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Faith of my father

A Memorial to John Leonard Parrish (Aug. 9, 1933-Oct. 17, 2016)

It was in the early morning of October 17 that my father, John Leonard Parrish, passed away at St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi at the age of 83. Whenever I think of Dad, my mind is always brought to God’s goodness, seeing, as the Psalmist says, “how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Ps. 34:8). Although there are many things I could say about him that recall this truth, one particular event that happened in 1997 will forever remind me of God’s grace very directly.

It was the Spring Break holiday and after a seven-year estrangement, due to some unfortunate relational circumstances between my maternal and paternal families, an opportunity arose that allowed for our relationship to begin anew. A Christian youth organization that I was a part of in my Alabama hometown was traveling to Jackson to take part in an event at my father’s local Baptist congregation; our arrival stop was lunch at the Mississippi School for the Blind, where my father was serving as the superintendent. I remember pushing my way off the bus and seeing Dad for the first time in seven years, instantly overwhelmed with excitement. He saw me in the distance and immediately opened wide his arms. With quickening speed, I ran to him, he and I hugging for a little over a minute, although it felt much longer. Both of us were shedding tears of joy and thanksgiving. It was a holy moment, one for which I will forever be grateful to God.

Jesus, in the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, speaks of the unconditional love that is offered to us by God through grace:

Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away. … And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day. (John 6:37, 39-40)

The Good News is that when we realize our need for God, being humble and coming to him with open hearts, God is there, right where he has always been, ready to open wide his arms and receive us in his saving embrace. The author of Hebrews encourages us to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace” (Heb. 4:16).

img_0406Our reunion allowed me opportunities to come to know my father through the next 19 years in ways that I could not during the previous 12. He had a keen sense of humor, was an awesome cook, and was very intellectual, but also wise and extremely modest; he was a loving family man. But most importantly, Dad was an unashamed Christian, shedding tears of gratitude at the mere mention of Jesus’ name. The Christian example that he strove constantly to be for others has most assuredly had an impact on my own walk with Jesus and priestly vocation. Dad’s death has made me even more mindful of the command that God gives to all of us — to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Now that Dad is gone, I will strive even more to be the kind of Christian witness that he himself was, looking to Jesus, who he so very much loved, for help.

Dad gave himself completely over to Jesus only as he approached 60, and was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1991. Before then, he had a very successful career in blind and higher education, having served as president of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, in various administrative positions at both Talladega College and the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and as the Mississippi School for the Blind’s first African-American superintendent. But as great as all of his achievements were, Dad’s biggest regret was not having accepted God’s grace and submitted to the Lord’s will for his life earlier.

At his funeral, Dad’s pastor spoke of him, not only as being a firm Christian, but also as “a man of regret.” In his later years and as I began my own ordained ministry, Dad often told me of some of the regrets he had.

I wonder how much better things would have been had I just accepted Jesus earlier. I know that God was trying to give me His grace. Had I just not been so stubborn, how much better would my life have been? What if … ? What if … ?[1]

Here we can see more of the Good News, in that when God saves, he redeems the person, and he redeems all lost time. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17) To be saved by Jesus means that all things old — past sins and lost time connected to our lives without Christ — pass away! To be born of the Holy Spirit is to be given a brand-new start, as if the time that was once lost never even happened.

This is why we should give in to Jesus’ love now, for the longer we experience him, the longer and greater joy abides in our lives. With Jesus, there are fewer “what ifs” and more of “what actually is,” a ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven life. I feel for my Dad: he constantly regretted not giving in to Jesus much earlier. But for the last 25 years of his life, he was Jesus’ full-time cheerleader. Those 25 years more than made up for the previous 58. Of Dad, as well as for all of God’s saints, it can be said, “‘Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them’” (Rev. 14:13).

May the soul of John Leonard Parrish and of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and may light perpetual forever shine upon them.


[1] From “Regret,” a sermon preached for Dad’s burial service by Bishop Ronnie C. Crudup, Sr., Bishop of the Mid-South of the Fellowship of International Churches, at 2 p.m. Saturday, October 22 at New Horizon Church International in Jackson, Mississippi.


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