By C.B. Hanif
How typical of Dr. Theodore “Ted” Bush: His church congregation was celebrating him. But he was celebrating them.
That would be the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach, whose members assemble at a historic site a block from the ocean, and whose letterhead proclaims it “The Community Church by the Sea.”
Two Nov. 8 services marked their senior pastor’s 25 years. Yet during those services, which featured classical trumpet, vocal and organ solos, his sermons were an ode to his church:
“Over the years that I have been blessed to know you as a congregation and as friends, I’ve learned a good deal from you,” he said. “It is obvious that you are compassionate and friendly, caring and generous. You have the unique ability to look beyond yourselves, to look to the people outside the walls of this church. Often these people are on the very edge of society, or living in distant parts of the world. The more that I think of how I would actually describe you, the more that I am inclined to use two words: quiet courage.” The scene was much the same Nov. 3 when the Delray Beach City Commission proclaimed Nov. 8, 2009, “Dr. Theodore A. Bush Day.” The commission already had recognized, posthumously, the charity work of Dan Bernheim. It had honored Elizabeth Wesley as the “2009 Woman of Courage and Achievement.” Bush said he was humbled to be in the same room.
“What you have done for this community, no one can thank you enough,” he told Wesley. “Whatever we have been able to do is very small in that regard. But it comes from a congregation of people in the community that really care about Delray Beach and about the surrounding community.”
This man of stout stature and warm wit arrived with his wife, Mary, and their young children from their native Chicago, Ill., after serving seven years each at churches in Iowa and Barrington, Ill. He remains such a fan of the baseball Cubs and football Bears that it is a font of church humor.
“I keep telling people I’m really living in a southeast suburb,” he said. “It’s just 1,325 miles southeast.” He speaks with love and admiration for his wife, his adult daughters, and son, Ted, who in his early 20s died as a result of a brain tumor.
Yet for all that the city’s proclamation recognized him, he credited his congregation.
“You have changed the lives of countless people in this church, in our community and around the world,” he told them. “Most of their names you do not know. Most of their faces you have never seen. Make no mistake about it. Without you, in all likelihood there would be no Caridad Clinic in Boynton Beach. No Achievement Child Care Center, Carver Youth Program, Caring Kitchen in Delray Beach. No art program for severely challenged children in Boca Raton.
“You have helped to significantly change and heal some small pieces of a very fractured world, through your support of agencies like C.R.O.S. (Ministries), Adopt-A-Family, and the Community Caring Center in Boynton Beach.”
The next day, he still was lauding his congregation, for example for supporting members who felt called into the ministry. One, the Rev. Katie Fellows Christie, had returned to participate in the Sunday services. Between those programs, she said, “I told him that they’re honoring him, and he’s honoring them. And isn’t that what fellowship is all about?”
He’ll continue to take it all a day at a time, he said. But it is hard to conceive First Presbyterian’s biggest fan not eventually returning to Chicago.
“I do hope sometime in my lifetime to cheer the Cubs on to a World Series victory,” he says. “But I’m not going to hold my breath.”