Many clergy members believe one of the most difficult parts of their job is consoling those who mourn, especially at funerals.
The Rev. Tim Rolen, pastor of New Hope Community Church in Clovis, doesn't take that role lightly. When officiating a funeral, he always tries to speak words honoring the person who died and to show compassion and love to those hurting in attendance.
"I'm just amazed," says Judy Hida, a church member who has attended funerals officiated by Rolen. "He always has the right words -- and at the right time."
So often that Rolen is sought out to officiate at funerals and memorial services. Pastors normally have 10-20 funerals per year. Last year Rolen officiated at 72, more than doubling the amount he performed five years ago.
Rolen holds services for believers and nonbelievers, New Hope members and non-members. He travels beyond New Hope walls to perform them at Roman Catholic churches, the Fresno Convention Center and other venues. He willingly shares the role with other clergy members upon family requests.
"He has come to understand the two-fold purpose -- to honor the person who died and to be an encouragement to those who attend," says the Rev. Gene Sperling, New Hope associate pastor. "He considers it as a calling to minister to families."
Unexpectedly, Rolen's calling has included high-profile services for eight Buchanan High School graduates who died while serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. They include Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard and his best friend, Cpl. Jeremiah Baro, who were killed together in Iraq, and Hubbard's brother, Army Cpl. Nathan Hubbard, also killed in Iraq.
Rolen coached several of the Buchanan graduates when they were playing youth baseball and soccer. Other Buchanan families -- familiar with the comfort Rolen provided -- requested him.
"It just snowballed," Rolen says.
The most recent high-profile service was for slain divorce attorney Judith Soley, held Feb. 21 at the Fresno Convention Center. The best friend of Soley's daughter requested Rolen.
"Tim is a Gospel-focused pastor," says the Rev. Mitch Ribera, pastor of New Harvest Church in Clovis. "He has a real gift and skill set in serving people in real difficult situations. I am always grateful when I know there is a high-profile service and he is handling it."
Rolen's background has prepared him for the role. He was born in Blythe and raised in the Calwa, Kerman, Clovis and Fresno areas -- the son of a pastor and the grandson of an evangelist.
Rolen grew up attending a lot of weddings and funerals -- so many that, in the pews, he whispered presiding clergy members' words before they spoke them.
He preached for the first time at age 15 and conducted his first funeral at age 21. It was for his favorite uncle, who died of pancreatic cancer.
"I was with him when he died, the first person I saw die," he remembers.
Rolen volunteered at Nancy Hinds Hospice, where he showed love to the dying.
"A Christian's life was never intended to be lived in human effort," he says. "The Christian's life is God in us."
Rolen also was influenced while working as sales manager at Fresno Bible House. He recalls seeing some clergy members in the store Saturdays, searching for sermons to give Sundays. Others bought funeral manuals to use.
"It was frustrating to see that," he says. "I vowed that if I became a pastor, there had to be a better way."
Rolen got his shot in 1992, when he helped merge Ashbrook Church, founded by his father Lonnie Rolen, and New Hope Community Church, and became the pastor.
He consulted other pastors on what worked and didn't work, particularly at weddings and funerals. Bufe Karraker, pastor of Northwest Church, advised Rolen to always give hope to people in grief.
Rolen also made a commitment to always interview family members for 30-45 minutes so he could better pay tribute to the loved one. No interview, no service. During services, Rolen tells stories he learned about the person that often touch those in attendance.
"He weaves that into the service," Sperling says. "Even if someone knew the person well, they find out things they didn't know. And it becomes a celebration of the person's life."
Rolen remembers being surprised by what a widow said of her husband.
"You need to know he was a son of a bitch," she said.
Rolen began the service, saying, "We're hear to honor the 'son of a bitch.' "
Everyone nodded their heads "yes."
"They realized I was just being honest," Rolen remembers. "They acknowledged he was no good, but they still loved him."
Rolen also acts responding to his heart.
At the combined service for best friends Jared Hubbard and Baro, Hida remembers a young speaker at the altar of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church choking up with his words. Clergy members nearby just sat. Not Rolen.
Hida says, "He put his arm around the boy, trying to help him keep going. He's so compassionate. He loves the Lord and he just loves people."
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