I was given a magazine a while ago by a friend who thought I would appreciate it, because it had an article nicely written about my late grandmother. It was a lengthy obituary, which said very little about her. The author referred to her as “Mrs. A.S. Bursey”. Trouble is, her initials were not A.S. Those were my grandfather’s initials. Nanny’s name was Rebecca.
My grandmother was known for who she married. She was not the type of person who would stand out on her own. She was not the type to put herself out there for everyone to know. In fact, putting herself out there in crowds was actually something that made her uncomfortable. She was not a tall woman by any stretch and she married a fairly tall and stalwart man.
My grandfather was well-known wherever he went in Newfoundland back in the day. He was the leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and had been instrumental in the foundation of many churches there. He was constantly in demand to preach all over the province. His face was recognizable to many who lived in the province at the time.
Poppy was a big man, or at least he seemed so to me. He had a big personality and he commanded attention wherever he went. He would preach with confident tones, sometimes almost sounding more like he was singing a song than preaching. He could hold the attention of an audience for an hour as he spoke (and sometimes much longer).
Then there was Nanny. She was a small woman, who stood quietly by his side, not saying much at all. She was courteous and friendly to people, and hosted many people through the years. But I got the feeling that she was often outside of her comfort zone when she did so.
Poppy loved her, and you could tell. He would call her “Becky” or “Bucket”. When we would go visit them, he would always try to entertain the grandkids by saying, “C’mon, Bucket, gimme a kiss, my lovey!” and then she’d giggle, smack him and say, “You go on now.”
When I was a child, my grandmother seemed like an enigma. I never knew lots about her background or who she was as a girl (something I really regret), and I never knew about the things she really was passionate about. She wasn’t the type to talk about those things freely, or at least with mischievous grandkids. She had a very intriguing house, that had those old doorknobs that looked like huge diamonds, a mysterious printing press in the basement, and portraits in Poppy’s study that looked like their eyes were following you. She always had a bed for us with crispy clean sheets and would send Pop out to pick up KFC for us to have as a treat when we visited. She had shag carpet that looked like it grew out of the floor and a backyard that had the tallest flowers I had ever seen. She had African violets all around her house, and they were always healthy and blooming. She wasn’t the “huggy” type, but would freely accept hugs that were offered.
I felt a bit upset when I read that she wasn’t given her own name in that article. After all, she had a life of her own, and identity of her own, I thought. Why couldn’t they do the courtesy of typing her real name?
But as I thought it through, I realized that that name may have been perfectly fine with her.
In her own way, Nan had a ministry of her own, though her ministry was unsung. Pop got all the accolades and notoriety, but she was always there, looking perfectly “done up”, with hair always styled and a freshly pressed dress at every event. She went along to the camps, the conferences, the services, and supported him. She was the one who heard the painful stories, and supported during the hard times. She sat by his bedside after he ended up in a ditch outside of his car after a near-fatal roll-over. She often went along to the nursing home and hospital visits. She supported Poppy’s ministry.
People like my grandfather cast a long shadow, and Nan could always be found in that shadow. But that’s what her ministry was: to be a partner, to support, to listen, to facilitate, to encourage. She did this in the shadows rather than the limelight.
Those of us who do vocational ministry are often praised for the sacrifices we make and for giving our lives for the ministry, but it’s those who stand with us who are often unsung ministry partners. We can’t all stand behind the pulpit. Some of us were called to bless and facilitate those who do.
Nanny was in Poppy’s shadow. But that’s where she liked to be, because it meant she was close to him. That’s where Rebecca Bursey found her place of service to the Lord.