In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul addresses his friends as “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.” Later he addresses them as “my dear friends.” Then, at least eight times, he addresses them with the beautiful word “brothers,” or sometimes, “my brothers.”

Recognizing that Paul was no doubt referring to women disciples as well as men, the latest New International Version (NIV) has translated the Greek word, “adelphoi” not as “brothers” but as “brothers and sisters.” Though changing the masculine word for brother to include females may be an example of political correctness, it is likely Paul would approve of the decision since his friends who were followers of Jesus included women as well as men. That Greek word is famous in America because it is included in the name of the Pennsylvania city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

My life has been blessed beyond measure by my “adelphoi,” my brothers and sisters in Christ. When I became a pastor in the early fifties, Methodist pastors were all males as far as I knew. Older pastors welcomed me into the “brotherhood” of pastors. In seminary, my professors often addressed us as “young gentlemen.” That has changed radically during my 72 years as a pastor. So many women have answered God’s call to serve as pastors that today more than 50% of seminary students are females.

While I love dearly my sisters in Christ, the role models who have influenced my life have been men, my brothers in Christ; indeed, my dear brothers in Christ. With the passing of the years, the number of my dear brothers has diminished. In recent years I have bid farewell to my dear brothers Roy Sublette, Jon Couey, Doug Newton and more recently, Jim Dannelly, a beloved friend who, without a whimper, crossed over to the other side.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul invites his brothers and sisters to follow his example as a Christian and to “keep their eyes on” others who are worthy role models. You may recall his words:

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do (3:12-17).

As wise pastors mature in the faith and become more effective in pastoral ministry, they follow Paul’s advice: They keep their eyes on their role models who may be older or fellow pastors whose example they seek to follow. Brother Si Mathison was my first, and most influential, role model since he was my father in the faith. There were several others, but along the way, my friend and fellow pastor Jim Dannelly became a role model for me.

Jim was three months younger than me. I had known him as a fellow pastor, but our friendship began 54 years ago when he followed me to serve on the conference staff in Andalusia. He and Bobbie and their three children moved into the parsonage where we had lived for five years on Meadowbrook Drive. Over the years we often joked about the day Bobbie found some crayon markings on a hallway wall. When she inquired who had done this dastardly deed, their son Steve said, “Mama, it was the Albritton boys who did it!”

Across the years, our friendship and respect for each other deepened. As we served together in many conference responsibilities, I realized that God had given me a good friend whose integrity was above reproach. We shared a passion for evangelism and missions. We enjoyed talking together and sharing our common desire to motivate people to find true life in Christ. We found great joy in participating in the Christian Ashram movement spearheaded by E. Stanley Jones. Jim was as authentic a disciple of Jesus as I have ever known. 

In my retirement years, Jim and Bobbie, Dean and I, worked together to strengthen the ministry of Wesley Heirs, a fellowship of retired Methodist pastors and spouses, which was quite strong for many years but weakened greatly by the Coronavirus pandemic.

For two years Jim and I served as co-presidents of Wesley Heirs, feeling that it met a real need by celebrating the life and ministry of those brothers and their spouses who had departed this life and entered into the Church Triumphant. In our spring and fall meetings of Wesley Heirs, we always formed a small choir to sing a special in the worship service on the second day of our meetings at Blue Lake. Jim and I enjoyed singing so we sang in the Wesley Heirs Choir. I always made it a point to sit beside Jim. Though “Mama sang bass,” Jim and I did also. I sat beside him because he could sing the right tune better than I could.

In the last few years, Jim’s health deteriorated greatly. Jim loved the homeplace he had developed on Highway 231 near Troy. I ate several meals there while visiting Jim and Bobbie. I grieved for him as Jim’s eyesight grew progressively worse, but I never heard him grovel in self-pity. Instead, he spoke of how the eye specialists were teaching him how to see somewhat with peripheral vision.

A week or so before Jim died, my friend, Eddie Davis drove me down to see Jim. He was very weak, lying on his back, almost totally blind but not complaining. I had prayed for the Lord to guide me in what to say, and he guided me to sing some of our favorite songs. I knew Jim would sing along with me, and he did. We sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “There is a Balm in Gilead,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “O How I Love Jesus,” “Jesus is the Sweetest Name I Kno,” and other songs — for about 20 minutes. Then I held his hand and prayed a simple prayer. As I parted, I said, “Jim, I will see you again.” He replied strongly, “Yes!”

When I heard that Jim’s soul had departed the shell that had been his body, I paused and praised God for my dear brother who had, without a whimper, crossed over to the other side, to join the great crowd of those John called “the victorious,” who joyfully await our arrival there.

Take a moment and give thanks to God for the role models who have shaped and influenced your life. Then ask God for the grace to continue living as a worthy role model for those who esteem your example, those who are “keeping their eyes” on you. Finally, please pray for me, that when the day of my departure comes, I may, without a whimper, cross over to the other side.