thought I had an idea of who’d be calling me. I was the pastor of a small town Kentucky church and church members called me about almost anything at almost anytime. I received this particular call sitting in the pastor’s study while working on the second chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation. I took a deep breath, turned away from my writing and said, “Muldraugh Baptist Church!”

“Drexel,” came the voice on the other end, “This is Andy! How’re you doing?”

Oh. My. Goodness. This wasn’t a church member. It was Dr. Andrew D. Lester, one of the professors who was a member of my Ph.D. committee. A couple of days earlier, I’d given him a copy of the first chapter of my dissertation and sure enough, he was calling about it.

Andy joined me to greet my parents upon graduation with my Ph.D.  He was always extremely personable and warm.  I miss him.
Andy joined me to greet my parents upon graduation with my Ph.D. He was always extremely personable and warm. I miss him.

“Hey, Andy,” I said, “I’m doing fine,” though in truth, I was really scared about what he’d say about my chapter.

He said, “Drexel, I want you to come over to my house tomorrow so we can talk about your first chapter.”

Oh Lord, I thought. The chapter was so bad, they want to dismiss me from the Ph.D. program and he wants me to come over so he can tell me in person.

“Can you be here at 9:00? I know that’s early, but it’ll only take a little while and then you’ll have the rest of your day.” Yup, they were going to throw me out. Why else would he say, “It’ll only take a little while”?

“I’ll be there,” I said, and didn’t get a wink of sleep that night.

When I arrived at his house the next day, he greeted me at the door with a wide smile. “Hey, Drexel! Thanks for coming over!” I couldn’t help but notice that Andy’s greeting was relaxed, sincere, warm, and welcoming. This didn’t FEEL like a dismissal! In fact, he escorted me into his kitchen and pointed to the breakfast bar where there were two stools, cups ready for coffee, and a plate of glazed donuts. Two separate piles of 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper marked where he’d placed my original chapter and his copy. As we took our seats, I noticed that there wasn’t one sentence on the first page of my chapter that was free of an arrow, or an ‘x’, or a circle, or a small note. He invited me to have a donut and asked how I liked my coffee. As I looked at all the corrections on that first page, I told him “black” and reached for a donut.

Then, over the next hour, Andy went through my chapter line for line, phrase by phrase, and patiently gave me a one-on-one tutorial in writing. He’d taken the time to read my thoughts in close detail, mull them over, and come to suggestions about how I could write them more clearly and precisely, with greater creativity and active engagement. He introduced me to principles of writing I’d somehow missed as an undergrad philosophy major and English minor. By the time we reached the end of the hour, I knew he’d made me not only a better writer, but a better person through the personal example of how to be a mentor.  We’d also knocked off a half dozen donuts.

Let me explain why I share this.

First, a couple days ago, one of my colleagues asked me if I’d ever read “Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling” by Andrew D. Lester. I told him that I’d had privilege to have been in Andy’s graduate seminar on hope and had taken part in some of the discussions which helped him sharpen his concepts in the book before he published it. “He’s a brilliant thinker,” my colleague said.

“True,” I responded, and then added, “But he was an even greater human being and teacher” and I shared the story I relate here.

“Wow,” my colleague marveled. “That makes the book even better.” You bet.

The second reason I share this story is because we lost Andy Lester too soon. Pancreatic cancer took his life on June 10, 2010 and a corner of me still mourns that loss to this day. He was a vigorous, humorous, and – as I’ve related – deeply caring man, a model human being. He still would’ve been making a contribution at what would’ve been a young 77 years of age.

But the third reason is this: Andy noticed and took time with the folks in his community. He invited me to his house. He gave me donuts! He was sharing his life with me, not simply working a professorial job. As a result, his influence, his spirit, his affirmation of the gifts of others lives on. You see, I ask myself the questions he taught me during that hour every single time I sit down to write something. And I emulate his patient listening and gentle humor whenever I teach. He knew how to affirm the deepest thing in me, and in my own ministry, I try my best to affirm the deepest thing in others. It’s one of my life’s mantras.

This is another reason why I encourage folks to get involved with our support team effort. When you become involved in nurturing community, in noticing and blessing the folks with whom you share the world, you have the opportunity to leave an influence that never dies. Wouldn’t you like to have an impact on the world like Andy Lester did in mine, and countless other lives? Let’s buy a dozen donuts and do that together!

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