If heaven has neighborhoods, I would like to live near Bruce Fields.
Bruce is the associate pastor for pastoral care at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. His ministry, however, reaches far beyond the church.
Bruce was born in Ferriday, La., the same town that gave us Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. Unlike the three more famous sons, Bruce didn't pick up the piano, he chose the guitar. He is a fine guitar picker. Some folks are content to strum the strings of a guitar; Bruce chooses to play one string at a time. It's a real art and he does it well.
He has a fine voice to match and recorded a couple of CDs a few years back. He is perhaps best known for his version of "In the Garden." Most of those performances have come at funerals, where he teams up with organist Della Ruth Johnson for a duet that will make tears well up in your eyes.
Bruce sings at the funerals of dear friends and absolute strangers. A friend of mine was dying and had heard Bruce sing at a funeral of a friend. I was asked to approach Bruce to ask if he would sing at her funeral, when the time came.
Bruce not only sang at the funeral, but he also went to the hospital and sang for the ailing woman. She told her family it was if she had a glimpse of heaven in her hospital room.
Most folks find talk of death and grieving to be awkward. It is a big part of what Bruce does for a living. He helps folks in their time of need. When my brother died, Bruce and a couple of his fellow ministers drove across the state to be at his funeral. Hearing their voices was, as my friend said, a glimpse of heaven.
Bruce also takes retired folks on trips to places like Social Circle and to the mountains. He knows good places to visit that have fine food and friendly people.
He recently completed 20 years of service at First Baptist. This Louisiana man said he had never been to the "Far East," as he referred to Gainesville. It has been his home for a good portion of his life and the place he has raised his three children with his wife, Nancy.
The world is full of people like Bruce Fields, just not enough of them. I believe there is going to be a special place in the next life for folks who do good things just because they can and not for any form of recognition.
I've told Bruce that I hope he lives, at least, until the day after my funeral, because I would like nothing better than for him to sing at my service. If that's not possible, they can play the CD. I hope that's far enough away that someone has to rustle up a CD player because they are obsolete.
I don't know what happens in someone's life that gives them that unique gift of compassion and service. I hope someday some researcher figures it out and bottles it. The rest of us would do well to have a strong dose of that medicine.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.