A Eulogy for Miss Ollie…

(Every minister has one of those little old ladies in his pastoral career that stands out from the rest. She is your biggest cheerleader, your most faithful prayer partner, your personal chef, and the only one who buys all your sermon tapes. In 2003, I lost mine after a short illness that claimed her life and sent her home to glory. This past weekend, while archiving some files, I ran across the eulogy I preached at her funeral on December 4, 2003. I post it now as a tribute to her, and as an encouragement to those who search for words to express on those most somber occasions.)

Members of New Hope Baptist Church and brother pastor, extended family and friends, I rise today on the occasion of home-going for one of God’s choice lambs, a godly woman of humble means, to offer my final tribute for Ollie Collier. The air outside chills our skin, the season of winter is begun, but the warm assurance of faith that Miss Ollie has gone to her eternal reward at the feet of the risen Christ gives us cause to rejoice rather than grieve.

The English language is handicap to convey my deep appreciation to the Collier family for inviting me to be here for them, and for Miss Ollie. On many occasions she would insist that, if at all possible when the day would come, I should return to Fayetteville and see that she was laid to rest properly. The Collier family has honored her by inviting me, and you have honored me as well.

Even though we who know Christ are comforted that our beloved sister is with Him in Heaven, it is through tears that we express our joy. It is through pain and grief that we allow the angels to meet her over whom they have watched these many years. It is with tightness in our throats that we affirm today, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

If you had the privilege and blessing of God to spend even one moment with that holy woman lying before me, then you share with me in a sense of real and mournful loss. But you also must share with me in remembrance of the profound and irreplaceable gift of God that was, and forever will be, our dear Miss Ollie.

Last evening, as I was flying from Texas to be here today, the sun had long set and there was a glittering of lights out of my window as the shadowy landscape passed under in near immobile torpor. As I looked out the window, I thought to myself about how something that seems to move so slowly is actually passing quickly; and I was immediately aware that life with Miss Ollie was like that.

In my mind I can trace moments of uproarious laughter with her—at times Miss Ollie would get completely embarrassed at herself for laughing so heartily—I can remember times of quiet reflection about life, the Scriptures, and how things were “getting along.” These days are in my mind as a sequence of eternity—a realization that God filled our lives with scenes that will never be forgotten, moments of endless joy.

But now those moments are gone.

Funeral services can be daunting tasks for preachers. You want to say the right thing. You want to say it well. You want to give expression to grief and assurance of the future. You want to say everything that needs to be said, and no more. The difficulty with a Christian funeral is that in speaking too much about men, we often say too little about God. I can hear Miss Ollie telling me, “Pastor Ben, you tell them about Jesus…you make sure they hear about Him. Don’t bother saying too much about me.”

But what Miss Ollie’s humility would never allow her to admit is that to speak about her IS to speak about Christ. For in her, as in no other that I have known or ministered to, the living Christ was present.

It was just over one year ago that Miss Ollie was in the hospital dying. Some of you will remember the month of October 2002, and how night after night Miss Ollie’s family and friends took shifts staying with her at Highsmith Hospital. Many of you were there, and you remember it all too well.

For some unknown reason, Miss Ollie had taken ill. She had lost the ability to eat, and she lay in a hospital bed, restrained at times because of the violent shaking and tremors that tormented her body. It was on a Sunday evening before the service that I had received the call telling me that Miss Ollie was not expected to make it through the night.

After the service, I made my way to the hospital to join eight others who had gathered around Miss Ollie to pray for her. As I walked down the hall, I could hear Miss Ollie crying out, asking God to help her, nearly unaware that so many were surrounding her with prayer at that moment.

I entered the room, and everyone parted to allow me to get right next to her. Lib Rhodes whispered in her ear, “Miss Ollie, Pastor Ben is here.”

To be honest with you, I was uncertain what I should do. Being a young pastor is like flying a plane without charts in the night. You just hope you see the lights of the runway in time.

I knelt beside Miss Ollie’s bed, held her hand, and speaking to her, I said:

“Miss Ollie, I’ve come to share the Scripture with you and to pray.” At that moment I began doing the only thing I knew to do when someone was dying: quote the 23rd Psalm. And wouldn’t you know it, Miss Ollie started quoting it right there with me. In her weakened, helpless condition, she knew that she wasn’t helpless. She called out to the Lord, her helper.

After that, I began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. In my mind, I was preparing Miss Ollie to die—to meet her Lord. Everyone around me was praying for Miss Ollie to get better, but I was secretly asking God to let her die in peace, because that’s what she deserved.

I remember closing the door and everyone in that room holding hands while I prayed. In that moment, I was certain that I would be preaching Miss Ollie’s funeral, but I prayed for her healing nonetheless. That is what a pastor is supposed to do, right? I remember praying that if God would strengthen her, and make her well, that we would praise Him. I remember asking God to give us Miss Ollie for a little while longer, because we were not ready to lose her yet. I remember praying and pleading with God to let Miss Ollie return to church, and go back home where she wanted to be. I remember praying all of this “in faith.”

But that evening I went home and began thinking about a funeral sermon. I wrote in my journal that evening, and I want you to hear what my thoughts were:

“I am a failure. At the precise moment when I should have been the man of greatest faith, I was the weakest. If Miss Ollie dies, I know it is not for lack of faith on her part. But God, how I pray you will forgive me for mine.”

The next morning, Lib Rhodes called me again to tell me that Miss Ollie was doing better. Within days she was out of the hospital. Within a few weeks she was back at church. By Christmas, she was at home. I even remember the Wednesday night before Christmas, a group of us went to sing carols to Miss Ollie. That night we also sang to Leo McLeod. Leo died within a few days. Miss Ollie died this past Monday.

