She was, in a word, faithful.
Faithful to her work. Faithful to her community. Faithful to her congregation. Faithful to her family and friends. Faithful to the Lord.
Faithfulness and much more lead me to label Virginia Finkel a stalwart. A stalwart is steadfast, sturdy, strongly built. Virginia proved herself to be all of these.
When I arrived in tiny Port Hope, Michigan, in 2001, Virginia had already been the church secretary for thirty-four years. Since she was well into her sixties, I never could have guessed that she had ten more years in her, so that in 2011 we finally were able to throw the big retirement party that she had earned.
At her retirement, Virginia stood as the second-longest serving person of St. John, falling just short of Rev. Emil Berner.
Virginia was employed by the congregation at fifteen hours per week. I am confident that never once in my ten years with her did she only work fifteen hours in a week.
Part of it was the workload. Some of it was that she was so sociable, making conversation with any and all visitors in the office, whether they were strangers who were in town looking for information about the grave of a long-lost family member, or they were members of the congregation making their rounds—in Port Hope, that was post office, bank, convenience store, and church office—or it was the pastor stopping in with the latest thing to hand off to her and the two of them caught up on the news or got into a discussion of theology.
As this former pastor can attest, Virginia could hold her own in theological conversation.
Returning to the long hours Virginia spent at her desk in St. John’s church-school office, another part of it was that she didn’t work as fast as she used to. She certainly was not the quick hare, but the steady turtle. You do, of course, recall who won the race between those two. Turtles are stalwarts.
And, make no mistake, Virginia could have taken more advantage of computer technology. The day after she retired in 2011, I began emailing to the new church secretary, Andrea Piotter, my weekly stuff for the bulletin, which I had always printed out to hand-deliver to Virginia, which she then had to retype for the bulletin.
Virginia did her best with much of modern technology. Some of it did its best with her.
Finally, as Virginia would admit, she simply liked being at her desk, in the office, among its traffic, interacting with folks. The October before I arrived, Virginia’s beloved husband, Norm, had died suddenly. Virginia’s work became even more precious, and her need to be home less so. This, of course, was a win/win situation. Virginia benefited from being around the people she loved, and we had her where we needed her with our incessant questions.
If I have not yet built my case that Virginia had been a stalwart, I move onto the practicing of her faith in the Lord Jesus. She worshiped every Sunday and every holy day. She was in Bible class every Sunday. She hated when something—an illness or the weather—kept her from being in the Lord’s house, receiving His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
As already mentioned, she proved that she was paying attention. Many a conversation between us began, “Pastor, I don’t understand how . . .” and then she would bring up something going on in the world that did not match up with the Word of the Lord, which we would flesh out for the next ten minutes.
Virginia served on the Ladies Aid until that group of women simply grew unable to carry on. She attended every church event, from the kids’ basketball games, to choral concerts, to the Christmas program, to you-name-it. Her faithfulness extended to the public school of Port Hope and the village. This was her lifelong home, and she was its beloved daughter and sister.
She and Norm were blessed with two sons and a daughter, and the kids gave them the grandkids of which Virginia spoke to me often. Son Larry didn’t marry, remained in Port Hope, and proved an essential blessing to Mom, especially after Dad died.
My Julie got to know Virginia for herself. Julie served as the school secretary for a couple of years, which had the two of them sitting in the office across from each other. In 2007, to mark Virginia’s reaching forty years as church secretary, Julie put to use her former career—newspaper writer—to pen the lovely tribute which was printed in the local paper.
Ultimately, even stalwarts like Virginia give out. Her health failed over the past few years. Finally, on September 5, at the age of eighty-four, she fell asleep in Christ.
Because the Lord Jesus is The Faithful One, we trust that He fulfilled every promise to Virginia upon which she relied during her earthly pilgrimage, and that her soul is before Christ’s throne in heaven, praising the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and that on the day of His return to the earth He will resurrect Virginia from her grave, give her a new and imperishable body, and with all of the faithful she will enjoy the eternal heaven-on-earth paradise.
Until that day, we who remain thank the Lord for Virginia. Even more, we do well to follow her example as faithful stalwarts in our homes and churches and jobs.