The College of Bishops met in Dallas the last couple days, and one evening after dark I found myself walking by the Perkins School of Theology Chapel. I felt pulled inside, and soon found myself sitting alone on one of the pews facing the chancel, focused on the cross so beautifully lit in a manor that draws the eyes upward and the soul inward. The walls and windows deadened the outside sounds of streets and passersby, and I was touched by the silence. Memories began to sweep across my mind as I thought of all the people who had graced my life in this sacred space. Many sing now with the saints above – Roger Deschner, John Deschner, Richey Hogg, Joe Quillian, Virgil Howard, Bill Farmer, Claus Rholfs, Eugene Slater, James White to name just a few. Others have moved on to other work or have retired from campus life – David Lowes Watson, James Ward, Zan Holmes, James Ward, Phyllis Bird, Roy Barton, Schubert Ogden, Richard Heitzenrater. A few still serve the Perkins community, including Charles Wood and Ed Sylvest. And then there are dozens of fellow students and colleagues who come to mind from times past.
When I was a second-year student at Perkins more than 25 years ago, I chaired the Worship Committee, and for an entire year I invited faculty and students leaders and guests to serve as preachers, liturgists and musicians. I pecked out personal letters on my Royal manual typewriter with instructions on dates, lectionary readings and so forth. We held two community worship services each week, and the worship committee helped with bulletins, robes, candles, music, bread, and all the liturgical accoutrements.
In the quiet of the sanctuary, I smiled at long-ago humorous and awkward learning experiences – the time I forgot the words of the Lordís Prayer in the middle of leading it, the sour grape juice story, incidents with candle wax, predicaments with guest preachers who overstepped the time limits. Mostly, I replayed in my heart tender moments of professors gently encouraging me, patiently prodding me on, modeling and mentoring and exemplifying community, pastoral care, preaching and praying.
A feeling of extraordinary gratitude swept over me, and I found myself deep in prayer, expressing thanks to God for these great witnesses and teachers, and so many others. They shaped hearts, sharpened minds, and shared the spirit with generations of students, and they changed my life. As I left the sanctuary, I swept my hand briefly across the hardwood end piece of each pew in the chapel, thanking God for all the people who had worshipped, received, prayed, sung, and preached in this place through the decades, and for those who will in decades to come. It was my feeble attempt to pray a blessing upon all those past and future in response to the unspeakable blessing I have received.
Near the end of the chapter on Radical Hospitality, I offer the observation, ìEvery member of the body of Christ is the fruit of someoneís ministry and faithfulness. Who is the fruit of yours?î
Think for a moment about those for whom you owe thanks to God for their forming of your faith. If they are still among us, give them thanks personally. Donít delay too long. And if they have finished their course of faith and now rest from their labors, give God thanks and praise.
And then think with me of those whom God has entrusted to us to form by our faith. Pray for the wisdom, patience, gentleness and courage to model and mentor in ways that are faithful and fruitful.
Yours in Christ,