Jim Pettit died Monday night in Dublin, Ireland, of a heart attack.
He and his wife Laura have been working there with Serge since 2011, facilitating an arts ministry. Serge staff had prayed for years for God to raise up people to go to Ireland and draw closer connections between beauty, faith, the church, and the creative community.
After many years of dreaming and praying and stops and starts, I think the Pettits were the first folks to really be able to realize that vision.
I knew Jim (known as James in Ireland) my whole life. His wife Laura and my own mother were best friends in college. Over the years we had many family vacations and visits with the Pettits and their four kids. As I grew older, I came to admire his immense creative talent, and the quiet way he went about expressing it.
But I know that it wasn’t always easy for Jim to juggle a small business, a rambling old house, a family, and his creative passions. It didn’t always seem like Jim fit in his life in Chattanooga.
So it was a great joy to me to see how deeply Jim fit in Ireland. He knew it; we knew it. Most importantly of all, the Irish artists that Laura and he lived and worked with knew it.
Jim and Laura came to fit extraordinarily well in Ireland through their engagement in the creative community. Their main effort in Dublin centered on founding the Creative Collective, an association for “creatives” that seeks to promote cross-fertilization of different disciplines.
It also was a safe space for artists to explore their spirituality and their art.
On the Tuesday after Jim’s passing, more people than ever came out to the weekly collective meeting. Some spoke of Jim’s work bringing them back to a faith and a church that they had left behind in bitter disappointment long ago. I think it was a real celebration of what God does when we are able to use our gifts in ways our hearts hunger for.
One unique story I recently heard from Serge worker Tom Gilliam sums it up the way Jim’s ministry wove into Irish community.
“Jim was asked to serve as a lay reader at an Irish friend’s funeral,” Tom said. “Typically only the closest friends or family members fill this role at an Irish funeral. James had no idea about that, not having much Irish funeral experience.
After the funeral he told me, ‘I guess you were right about the unique opportunity. I wondered who the old lady was in front of me. And then she got up to read scripture I saw that she was actually Bono,’ he said with a wry smile on his face. We just laughed and laughed together at this!”
More than anything this week my heart has been crying out to God, “Why?”
The times in our lives when our passions and our opportunity align seem so rare, it’s a little death for us all to see Jim’s time on this earth end in the middle of such a period. But at the same time I find myself grateful for the ways that God used Jim these past years.
It was such a gracious gift for Jim to have these years where his heart could finally sing. How much greater is God’s kingdom because Jim and Laura went to Ireland?
In the days to come, please join with us in praying for the community surrounding Laura.
Pray for Laura and their daughter Cassie who has been living with them in Dublin.
And pray for their three other kids as they travel with their families to Dublin to mourn and to celebrate Jim’s life this coming Monday.
Finally, pray that in the celebration of Jim’s life, God will continue to draw artists—seekers and skeptics both—further into His embrace, as Jim is now.