At church on Easter morning, Gerald Baugh spotted his friend Sarah Millsaps. He yelled (Gerald is not often subtle) for her and her family to sit with him.
Gerald, 70, has been a member of Hayes Barton United Methodist Church for more than 50 years. Decades ago, he was one of the first members of the Starnes Sunday School Class for adults with developmental disabilities, which he still attends regularly.
Sarah, 19, who will be a sophomore at Wake Forest University, has been active at the church for most of her life. She and Gerald often attend the churchs Lighthouse service, which features contemporary music.
As I looked across the congregation that morning during the sermon, Gerald and Sarah sat at the end of a row, looking intently at the minister and holding hands. Sarah and her mother then helped serve communion. When it came time for his row to receive communion, Gerald pointed to Sarah and her mother and said loudly, Im going to those guys.
After Easter, Sarah wrote Geralds Rules for Lighthouse, which subsequently were printed in the church bulletin. Among them:
• Get there early.
• Sit with different people each Sunday.
• Say hello to everyone, even if they walk in late.
• Hug everyone.
• If you are happy to see someone, tell them.
• Sing loud.
• Hold hands.
• Trust the congregation with your prayer concerns.
• Dont be ashamed when you dont know the words to a song.
• Thank the people around you for sharing the service with you.
• Stay late.
I admire the way Gerald attends church, Sarah wrote in a text message from Brevard, where she is working at summer camp. I wanted to pinpoint the very ways I want to emulate Gerald.
At first she was surprised Gerald held her hand but then it seemed natural. I like to think Gerald is making the service into a 3-D experience, she wrote. I think Gerald likes to make people smile and feel loved. He is always telling me, I like you. Gosh, why dont I say that to people more?
I interviewed Gerald one night this week at his group home in West Raleigh. We sat in the dining room as he finished his grilled-chicken wrap and fries.
I read aloud each of his rules as written by Sarah. After each one, he said, Yep!
I asked about his favorite part of church. He said, Just listening to the music and listening to the preachers.
Then I asked a trick question. I should not have done it; perhaps the devil made me do it. His church has three ministers (Rick Clayton, LuAnn Charlton and Jesse Baker). I asked who was his favorite.
Rick, he said. And LuAnn. And Jesse.
Each was his favorite. Gerald had outsmarted me.
Then he went back to his room and brought back a trophy. His church sponsors an annual Golfing Disaster fundraiser. Geralds foursome, which included two of the ministers, received a trophy for their last-place finish.
Gerald could not be prouder. Me and Jesse rode in the cart together!
Gerald is a treasure. Some people have a gift for always making you feel better. Gerald has that gift.
It was time for me to go. Gerald needed to stick to his night routine. We shook hands. If I see you in church, I might want to sit beside you, Gerald said. I like to sit in the front. I could save a seat for you. Be all right?
I would be honored.
Drescher: 919-829-4515 or email@example.com. On Twitter @john_drescher