Carl W. Mores
In December 1999, the Rev. Walter D. Copeland, Jr., began his ministry at the Presbyterian Church of Cape Cod (PCCC) in West Barnstable, Massachusetts. Although short, his ministry had a powerful impact on our church, and it changed lives.
Walt appeared to be remarkably healthy (he worked out regularly at the YMCA) and poised for a long-term, fruitful ministry. But he soon fell ill with liver and stomach cancer. During chemotherapy, he initially experienced a remarkable improvement, but then the tumors returned with a vengeance. On May 18, 2001, he went to be with the Lord at age 51. We were deeply blessed by Walt's ministry. Coping with his illness and death has been trying and at times overpowering.
Walt was born in Philadelphia, and earned a B.S. from the University of Delaware in 1972. His life was redirected by God, and he entered Westminster Seminary, graduating in 1997 with an M.Div. He was called to serve the South Chatham Community Church on Cape Cod, and was ordained to the ministry during that time.
Along the way, Walt preached in numerous churches and focused on works of mercy. He counseled at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, served on the board of the Whosoever Gospel Mission in Philadelphia, and was a member of the Chatham Council for the Homeless.
After accepting the call to PCCC, he wrote to me, "Would you join me in prayer that those who are weary and burdened would find their way to our side, where they might find words of life and hope."
At our church, membership was small and finances were limited. But as Walt prayed intensely and preached powerfully, the Lord moved mightily. Attendance doubled. Without asking for money, offerings tripled. A strong ministry developed at a nearby assisted living center. A sermon tape ministry flourished. Study groups formed. God's people began to serve in new ways and were deeply blessed and challenged to grow and learn the Scriptures.
Walt's love and willingness to give anything he had to a person in needinstantlyastonished me. His public prayers left us weeping and rejoicing. His sermons were remarkable insights from God's throne. He always stood with towel and water basin in hand. He was a prayer warrior, and much fruit resulted.
As his illness progressed, he often shared his frustration with being unable to do his work. "I am sick of being sick," he said, but never in anger. "The last year has been the best of my life," he insisted. I am convinced that if God had spared Walt, a most extraordinary ministry would have unfolded in our midst.
One woman who used his sermon tapes wrote:
The Lord has used you in my life as a mentor and teacher. The Lord has been pleased to use "the likes of me" to teach 20+ women who faithfully come out week after week. I wish you could be there as they hear the message of grace with tears ... and say, "Why didn't anyone ever teach us these truths?"
The day before he left us, he spoke of entering through the portals ahead of me, and that soon he would see Jesus. He finished his course the following morning as a dear friend read to him from Revelation and he repeated the psalmist's words, "Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of his loved ones."
Like Job, I find no easy answer to the questions that arise concerning suffering. But we are led to Jesus, who paid the price and opened heaven's gates to receive us.
An eloquent voice for Christ is still. But Walt's vision continues. His dreams are my dreams. When I asked him if there was something he'd like me to tell the congregation, he said, "Tell them I loved them." And we loved him.
Walt, thank you for teaching us so beautifully about Jesus. We miss you terribly, but we rejoice that you are fully healed and at the Savior's side. We will see you in the morning.
The author is an elder at PCCC. Mr. Copeland leaves behind his parents, Walter and Pauline Copeland; a sister, Karen Duffy; and Esther Fortner, his caregiver and close friend (who previously lost her husband to cancer). For an account of how the Lord briefly extended his life, see the February New Horizons. Reprinted from New Horizons, August/September 2001.