Last week the Manitoba Hutterite community mourned the loss of a beloved Servant of the Word. Prediger Samuel Gross passed away on June the 12th following a struggle with cancer. He served the church and his community for over 40 years as a leader and minister. Sam Vetter was widely respected for being well-read and his gift for communicating the gospel message.
Typically, I don’t make enough of an effort to attend Wochtn und Leichtn, but in this case I felt particularly compelled because of familial connections and several happy memories I have of Sam Vetter. As I helped edit his obituary, I had time to recall my memories of him and think of the things he taught me. Often I have good intentions about putting these reflections in writing, but I usually procrastinate in the name of thinking about it a bit more or waiting for ‘inspiration’. This time, in the silence of the van ride ride home from the Leicht, I promised myself that I would not delay. Here are two of my favourite memories; interestingly enough, they are also my first and last encounters with him.
“Der Kenny is su wie der Simson”
Though I never knew Sam Vetter on a deep personal level, our paths first crossed over ten years ago in my late teens when my older brother married one of his daughters. At that point I was still a fledgling choir director making more mistakes than doing things correctly, possessing more dreams than skills or sense. I was also sporting long, floppy hair parted down the middle. What can I say, it was the 90’s. Fortunately, I had enough good sense to get it cut before the wedding.
In my role as choir leader and as one of the older young people in my community, I did many different things to help prepare for the wedding. When it came time for the wedding, I was done in; I don’t think I was ever that tired before nor have been since! At the wedding meal, much to my family’s dismay, I put my head down on the table to rest. At the other end of the bridal table, Sam Vetter must have noticed this. Towards the end of the meal, when he rose to say a few words he said, “Der Kenny muss su sein wie der Samson…se hobm seine Horr obtschnietn, und hitz is er schwoch! Kenny must be like Samon…he got a haircut and now he’s all weak.”
I especially appreciated Sam Vetter’s sense of humor since it often caught me off guard, because I primarily knew him as an earnest preacher.
Scholar and intellectual
The last time I saw Sam Vetter I was dropping off my Nephew, his Enikl, in Clearview for a few days. When I got there, he greeted me as I brought Kristopher into their house. After a firm handshake and greetings were exchanged, we began discussing books. He had a copy of Hildebrandt’s Zeittafel on his shelf that he wasn’t using, so he gave it to me, saying that I might have a use for it, or know of somebody that would. He said, “It’s an interesting book, but it’s a bit beyond me. I’ve only read around in it to look for interesting parts.”
We continued to discuss other books and writers that we knew. Unfortunately, I don’t recall any more specifics, but I remember walking back to my vehicle thinking, “What a great intellect he has. We need more leaders like him, committed to learning more, especially about how to better communicate the gospel.” I remembered the Pauline explanation of gifts within the church body: some are called to be apostles or prophetic voices, some to teach or preach, and others to challenge or be Seelensorger, pastors. In my experience, Sam Vetter had a particular gift for preaching.
At the Leicht, one of the officiating Prediger, Arnold Hofer, a leader well known in his own right for having the gift of frankness and sensitivity when each is respectively needed, spoke about Sam Vetter’s legacy. He gently alluded to the fact that Sam Vetter made choices that did not always make him popular among Hutterite circles or his community. He quoted the gospel writer, Luke, saying, “A prophet is not always well-loved in his own land.” He shared that in his interaction with Sam Vetter he always noticed how Christ-centered he strove to be; he listened to people who felt disenfranchised and made an effort to reach out to them. This truthful tension was very meaningful to me, because no man can do everything, but surely Sam Vetter gave his ‘utmost for his Highest’.
Ruhe sanft, Sam Vetter.
If you have a memory to share, please feel free to leave a comment below.