I remember the first time I met the great Dr. Siburt. The congregation I was with at the time was in a deeply conflicted situation, and we called in the "church Doctor" to help. We were already working with one of Charles's former students who specializes in conflict resolution. Charles flew into our little regional-airport from Texas, and I was to pick him up at the airport.
While I waited near the terminal, I was reading "Friedman's Fables." In those days I was reading everything I could get my hands on by Ed Friedman and his disciples. Charles asked me what I was reading as we greeted each other, and when I told him, he smiled broadly, raised his eyebrows, nodding his head in affirmation and said, "Ah, Friedman; the Keys to the Kingdom." I remember how his rich baritone voice put me at ease and the immediate embrace he offered drew me to him instantly. I felt an instant bond.
Charles worked with us late into the night all weekend, and of course there were many eye-opening encounters. He shared oodles of handouts (which I still have), sage advice, and not a little humor along the way. His time with us was special. He kindly stayed in contact with me via phone and email afterwards.
What I liked most about Charles was his ability to read a situation and then candidly communicate his thoughts. I'd like to say that every encounter with Charles was uplifting and all rosy. It wasn't. Sure we laughed together, and hugged too. But. He has seen me in tough times, too. I'm thankful for his ability to speak the truth in love though. I remember him taking me by the shoulders, looking me in the eye (he stepped in to better see me) and shooting straight with me.
Charles wasn't one to have the wool pulled over his eyes. I clearly remember him seated in a chair and with a nod of his, his head would drop lower and lower it seemed to me, he'd look up, smile rather sheepishly, and say what he thought. Usually what he had to say was needed, but not always wanted. He could call out everyone's immaturity, mine included, in a way you had to appreciate and accept.
Last year, Tammy and I had the intense blessing of being with Charles and Judy at the retreat they hosted in Texas, through the Ministers Support Network. What a weekend that was! What a rich blessing. What a time of renewal. We were with several other ministry-couples, all of us hurting in one way or another. Charles, Judy, and a few other couples that partnered with the Siburts, loved on us, and gave us hope. I remember crying that month, last spring, upon hearing the news of Charles's battle with cancer; it didn't seem fair.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of preachers like me, who know Charles for the same reasons I do. We were knee-deep in church conflict, and Charles had the tools and skills to help us navigate some very stormy waters. Hearing of his death, in a way challenges me to remember the lessons he passed on to us. His passing I know is a huge loss for his loved ones, Judy, their children and the extended family. We all feel a loss today, one that we'll share for a long time.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9 ESV)