If ever there has been a saint of God, it was Miss Ollie Collier. She always spoke kindly of others. She was honest, hard-working and faithful. When others can develop any excuse to miss prayer meeting or church or Sunday School, Miss Ollie was frustrated when she because of weather or health couldn’t make it.

Never did I hear her criticize another. Never did I hear her gripe, complain, or find fault. She was a lady of meager resources. Few people in this room are aware that Miss Ollie survived on so very little. Yet somehow she always tithed, always gave. She would make me take her five dollar offering to church on Sundays that she couldn’t make it. When I took a trip to Africa on a mission trip, Miss Ollie gave me a 10 dollar bill to help with the work. Too often to count, she would cook supper for me, or breakfast. It was her labor of love…not for me, but for the Lord she served.

She, like few others, learned what it means to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And to love your neighbor as yourself.” She was “longsuffering and kind.” She was never haughty, or envious. She could not be provoked to anger and she never thought evil.

Now if Miss Ollie heard that, she would quickly correct me. She would insist that she was a sinner in need of the grace of God. Many people in church say that, but Miss Ollie meant it. And that’s what makes her precious to me.

Miss Ollie was the kind of person everyone in this room should aspire to be. She is the kind of person I have never been, but so desperately want to be.

She was frugal and knew how to sacrifice. She knew how to abase and how to abound. When I moved to Fayetteville, and I first entered my new home, I learned that Miss Ollie had cleaned it, and given me her only vacuum because I didn’t have one. She gave some of her paintings to put on the wall, and a lamp to read by at night.

On one occasion when my car needed repairs, Miss Ollie insisted that I take her little car. She didn’t need it, she said. I should take it and keep it as long as I needed it. On the morning I returned it, Miss Ollie had baked some biscuits for me. She made the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten. But she was always worried that she had burned them. That was just how she was: never realizing that her best WAS the best. Dear Lord, how I’ll miss her.

If ever I was a pastor at New Hope, it was because of Ollie Collier. James chapter one says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Perhaps I was so diligent in visiting Miss Ollie because that’s the only way I knew how to ensure my faith was real—that my religion was pure.

Ollie Collier was preceded in death by her husband. She had no children—no grandchildren. But along the way she adopted many, and she adopted me.

This past week I received the last note Miss Ollie wrote to me. In it she wrote out how much she loved Jesus, and how much she prayed for me daily. This may sound strange, but the day she died I sensed the absence of her prayer. There will never be another Ollie Collier, but how I thank God there was one, and that I knew her.

She told me in that letter that if we didn’t see one another again here on earth, that she would see me in Heaven. As I think about that, the only way Miss Ollie will see any of us is if she turns around from her front-row seat in glory and waves to those of us who barely made it in. But if I know Miss Ollie, she’ll insist on the last seat, rather than the first.

The twelfth chapter of Mark’s Gospel tells the story of Ollie Collier. In verses forty-one and following, it reads:

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called his disciples to himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.’”

Miss Ollie had little, but she gave it all. And to the one who is faithful in little, much shall be granted.

My final night as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church will forever be a source of encouragement to me. Miss Ollie, of course, was sad but supportive. She asked that on my way out of town that evening, I stop by her house to have some pie and coffee. So that evening I went to her house, and sat at her little table and waited while she went into the other room to get something. When she returned, she had an envelope and a stack of notebook paper.

On the notebook paper was her personal journal for that year, showing how she had read through the entire Bible for the first time in her life during my ministry. It had every date and verse carefully detailed. There were some dates missing in the month of October, when she was in the hospital. But she had gone back and doubled up to finish it to give to me.

I opened the envelope, and she had written me a note of love and encouragement in her signature scrawl. Inside the envelope was another envelope…one of those bill-sized envelopes from a bank. As is customary when someone gives a minister money, you never open it right there. But Miss Ollie insisted that I peak inside, but not let anyone else see it. I peeled open the little envelope, and inside was a $100 bill. Tears began to run down her face and she told me to just not tell anybody, but to use it however I needed it.

Today, that $100 bill is still in that envelope in my file back in Texas. I had intended to bring it with me today, but I was unable to get home and retrieve it. But maybe that’s how Miss Ollie would have wanted it. In fact, I know it is.

Today we have gathered to pay tribute to Ollie Collier, and I pray God that I have honored her in a way that is pleasing to Him. But I would be remiss if I did not remind you why we really are here.

Today we will make our way to hallowed ground where until the day of resurrection Miss Ollie’s mortal remains will lie. But because Christ is risen from the dead, Miss Ollie too shall rise in glory on the last day. Jesus Christ was Lord of Ollie Collier’s life, and this week he took her home where she belongs. He gave us a little more time with her, and he let her pass quietly and peacefully in a death fitting a saint of God.

Miss Ollie’s favorite book in the Bible was the book of Ruth, and it is appropriate that I close this message by reading a section from that text.

“Now Ruth fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me?’ And he said unto her, ‘It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done…may the Lord repay you for your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge…And she said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not forsaken his kindness to the living and the dead.”

In her life and in her death, Ollie Collier was a blessing to her family, her church, and to her God.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Saviour, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forevermore, Amen”

4 thoughts on “A Eulogy for Miss Ollie…

  1. Very, very nice. I’ve had a couple of Miss Ollie’s and they are special, dear ladies. I’ve had the privilege of doing their funerals, however, my words were more than inadequate. Thanks for sharing this one.


  2. I must say that my limited experience (one so far) at doing funerals, I can only imagine what this must have been like.
    I was blessed by how she must have wanted you to share Jesus at her funeral. What could be more important than that?

    Grace to you,

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