I am a member at one of the largest churches in Knoxville, Cokesbury United Methodist. When I was a kindergartener, my family started visiting the then-mid-sized church, and shortly thereafter, we joined. My parents were looking for a congregation with a strong children's ministry for my 4th grade sister and myself.
A few years after that, the senior pastor at the time retired. He had been at Cokesbury for a long time, and was a great man and a great pastor. I remember the general feeling that no one could ever replace him. Then we got two new pastors: Steve & Stephen. Since that time, Steve and Stephen (often referred to as Sallee and Defur, their last names, to avoid confusion) have led, shaped and grown the congregation at Cokesbury. Cokesbury now has upwards of 4,000 members. We have five services across three campuses on Sunday mornings.
Under Dr. Sallee's leadership, our church opened the doors on Thursday nights to individuals struggling with all kinds of addictive issues. Our Recovery at Cokesbury services have been going strong for 10 years now, and the Recovery staff has started programs in three East Tennessee detention facilities and several other churches in our region, with more partnerships in the works.
Dr. Sallee came to Cokesbury when I was 11 years old. In the 16 years since then, I have come to know Christ as my savior. I have come to identify Cokesbury as my second home. My dad has experienced redemption and recovery from alcohol addiction; my parents' marriage as seen restoration. My faith was planted, nurtured & has grown as a part of my membership at Cokesbury. I met my husband in the Cokesbury youth group. I was married in the sanctuary on the South campus, and my reception was in the gym at the North campus. My husband is on staff. I was a temporary staff member while the outreach director was on maternity leave. Cokesbury is inextricably linked to my identity, as a Christian and as a person. And Dr. Sallee's leadership over the past 16 years has been an integral part of my life.
Dr. Sallee passed away on May 2nd. He was 61. He went into the hospital 10 days before that, and since I learned of his serious illness, I have done a lot of reflecting: on who Steve was, and the kind of legacy he leaves; On who I am, and the kind of legacy I want to leave. This much I can tell you for sure: the world is a better place because Steve Sallee lived. I am a better person because Steve Sallee lived. He followed God's calling even when it defied all logic. He responded to God's leading even if other people thought he was crazy. He faced an enormous amount of criticism. But he lived and worked to glorify God, and it showed in his ministry. Jesus said that you identify a tree by its fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. The fruit of Steve's life was good.
I told my mom over the weekend, "Since Steve got sick, all people have been able to do is tell stories about all the good he did." That's the kind of legacy I want to leave.
Thank you, Steve.