Friday, December 4, 2009

'You really know how to make me laugh young man...'

The Rev. R. Rye Fleenor, age 91, of Kingsport, TN passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family and entered into rest with the Lord at 9:08 p.m. Thursday (October 22, 2009) at his residence following a brief illness.

Born in Sullivan County, TN on July 23, 1918, a son of the late J. B. and Mary Netherland Fleenor, he has resided in this area his entire life. Rye married Mildred Unavee Barker on June 18, 1940.

Composing this installment stirs a tremendous amount of diverse emotions in me. Sadness, joy, regret, shame, and heart-felt warmth. Time for reflection...cause for celebration...genuine appreciation.

Rye Fleenor, or always Preacher Fleenor for me, was not only a tremendous influence on my early spiritual walk , he lived a life that set a shining example for me to pattern. A loving, humble man that seemed to physically tower over most, Preacher Fleenor died 6 weeks ago...and I hadn't seen or talked to him in over 20 years. For that I'm both sad and regretful.

Being a teenager is tough business. Probably more so today than in my teenage years of the late 70's and early 80's...but I think being a teenager has probably always been a hassle. During those conflicted years for me, Preacher Fleenor was always a steady, calming vessel. He had a way of correcting and encouraging simultaneously I wish I could duplicate today.

I vividly remember his and Mrs. Fleenor's infectious laughter. He would listen to my cornball jokes, many I'm sure he had heard a hundred times again but would always laugh as if it were a Tony C original. I also remember the exact day he said the words that title this post...I was wearing a dress and acting like an unseen version of the Church Lady from SNL which wouldn't come along for another dozen years.

The man absolutely loved competition. During a brief exploration for me into the sport of boxing, he would light up as he gave me pointers and coached outside the ring. I think he was somewhat disappointed when I gave it up because he loved the purity of the sport...not necessarily the violence. As I stated in a previous post, he was at most every football or baseball game I played from around 1976 until I graduated high school in 1982. He was my most loyal fan, and I loved him like he was my own grandfather...who actually never came to any of my sporting events.

It bothers me profoundly to think about the disappointment I might have caused him during my dark years. I say might because I lost contact with Preacher Fleenor after 1984 which is totally my fault because I think I avoided him out of shame. In 1988, I was awarded a state honor in Hawaii for services during a natural disaster, and the story made local papers back home. I received a glowing note from him in the mail...but that was the final time we had contact. I remember reading that note and finding a quite corner out of the way to break down and sob at the pride he conveyed...and how disappointed he would be at how I had let me spiritual life stumble.

I was never close to another pastor until today, when I'm glad to say my current pastor is also my dear friend. He would like to have met Preacher Fleenor...I'm sure of that. Men like Rye Fleenor are rare and true gifts from God. I'm not saying perfect...just rare. My fellow Kingdom Blogger, Joyce, shared a phrase on Tuesday that I absolutely adored. Preacher Fleenor has been promoted to glory...and for that I celebrate and thank God for the time He gave me with him.

As I strive to be as much like Christ as humanly possible, I have a Father who walks with me and guides me through His Spirit. When it comes to being the best man I can be, Preacher Fleenor will always be an important role model in my matter how old I am. I look forward to our reunion when my promotion finally comes.


David said...

Hmmm... Only one pastor in my entire life ever said he was proud of me. I was so shocked, I asked him why? "Well, son," he said, "for your commitment to Christ and your love of His people." In my book, that is gold.

What a wonderful testimony of "true" pastoral care, to correct, to encourage and not miss an opportunity to say "I'm proud of you."

I think it is wonderful that you are friends with the current pastor too. It's harder to stray from the flock when you have those relationships.

I am looking forward to my promotion (mostly for the health care benefits). I'm thinking that I could grab one sinner under each arm during the rapture, and at about 1,000 feet preach the gospel - "Do you receive Christ, or should I let go?"

Joyce Lighari said...

Oh that God would raise up more true Pastors. I've been blessed with a couple in my life. Now I have no Pastor, not even one I'm not close to. Life is much richer when one has someone who truly is a Pastor and cares for you.
Having been a Pastor, I know that without grace you cannot minister.

Michelle said...

Oh, Tony C...why must you make me tear?

Good read! :)

photogr said...

Great article Tony. Good that you have pastors that you can get close to. Many do not in the bigger churches.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I really appreciate the way you write. I read a post of yours on Abundant Living about coffee and just had to share with you. I love coffee so much that I named my blog after it. I am now following your posts and look forward to reading more!

Tracy said...

Thank you for sharing this Tony.

I loved reading about this godly man. It's so cool to see real Christians in action. Even more so when they're pastors!

I thank God for the influence he had in your life, and the fact that I'm blessed by the person you are today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this! Rye Fleenor was my grandfather. I love reading how much he touched the lives of others! He will be greatly missed, but we have so many amazing memories.

Chesney Gannaway
Kingsport, TN

Anonymous said...

Andrew Said...

Thank you so much for posting this about my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather has gone on to Heaven and we all have to do everything in our power to go where Grandaddy is!!!

Thanks and May God Bless
Andrew Glover
Kingsport, TN