This past Sunday I was in Chicago to participate in the ordination to Christian ministry of a young man I had known since he was a child. He is an able student, well trained, older than his years and he will be a good minister. He has appropriate schooling and then some.
I was there because of my relationship to his family and his religious tradition of origin. He grew up in the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ and now will be a minister in the American Baptist communion.
In my words to the congregation I told them that the intellectual dimensions of his call were dwarfed by the relational dimensions of his life. He is a Christian because he grew up a Christian not because he suddenly was converted of some fundamental truth and his Christian life was shaped by a grandfather who listened to him preach in imitation of his own preaching. His grandfather encouraged him to dream great dreams.
The Apostle Paul writing to Timothy in his second letter pays homage to the importance of family and relationships in the training for life and ministry. We often do not, seeming to think of Christian faith is begun by a transmission of information. Sometimes one does come to faith after an “aha” moment, but less often than we academics think. More often we are shaped by a community and fine tuned by moments of insight.
My grandfather taught his grandfather. His grandfather taught me and I taught other members of his family. They in turn were role models for my children as they grew up. My daughters first confronted death when I officiated at his grandfather’s funeral and we all went to the graveside together. It was their first funeral; information about life and death comes in many forms.
Being part of the service on Sunday was an important thing for me to do. It was in part the paying of an obligation to his family for what I had received. It was an honor as well, but most importantly it was an affirming gesture that allowed me to be supportive of one who will write a new chapter in church history. It is a different world than the one our grandfathers knew, but I think they would be wise enough to recognize his dedication and talent and would have understood that he was writing a new chapter of holy history. We all do well to remember Paul’s words to Timothy: “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it…” It was a good way to begin the Advent season.
Robert M Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute