Remembering a Friend
November 7 will mark the passing of my pastor and mentor; my friend, Robert Parmley. He died on November 7, 2011. Without question, “Pudge” Parmley had more impact upon my life than any other human being. It was he who led me to Christ, discipled me in the faith, and guided me into ministry. He was the only “father” I ever knew and without his influence, it is difficult to imagine what my life might be.
I recently released a little book, Eddie, which chronicles the adventures of my wife and I as we traveled from Vermont to Florida and back in a 41-year-old camper dubbed by my children, “Cousin Eddie.” We had a ball, but during our month long adventure, there were several poignant moments. This is Chapter Four from my book, “Eddie”; and I dedicate it to the memory of my friend, Robert Norman Parmley.
Ashboro, North Carolina
(Journal Note): Little change of plans today. We have opted to park Cousin Eddie and watch Hurricane IRMA for a day or so. We are in a hotel in Asheboro, NC and Eddie is safely tucked away in a parking lot next door. We are about a day and a half away from Orlando, and if things go well, we can be there on schedule or if need be, delayed a bit.
We did not have a rigid travel plan when we began our trip, and turns out it is a good thing. We decided on Saturday to stop in Asheboro, NC; park Eddie and get a hotel room for a couple of days. This would afford us the opportunity to have a real hot shower, a more comfortable bed, and a good television by which to monitor IRMA’s travel. In addition to being tired, my old ulcer has been acting up the last couple of days causing me considerable discomfort. With some rest, meds, and an abundance of yogurt diet, I am feeling much better.
Tomorrow (Monday), we are going to do some early morning maintenance on the RV and head a little further south toward the Walterboro, SC area. The plan is to bed down there for the night and further monitor the progress of the storm. Even though the predictions of Irma’s path have changed significantly, we want to make sure that we have a pretty good idea of her timetable before we head any further south. All our kids will be arriving by air to Orlando on Thursday and Friday as the airlines and Disney are planning on resuming activity by Tuesday of this week. We have reservations there at Fort Wilderness on Wednesday. We will see how this carefully considered plan works out.
Through all of this, it has been an enjoyable time together as we have visited parts of the country we haven’t seen in some time. I travel in the south quite a bit with speaking engagements, but Barbara has not been into North Carolina (our home) in almost 20 years.
We were on our way to breakfast this morning after sleeping in. As we walked down the hall toward the front desk we walked past a meeting room and were blessed to the sounds of a tambourine and joyous singing. A startup church uses one of the meetings rooms here at the hotel to meet for their worship. It was clearly a very simple worship time. There were tambourines and hand clapping, and adoring voices; no piano, guitars, or other instruments. We didn’t drop in because it was late, and we weren’t dressed to drop in on a church service, but it brought back some poignant memories of our childhood.
Our home church, Lenoir Community Church, held its first meetings in the ballroom of the Carlheim Hotel in our hometown of Lenoir, North Carolina. Clyde and Louise Triplett, some of the founding members of our church owned the Carlheim and were happy to make the ballroom available to the church in its inception.
I remembered the first service. It was scheduled for a Sunday in early January. We made announcements, passed out flyers, took out newspapers ads to announce the formation of a new, full gospel, Bible preaching church. We were very excited about the new venture. The core group of the new church was The Southernaires Gospel Choir, under the direction of our Pastor (and my mentor, Pastor Bob Parmley), and their parents.
We had been a part of a denominational church and in the previous couple of years we had been exposed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It was a very powerful, youth led revival that was going on primarily through the choir. Many people had been saved and there were several remarkable healing events.
Unfortunately, at that time, the whole “Pentecostal” thing was not particularly welcome in this denomination and Pastor Bob had been asked to resign. Bob did not have designs on starting a new church but several members and leaders of the church did and they asked him to continue to serve as their pastor. If memory serves me correctly, the date for the first service was set for January 16, 1966.
