Building for the Lord

July 28, 2021 by

Let me start with a refrain from a song written by young people here at the Bruderhof: “Let us build with both our hands on the building for the Lord. Take a shovel, take a spade, first the groundwork must be laid. . . .”

My grandpa Paul Mason was a builder. Although he was a trained pastor, he worked for years in the building trade and was skilled at hanging sheet rock and painting. He was known for making sure a job was done well and that all the tools were cleaned up and the sawdust swept away at the end of the day. Maybe that’s why he liked this joke: A young man was on the floor for his new job. The employer was busy and told him he could start by sweeping. The young man said, “But you know, I’m a college graduate.” The employer answered, “Oh! Well, in that case, I better show you how!”

1950Embed1951: Paul and Esther Mason at their first home on a farm, a year after they were married. Photo courtesy of the author.

Grandpa grew up in a God-fearing family. They lived on a farm in Missouri during a trying time in our country’s history – the Great Depression. Besides financial collapse, his family experienced the years of the dust bowl, a devastating plague of grasshoppers, and the loss of their farm. During the Second World War they continued to farm about half of 550 acres of rented land. The work was left to him, his father, and one brother while his four older brothers left for Civilian Public Service camps. This background gave my grandpa his disciplined, hard-work ethic that stayed with him throughout his life. He later went through two years of Bible school and then got a degree in sociology. Together with my grandma Esther he joined the Bruderhof in the late fifties. They wanted to live in a way that was based on a fulfillment of the Gospel, not just in words but in deeds. After a long and fulfilled life, Grandpa died two years ago at the age of ninety.

In my favorite fairytale movie, The Princess Bride, Wesley says to Princess Buttercup, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Grandpa would have understood that statement. He used to tell me and many others that he knew to “never shy away from suffering.” For years he stood by my grandma, who suffered from depression. He told me that facing suffering and living with pain carried with it a blessing. I never understood that, but later, through experiencing the last years of his life with him, I think I know what he meant. He demonstrated this attitude by reaching out to people who were struggling and sick; also in the way he courageously faced his last days without ever complaining.

Grandpa had a big heart for all the need in the world and an interest in world events and other people. When a local nursing home needed someone to conduct a service for residents who couldn’t get out to church, he was more than willing, although he was already in his eighties himself. After our own Sunday service there was no sitting on the sofa. He got me to come along and help bring the residents out to the common room and find the correct page in the hymnals. He developed a relationship to many of them through personal visits during the week.

PaulEmbed2017: Paul talking with visitors at the New Meadow Run community. Photo courtesy of the author.

Grandpa never properly retired, but after he could no longer do building work he still put in a full day at the workshop until the last year of his life. A year before he died, Grandpa had a stroke which left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. Even with the use of only one hand, he still insisted on working as long as he could. He was so pleased when he could still work a few hours a day. On his ninetieth birthday, he said to the community, “I have great thankfulness that for almost ninety years I’ve been able to serve my Lord and King.” At that time, I knew he probably wouldn’t be around much longer so I asked him for his advice for my future. Right away he said, “Praise the Lord,” and then after a little while he added, “Serve the Lord.”

The last stanza of the song above goes like this: “Pitch in with all your strength, work though the sun is hot. Give it the best you’ve got because we’re working on the building for the Lord.” Grandpa gave it the best he had, and I hope we young people can continue the building he and his generation began. There is a lot of work to do.

Now, where did I leave my broom?

Melinda Thomson lives at Maple Ridge, a Bruderhof in Ulster Park, New York.


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