The polite words used in our culture to describe Kurt would have been “simple” or “a little slow”. Some might have said he was socially awkward. He could not read nor write. I am told however, that when it came to reasoning he was a logical thinker and could solve ordinary everyday problems that might arise. Kurt never had steady employment but he kept himself busy doing odd jobs, particularly helping local truckers load and unload their cargo for which he received some small pay. He learned to cope with his challenges and society allowed him to function. He was a member of the
New Salem Baptist Church
near and he attended church every time the
doors were open. He was always neatly groomed. He was courteous. He was quite.
When he did speak it was often a question or a concern about the well being or
activity of others. London, KY
was heated by a
coal furnace that was located in the basement. Kurt had the task of firing the
furnace and keeping the church warm and comfortable. He took this task
seriously and would get up early, walk the mile or so from his house, down New
Church Baxtertown Road and
across the tracks to the church. No matter how early you got to church Kurt was
already there and had the fire going. It was in the process of his carrying out
these duties that I had an altercation with Kurt one Sunday morning that caused
a different side of him to erupt that I had never seen before. I was probably 6
maybe 7 years old. We got to church early one winter morning and I began to
explore the premises. I found myself in the furnace room. The coal furnace had
a big lever on the side that you would move back and forth to shake out the
ashes. I knew all about this lever and I grabbed hold of it and began to move
it back and forth. There were two problems with that. First of all it was not
my furnace. For all practical purposes it was Kurt’s furnace. Secondly, the ashes
did not need shaking out because there were not many ashes yet which meant that
when I moved the lever I was shaking out the hot coals and messing up the fire
Kurt had just worked hard to build. It did not take Kurt long to find me and
when he did he was angry. His eyes raged and his face was red. He yelled at me.
I was scared. My dad heard the commotion and came and rescued me. I was a
little worried that dad might have some rage of his own but I guess he figured
that Kurt’s abrupt reprimand had been enough. He just got me upstairs to a safe
place, told me to stay put and not to mess with Kurt’s fire again. I steered
clear of Kurt the rest of that day. By the next Sunday Kurt was back to normal
and acted as if the incident had never happened. But I have never forgotten
that day. The memory is as clear as yesterday.
I have thought about that incident often and I have wondered why a few shakes of the lever had disturbed Kurt so much. Yes, I had shaken out a few hot coals. While that was a problem and might slow down the heating process it could be fixed easily enough. Another shovel full of coal and a few minutes would solve the matter. I suspect the issue was that I had entered into Kurt’s private world. Firing the furnace and making sure the church was warm was his job. He did not need any help and he did not want any help, especially from a 6 or 7 year old boy. There were few things in life that belonged totally to Kurt but this job did. He knew how to do this job. He knew how to do it right. He was going to do it his way. He was conscientious about this responsibility. I learned a valuable lesson that day about the importance of staying out of the way and letting people do the work that is assigned to them.
Maybe Kurt also understood the importance of his job. The worshippers would be there soon and they would expect the building to be warm and comfortable. Indeed it was important that our bodies were warm. If we were cold we would complain. We would not be able to focus on the truth of God’s word and the movement of God’s Spirit. By making sure the place was warm Kurt was enabling us to have a meaningful time of worship. Indeed we all have important tasks in the church and if we fail to perform our tasks the other facets of the church are hindered also.
Kurt died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 56. I was a teenager at the time. I attended his visitation. It was a humbling experience. I realized then that in this quiet, content, unassuming man we had been blessed with a rare and precious gift.