My Memories of Wally

Photo: Courtesy Betty Norling

Wally Norling
May 4, 1925– April 26, 2010

Wally served as an EFCA pastor and district superintendent for 60 years, weaving an untold influence across the movement. Even after his official retirement in 1992, he continued part-time pastoring until 1999; he also continued teaching, counseling and mentoring young EFCA pastors right up until the week he went to be with Jesus.

As I sat at Wally Norling’s memorial service, I was reminded of the few people we can point to and say, “He shaped me.”

I could say that about Wally because he mastered something unique in his lifetime—something I hope I can replicate in my own. He knew how to morph, grow and change, as those he was in relationship with grew and changed. Bottom line: He let us grow up, even helped us on our way, but he never left our side.

Wally’s first role with me was coach. He took me to my first EFCA Leadership Conference—knocking on my door the very next morning and telling me to put on some golf shorts: “You come to these conferences to meet people you can learn from. We have a tee time!”

As time passed, Wally changed from coach to mentor. When I discovered that a key leader in the church I was pastoring was having an extramarital affair, I called Wally. He asked several questions to be sure I was prepared then said, “Trust yourself. You will do great.”

Then right before hanging up the phone he added, “Call me when you are done. If you get fired, your family can live in my garage.”

A decade later, Wally had become a trusted friend and cheerleader. He wanted to know what was going on and believed in me more than I believed in me. I would often call Wally on my drive home from late board meetings. He was one of the few people I could report victories to who I knew would receive them with the same joy in which I gave them.

It occurs to me that Wally’s morphing from coach to mentor to friend was the expression of a larger role: a father. Wally fathered so many of us in our journeys as leaders.

The poet Maya Angelou once wrote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Now, many years later, I have to admit that I have forgotten much of what Wally said to me. I have even forgotten some of the things he did for me. But I will never forget how Wally made me feel.

Wally made me feel like a son.

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