I rarely, if ever, check Facebook before I go to church. But, for some reason, I scrolled through the listings Sunday and discovered the Rev. Bob Vaage had died. He was 57, the pastor at First Lutheran Church in Milford, Iowa, and about as invested in his community as any one person can get.
Many years earlier (with the emphasis on many), he was the associate pastor at First Lutheran in Sioux City and had a profound impact on a number of people, largely because he possessed the spirit and drive we’d like to think is part of all Christians. He took the lead with a lot of youth and young family activities and always seemed so open to listening to and talking with anyone, me included. He was a great preacher, too, able to make the word come alive in so many ways. Senior groups? Let’s just say they loved him.
When I was asked to speak to the women’s organization at church, I wasn’t quite sure what to talk about. I hit on the “Aprons of the Lutheran Church,” (yes, there are many, in case you were wondering) and Bob helped me find the women who had the various types (including the wedding reception apron, the work apron, the serving apron…you get the picture) and agreed to model them at the luncheon. It was a hit – and so was he.
For a Good Friday sermon, he portrayed Jesus and remained on the cross until all of the members had left.
He found ways to make Bible study interesting, too, and always knew how to reach people where they needed help the most.
His wife, Dee, was the best partner a young minister could have. She joined him on the journey, played yin to his yang, and wrangled their three little sons when dad was trying to make a point.
When they moved to Milford, we knew they weren’t going to be far away. Even better, they were able to help the community grow in faith and build a church that has become a summer must for Sioux Cityans spending time at the lakes.
Thanks to social media, friends, and an occasional email from Bob, I knew those boys grew into fine young men; Dee became a leader in the Spencer medical community and Bob – from all my sources – continued to be that spark plug we all need.
I was lucky enough to attend services at his new church several times and I saw how his talent had taken root. He was meant to do great things – and he did.
Sunday’s news, as you can imagine, hit like a rock. He was in the heart of his “busy” season and had a full lineup of events planned at the church. He was slated to go on a trip to Germany and Prague next May. In a post, he wrote: “Life is short! See the world!”
When I read those words, I realized he was still preaching to all of us. Even though it’s difficult to accept that he’s gone, his messages (and example) live on.
Hopefully, Dee and his sons will realize how loved he was, how influential he proved to be. When people talk about being good stewards of faith, I see his face. Bob Vaage lived a very valuable lesson others need to learn: They will know we are Christians by our love.
I will miss him.