Bill recalls a recent past filled with courtesy, decency, and civility.

Token Symbols of Courtesy

Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg and I’m one of the ministers at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, my assistant minister.

On my first day as the senior minister at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, there was a Bible right in the center of a desk in an office that was new to me. It was a Bible a lot like this one. It had been left for me by my predecessor as the senior minister at Westminster. He had received it from his predecessor, who had in turn received it from his predecessor. When I left the position of senior minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church, I left it for my successor.

It’s kind of a common courtesy to leave a token or a symbol or a pledge or a note for the new leader when you’re moving on to something new yourself. You can leave something on the desk of a new office, maybe you received something like this when you began a new leadership position at your place of business or your school, or whatever.

In a recent issue of The Christian Century, the Century’s editor Peter Marty mentioned a letter that was left on the desk of an important office on the last day of the letter writer’s holding of that office. The letter read like this, it says:

“Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that too. I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness that some presidents describe. You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck, George.”

So that letter is dated January 20, 1993, and the “Bill” it’s addressed to of course is William Jefferson Clinton, the forty-second president of the United States. And the “George” who signed it, of course, is George Herbert Walker Bush, the forty-first president of the United States. A one-term Republican president left that note for the new, incoming democratic president.

Now George Herbert Walker Bush is an honorable man, but he must be a great father as well, because on January 20, 2009, 16 years to the day after that first letter was written, HW’s son W left an almost identical letter for Barack Hussein Obama, the forty-fourth president of the United States.

And so HW wrote to Bill Clinton “your success now is our country’s success, I am rooting hard for you.” And W wrote to Barack Obama, “the country is pulling for you, including me.”

I was so happy when I heard about those gracious, handwritten missives, and I share them with you because I want to say to you that courtesy and decency and civility were common, routine, nothing to be marveled at, not so long ago, in our recent history, right? A lot of us were alive in 1993, many of us can remember that day. Anybody who’s watching this video was alive in 2009, and most of us remember that day. So in our recent history, not so very long ago, common courtesies, decencies, and civilities.

And I promise you that very soon, not long from now, that sort of camaraderie will be so common and so routine that we won’t have to think twice about it. God bless you.