Pastor endures tragedy to give hope to the hurting

5/17/2011

By Kara Witherow, Advocate Editor

Through life and death, tragedy and triumph, retired South Georgia pastor Rev. Ralph Bailey believes that everything has a purpose and that nothing in life is a waste.

Even the death of two of his children, Angela and Michael.

At 25 years old, Rev. Bailey and his wife Vermelle were secure in their respective careers – he as a high school band director and she as a public school musician – when they were expecting their first child.

Joy quickly turned to sorrow when Angela, born two months premature, died an hour after she was born.

The ensuing grief and inner struggle made Rev. Bailey question what is really important in life and led the couple into the realization that they were being called to full-time ministry.

“I realized all of a sudden that everything I valued and had planned for in my life can be lost in a flash,” Rev. Bailey said.  “I started looking for something that wasn’t really lost, and it drove me into my faith instead of away from it.”

Enrolling in Emory’s Candler School of Theology, Rev. Bailey and Vermelle moved to Monroe, Ga., and got part-time jobs at Monroe First United Methodist Church.

It was there that they learned that they were expecting their second child. 

The couple was “full of hope,” but tragedy struck again when Michael died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) just three days after his birth.

“When our baby died, we were both in total despair,” Rev. Bailey said.  “We began to wonder, ‘What does this mean?’”

Rev. Bailey’s quest to find meaning in his children’s deaths, and his pursuit of the answer to the agonizing question, “Why?,” led him to write, “For Everything A Season.”  In the book, which was originally published in 1975 but has been recently re-released, Rev. Bailey shares his and Vermelle’s story of pain, grief and lessons learned through suffering.

More a “walk-through” than a “how-to” book, Rev. Bailey wrote it in the hopes that, by sharing their experiences, others would be able to tell their own stories and cope with their own grief and losses.

“That’s all I wanted to do,” he said.  “I wanted to communicate the raw emotion of it … and invite other people to consider their own experiences and see where they’ve taken them.  I believe in resurrection, but you have to die to be resurrected. And you have to go into these kinds of experiences in order to get out of them; you lean into them instead of out of them.”

After graduating seminary in 1966, Rev. Bailey was appointed pastor of Brunswick’s Lakeside United Methodist Church.

Congregants who had suffered similar losses quickly sought him out.

Rev. Bailey was soon asked to officiate a funeral for an infant.

“It wasn’t that I said anything or knew anything,” he said.  “But that grandmother came to me and said that she would rather have me there than anybody else in the world.  She said that because she knew that I knew (how it felt to lose a child).”

Through his pastoral appointments to Epworth United Methodist Church in Jesup, Wilmington Island United Methodist Church in Savannah, and as director of pastoral care at Candler Hospital, those in the midst of pain and suffering often looked to Rev. Bailey for hope and comfort.

“I came to the conclusion that God is in everything with me,” said Rev. Bailey, the current pastor emeritus at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah.  “Nothing has to be a waste. Instead of asking why this is happening, ask how.  How is this not going to be a waste?  How is something good going to come out of this?  You have to make a basic decision – is God good or not?  And I believe God is good.”


"For Everything A Season” will be on sale in the Cokesbury store at the South Georgia Annual Conference Session in Tifton. It may also be ordered directly by calling the publisher, Xlibris, at 1-888-795-4274, ext. 7897, or online at www.xlibris.com, www.amazon.com, or from your local bookstore.

 

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