When I think of my friend Andy Ray I think of words like planner, thinker, meticulous, dependable, devoted, fun loving, loyal and faithful. Our lives have been intertwined for over 40 years in ministry. I thank God for that.
Even though we both grew up in Mississippi, I came to know Andy when I went to seminary at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His roots as a United Methodist minister in Mississippi grow much deeper than anyone I know. He follows his father, grandfather, an uncle and others who have served well in churches in our state. Andy has given the United Methodist Church his life. Period!
I remember visiting Andy in his office when we were just a few years out of seminary. It was mid-week and I was wondering what I would be preaching the next Sunday. But Andy told me how he had already planned what he was preaching for months ahead! Then he showed me his sermon filing system and explained how he was planning sermons for nine years! Everything Andy does is his very best. Everything! Whether it is serving the church, mowing his lawn, or doing woodwork, he gives it his very best.
I served as District Superintendent for a couple of years, and then was thrilled to learn that Andy was appointed District Superintendent also. I had already learned that position is not as easy as many might think. I remember Andy’s first experience in appointment making. He called me before our first session. He had several ministers who were moving, and to my surprise, he proceeded to tell me where each one of them was going to be appointed. He had it all written down! I hinted that appointment making didn’t usually happen that way, but I didn’t want to burst his bubble. However, when we reached the end of making appointments that year, very few of his ministers went where he had originally planned. No one agonized more over making appointments for ministers and churches. Andy spent countless hours on it. He wanted the best for everyone involved. In fact, he put so much of himself into it he would sometimes get sick during that time of the year.
Andy has played his harmonica ever since I have known him. He seems to pull it out when the mood is light; or when the mood is just too heavy. We attended his daughter Elizabeth’s wedding, which was a beautiful outdoor setting. Everything was just perfect. Andy was officiating, and since I had been there with my own daughter a few years earlier, I knew some of the emotions he must be feeling. As my wife and I were about to be seated, I pulled on Andy’s tie and said; “I thought you might be playing your harmonica today!” Andy just smiled a devilish smile, and I knew something was up. At the end of the ceremony he pulled his harmonica from his pocket and played Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World!”
Ministry has many, many blessings. However, it is not always easy. How thankful I am for Andy’s friendship. We have traveled some of the same paths. He has been a good listener when I was hurting, and was even willing to trust me when he was hurting.
Marilyn and I applaud Andy and Katherine for their many years of dedicated ministry, and since our retirement homes are not too far apart, we look forward to spending time with them in the future.