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There was a twist of irony to the weekend following the death of Sam Thomas.
Sam, who died late Thursday afternoon at Springs Memorial Hospital, would have had quite a time Saturday and Sunday.
An avid sports fan, Sam likely would have been glued to the television following South Carolina’s solid 35-7 win over SEC rival Georgia in what many hailed as the biggest game in USC football history.
Come Sunday, he would have been at First Presbyterian Church, where he served 17 years and was pastor emeritus, discussing the Gamecocks’ big win among other sports-related items.
An Atlanta Braves’ fan, Sam would have likely also noted the Braves’ tough loss in the National League playoffs.
With the arrival of October, he would have noted the coming of the college and high school basketball seasons. Sam had a special link since he was a Davidson College graduate and the Wildcats have quite a tradition in college hoops. His son-in-law is Bailey Harris, the boys basketball coach at Lexington High School, and Sam was the Wildcats’ biggest fan.
As the clock moved to 11 a.m., Sam’s focus would have quickly shifted to the worship service. He loved sports, but his greatest love, just above his family, was the Lord.
Sam dedicated his life to his Lord’s service, pastor, chaplain and devoted servant.
Sunday was World Communion Sunday and Sam would have been there, being active in a special part of the service, the Lord’s supper.
His signature, “Let us unite in prayer,” before speaking to the Lord, always reminded me Sam was reaching out to the world to spread God’s word.
I have a special link to Sam, who I knew as “Mr. Thomas,” when he first moved here at First Presbyterian. In his early years in Lancaster, we lived in the same neighborhood. His oldest son, Sam, is my age and we were classmates through school in Lancaster. I know the family well. Sam’s brother, Jim, now at Young Harris College in Georgia, once coached the University of South Carolina Lancaster’s men’s basketball team.
“Rev. Sam” was the minister when I formally joined the church in 1966. Those are the formative years, when you take some early and important steps in your life learning about your Savior and who you are in this world.
Sam, as he always did, made it so easy to understand. I think that was Sam’s special way. A highly intelligent man, he knew how to relate to people with a warm spirit, pleasant demeanor and loving heart. Christ-like in the way he wanted people to open up to him and be able to discuss whatever – a problem, a theological question or even the latest game.
We’re the children of God and Sam was wise in giving advice in the game of life.
Sam also had a way of weaving humor in his message. The Bible tells us among other times, “there’s a time to laugh and a time to cry.” Sam, as only he could, guided you through those trying times, finding that silver lining to produce a smile and chuckle. God wants to us to be happy and Sam understood it that well.
A few years back in the church fellowship hall, we had a program where Sam shared humorous stories and experiences from his years as a minister.
He playfully needled himself and others, all in good fun. Ironically, on some of his stories, we, as they say, “laughed so hard we cried.”
One story was about a young minister who had just arrived in town and was learning all he could about his new home.
This minister was out one day, learning the lay of the land as he headed to the nearby post office.
He was having a tough time finding the post office when he stopped and asked a young boy where it was.
The boy, pointing to the building, told him it was only a half-block away.
The minister, thanking the boy, told him to be at his church Sunday morning and he would help him find heaven.
“Sir, I don’t think so,” said the boy. “You can’t even find the post office.”
Sam Thomas could, and just as easily, he could help you find heaven.
That’s why there’s no doubt, early Thursday evening he had his well-deserved saintly seat. I’m sure he eased into his place and new title, “Saint Sam.”