The powerful reach of friendship

When I was in college, I remember a day when the pastor of a local church came and spoke to the Student Chaplains. During his chat, he expressed his desire to help students who were interested in pursuing pastoral ministry gain some practical preaching experience. It was an amazing offer. For the next four years I attended the First Baptist Church at Conshohocken, remaining until I got married and moved away for seminary. This was, in fact, the first Baptist church I’d even been in – much less joined.

Rev. Brad Lacey was an excellent mentor – intelligent, thoughtful, provocative, and challenging. He offered critiques and praise with equal care, and had so many books on theology and history that several Biblical Studies Students used to do research in his parsonage. Brad always expressed how he felt that guiding people who were called to the path of pastoral ministry was one of the reponsibilities of a pastor. It was a lesson I took to heart.

Rev. Lacey received this lesson in pastoral care from a man named Howard Keeley, who had been his mentor in seminary. Howard had a legacy of mentoring students pursing the pastoral call. He wasn’t a “successful” pastor by worldly indications. He didn’t pastor a mega-church, he wasn’t famous, he didn’t leave a legacy of a constantly growing and vibrant church (in fact, unfortunately, after Howard’s departure it lost much of it’s direction). What he did leave was a circle of pastors, missionaries, and other Church leaders who are thoughtful, appropriately provocative, caring, and keenly aware of the call to mentor others.

The lessons Dr. Keeley passed on, I also received. Not only through Rev. Lacey, but also through another one of Dr. Keeley’s students – my friend and current pastor, Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer. I cherish these gifts as a legacy of faithfulness and now I also strive to pass them on. The obligation to guide, mentor, and challenge folks who are called to pastoral ministry is placed deep within my heart. Thus far I’ve been able to pass on those gifts by helping people with ordination papers, or helping them through their council. In the future I hope I can be afforded some of the same shepherding which has been offered to me.

The fact that any pastor I mentor is spiritually descended from Dr. Keeley is something I find wondrous. He befriended student after student during his ministry, and now whenever those students befriend others in following generations his work continues. Beyond that, being aware the close connection with Dr. Keeley makes me even more aware of how much an impact history has on my spiritual journey. I stand on the shoulders of giants known and unknown – the great saints, certainly, but also everyone who ever pursued Jesus and his Kingdom with faith, hope, and love. I am honored to stand around the throne with such luminaries as St. Patrick, Isaac Backus, John and Charles Wesley, and St. Athanasius. Around that throne however, I’m equally honored to stand with unknown fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings who made decisions to be faithful. Decisions which, through the echoes of time, filtered down to impact my journey today. The idea of a “great cloud of witnesses” is not empty symbolism. Rather, it’s the mystical reality of our connection to the saints in Heaven and on Earth. Our faithfulness is the continuation of their faithfulness. We are, after all, all one body in Christ.

So, to long ago and unknown saints who’s faithfulness over ages has helped bring me to Jesus I say, “Thank you.” For those saints who are nearer to me and have helped me along the road. Not just those connected to Dr. Keeley but also to my professors from Eastern, my Seminary Mentor Rev. Paul Munro, and all my friends who have poked me in the right direction I say, “You probably have no idea what impact you’ve had on me, I can only hope to do half as good a job as you.”

That, is the powerful reach of friendship.

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