Wouldn’t you know, we woke up on that Sunday morning in the throes of one of those rare North Carolina snow storms. If you know anything about the south, EVERYTHING shuts down when it snows. Looking out the window in Pastor Parmley’s North Main Street home, we peered into an absolute “white out.” Pastor was determined that we would not cancel the very first service of the new church.
Sitting in the driveway was the only vehicle we had available to us that day; an old Ford Econoline van – engine in front, rear wheel drive, summer tires; certainly, not a snow storm worthy vehicle. So, we pushed, dragged, and slid the old Ford Van owned by the Southernaires Gospel Choir up the hill along Old North Main Street to the Carlheim Hotel and began in faith, to set up chairs for the first service of what would become Lenoir Community Church.
History will record that the only church in the entire county to hold services that snowy morning was Lenoir Community Church. I was there as we watched people slide up Main Street to the old hotel, many came walking, slogging through the snow while pulling small children on sleds. Through almost a foot of snow they trudged and when we all got there, over 100 people filled up that ballroom. As the worship began, the Spirit of God fell on the place. God’s people showed up and found that the Lord was there already, waiting on them.
Over the years that followed, Lenoir Community Church became one of the most influential churches in the entire area. In fact, I was privileged to have lunch with the church as they enjoyed the celebration of their 51st year of ministry. Pastor Bob Parmley served the congregation for over 40 years before passing away at the age of 72 on November 7, 2011 after a brief battle with cancer.
Pastor Bob was not only my pastor; he was my mentor. He was the only father I ever knew. I had the privilege of preaching at his funeral. In attendance at his memorial service were scores of men and women who were impacted and trained by this anointed man. Before the service began, I stood near the front of the church and watched as familiar faces, albeit much older, began to flow into the building. From all over America we traveled to pay homage to the man who brought a unique vision for ministry into our community and into our lives.
I remembered vividly the humiliation, the rumors, the lies that my best friend endured as this new work began; not from the world, but from the church. Christian brothers and sisters spread all sorts of vicious rumors, including the most hurtful of all that Bob was a homosexual predator preying on young boys under the guise of ministry. Since I was one of the closest to him, it was alleged that I was his homosexual “boy”. One of the sweetest, kindest men I had ever known; a man who pulled me out of a pit that I will not describe here was subjected to the most brutal treatment one can imagine. He never complained. He never struck back. He remained always faithful to the calling that God had put upon his life and spread across this land are men and women who were touched by his life, serving the Kingdom and fulfilling his legacy. I am one of those men.
As I stood for those few moments in the hallway outside the meeting room at the Comfort Inn in Asheboro, North Carolina listening to the sweet sounds of worship coming out of that rented room; I was transported back in time more than 50 years to a time of great joy, and in my mind, I could see faces that I have held dear all these years. Clyde and Louise Triplett, Grandpa Smith, Mack Edmisten, Bill and Loretta Hefner, Bill and Lois Lawson, Grace McGinnis and Dessie Watson, and so many others. I could just about hear that old Hammond organ with Pastor Bob seated at the keyboard and the sounds of saints, many of whom have been promoted to eternity singing,
“We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord;
trusting in His Holy Word, He never failed me yet. Oh, Oh, o Oh, we’ve come this far by faith.”
I was barely 16 then. In just a few months I will celebrate my 69th birthday. Barbara and I still cherish that wonderful heritage, the legacy that was left us in the Southernaires, Lenoir Community Church, and my best friend, Bob Parmley – – and realize that “we’ve come this far by faith.”
I did not realize when we fired up Eddie and left Brattleboro for Florida that we would visit not only geographical places, but another time as well. I stood there in the hallway of that hotel and remembered a time when my foundations were poured and the many people who poured them. Barbara and I come from good spiritual stock. Our heritage in Christ is strong. My only hope is that I will leave a generation with a legacy as rich as was left to me.
I continued down the hall toward the front desk and as I turned the corner, the music faded from my hearing and I whispered,
“I love you Bob.”