If you asked me what Paul Francis looked like, you'd get a complicated answer. Sure, most people can be described in terms of height, hair colour, or eye colour, and we'd have a general idea of them. But Paul, the Pastor with a capital P in what seems like a very short life I've lived thus far, can't be captured that way.
If asked what Paul looked like, I'd talk about the lines around his eyes that spoke of sorrow and deep compassion in equal measure.
I'd tell you about his voice, that raised in worship with languages we could not know and yet deeply understood.
I'd speak of his messages (which all of these years later, I compare every other person's with) and how they nurtured in me a strong reverence for careful study of the Word, and yet the wisdom to know where our minds were limited and our hearts must take over to give a full picture.
I'd tell you how he spoke of a God of power and might and overflowing grace and love, and how his life and work reinforced the need for both to be true.
While I can't tell you his exact height, I can tell you that, while kneeling, it was absolutely perfect to fit his clown-painted face behind a cardboard frame and allow children to toss sponges toward it. In fact, if you asked me what Paul Francis looked like, my first instinct is to see him in costume, whether as a clown at the community fair, a character in a Christmas drama, or an ancient person of faith speaking about the coming of Jesus and arriving and departing with the same words: "Shalom. Peace to you."
In the aging memories of my youth, Paul inhabits both the podium and the janitor's closet, as likely to be giving a message as to be setting up chairs or barbecuing at the church picnic.
He looks to me like a true servant of God, moulding a church that was ever focused outward - resulting in community fairs and food banks, relationships with other bodies of worship who may have been wary of collaborating, annual opportunities to show the larger community we simply loved them and chances to march and proclaim Good News for all who would hear it. Yet he also created a community in which fellowship was prioritized, whether it be camping, dinners at the family house, potlucks on Sundays, or renovating the physical trappings of our church. These intentional measures were restorative and vital to our ability to step out in faith.
If you asked me what Paul looked like, I'd have to tell you that there were times he looked incredibly broken and sad, and that not every costume he wore was a positive one. I will admit that at the time I did not understand the full depth of some of those situations and perhaps I never will.
But I can see now that those instances were just as important in shaping my understanding of being a person of God.
That it can't possibly be wonderful and simple all the time, that without the struggles the prize would not be worth pursuing. That we need to be attuned in the Spirit to come alongside the vulnerable and pull them up to continue to run the only race in which we can all be winners together.
So while this is a time of grief and sadness (and my prayers are with Kathy, Lisa, and Joel and the rest of the family), I woke up this morning with an overwhelming sense that somewhere far above, Paul is meeting the heroes of the faith that he modelled for us here. And that his joy is full. And with that understanding, we can endeavour on in faith and in the absolute assurance of our Father's love. Thank you, Paul. May the Lord bless and keep you.