He called me “the pope.” I sometimes jokingly called him “Reverend,” but usually just referred to him as “Mick.” He was my mentor, my adviser, my brother, my friend.
Howard “Mickey” Park was the spiritual father I never had. My own dad was a good man, but did not know the Lord until the last weeks of his life and I never really knew him as a Christian. He certainly had a big influence on me, but not a spiritual influence. Mickey did.
Mickey passed away last Friday at Shelby Hospital. He was 86 years old.
I first began to hear the name Mickey Park when I worked as a counselor at Lake Forest Ranch in Mississippi during my college years. Mickey had been a counselor there himself the first summer the camp opened back in 1950, and had come back often over the years since he had been a pastor to be the camp speaker for a week. He didn’t speak either summer I was there, but he was a legend, and when anyone heard I was from Birmingham they would immediately ask me if I knew him or went to his church.
Fast forward a decade. I was pastoring a church we had just begun in Hoover, and Mickey was pastor at Shades Mountain Bible Church, not too far down the road. Focus on the Family was beginning a new ministry for pastors–Pastor to Pastor, it was called–and H.B. London came to Birmingham to introduce it to our area. They had an event at Briarwood Church, with free breakfast and the promise of free books, so I went, not knowing how impactful that day would be for the rest of my life. During the presentation, H.B. said that every pastor needs a pastor, and especially for us young pastors, we needed to find ourselves a mentor that we could confide in and get advice and counsel from.
Somewhere during the event, I saw on his name tag that Mickey Park was there, so I went up afterwards and introduced myself to him, and connected the dots of our common relationships from Lake Forest. I also mentioned what H.B. had said, about young pastors in particular needing a mentor and adviser, and asked if he would consider maybe getting together sometime with me. He asked me what my plans were for lunch that day, and before I knew it we were sitting across a table from each other. And that began a friendship of 27 years.
Mickey agreed to meet with me regularly–to the point that he came to my office every Thursday morning at 7 a.m. for several years. He gave me biblical counsel, was a listening ear, spoke the truth to me in love, and encouraged me to no end. A year or so into our meeting he told me he would only continue to meet with me if I stopped calling him a mentor, and said our time meant as much to him as it did to me. I was humbled and honored, but knew that couldn’t really be true. I agreed, but I will admit, I still told others he was my mentor, for that was what he was.
A few years later, Mickey was considering transitioning out of his pastorate at SMBC, and sought my counsel and prayer through the process. We talked candidly each week about the frustrations and difficulties of pastoring a local church. He felt the Lord leading him to start a new ministry that would allow him to be a pastor to pastors and missionaries, to “serve the servants of Christ around the world.” And he would go on to do just that, opening up his home, and traveling the globe–well into his 80’s–to visit and encourage those who were taking the gospel to the ends of the earth but found themselves burned out and depressed in the process.
Mickey and I did a daily Christian radio show talk show for a while on WDJC-AM. We called it “Real Life,” and it wasn’t bad for a couple of amateurs, though not many folks listened. And later, after we stopped meeting as regularly, he would call me often to check on me, take me to lunch to encourage me, as a father and pastor. When I went through a rough patch, for several years not pastoring, it was Mickey who was a lifeline to the ministry for me, and kept me from giving up. He may be the biggest reason why I am still in ministry today.
Over the years, he came to worship with us at Shelby Crossings a few times, where he knew many of you from having served as your pastor before also. I was like a proud son when Mickey would come, and he always bragged on my preaching and my family, and made me feel like a million bucks. He checked on me when I was sick, challenged and encouraged me just when I seemed to need it, and graciously loved me and put up with me. And as recently as last spring he and his wife Martha drove all the way to Montgomery on a crazy Saturday of spring break traffic to see my son play college baseball.
Mickey Park was humble and real and transparent and authentic, before it was cool. He was a kind, gentle man, who loved Jesus more than just about anyone I’ve ever known. He also loved people, and when Mickey loved you you knew you were loved. We laughed together, and we cried together. He taught me about grace and truth and faithfulness and family, and so many other things, and my life is so much richer because I knew him.
I will certainly miss him, but I couldn’t be happier for him that he is home with Jesus.
Thanks for allowing me to give tribute to this wonderful friend, who honored the Lord with his life in so many different ways. I can only hope I can scratch the surface of the impact he had on this world, for Jesus’ sake.
Have a blessed Memorial Day weekend. I hope to see you Sunday