Monday, February 13, 2012

When Seminary Students Were Men

How Shall We Then Learn to Preach
Part IV: Finally

“When seminary students were men” can be taken in more than one sense. I do not intend to say women should not go to seminary, though seminary is more fun, like the old men’s clubs, when there are just men. Here, however, I mean “when seminary students had to take it like a man.” This does not mean there were never any times we might have felt inside like whimpering little boys wanting our mamas, but you still had to be tough.

As I have reminisced about Richard Allen Bodey, others have shared with me stories they remember, and some are too good not to share.

One who was an early student who went on to be a professor himself, says of Mr. Bodey: “… Dick Bodey was one of my favorite profs at RTS--taught me more than I can ever adequately thank him for about preaching, and I'm sorry that I've never come up to his standard.” He remembers this story:

“After (A’s) his senior sermon, which he preached using the theology of Watchman Nee and the victorious Christian life--perfectionism--the faculty proceeded to rip him a new one. When it came Bodey's turn he was about half-way through his critique when A couldn't take it anymore, and he began to vehemently argue with Bodey from his place in the front row anxious seat. Bodey didn't miss a beat. He pointed his finger at “A” and said, "You had your chance. Now it is my turn. Sit down and shut up.”

When the assignments for senior preaching were posted, I experienced “fear and loathing”. I was assigned the Thanksgiving Sermon. Two things were responsible for my reaction. The first was that Mr. Bodey had said that the Thanksgiving Sermon was the hardest sermon to preach year in and year out. The second was that I remembered this incident I was reminded of by a classmate:

“I remember a Senior Sermon around Thanksgiving that was titled, ‘Let's Talk Turkey’.  When Dr. Bodey rose for the critique, he cleared his throat, pulled up his pants and said; ‘Mr. Z, the only place for that title is on the chopping block.’ Lots of great memories (and nightmares)!”

As it turned out, Mr. Bodey was on a one semester sabbatical when I preached my senior sermon, but still I fell into the hands of Mr. Bodey from time to time. When  I preached my junior (first year) sermon before the class, I wore my only suit and with it a shirt of the approximate color of what we today call French Blue. When Mr. Bodey got up, he said, “Mr. Smith that is not an appropriate color of shirt to wear in the pulpit. Never do it again. Always wear white.” After almost 43 years, with very few exceptions, I worn only white and light blue dress shirts when preaching, and I never feel quite right when I wear the light blue.

None of this is intended criticism of Mr. Bodey. I honor him, and I told him so several years ago when we were in correspondence with each other. Nor is it meant to embarrass any students from the old days. We all experienced our moments of humiliation with Mr. Bodey and other professors. This last blog on the subject is meant to show that those were the days “when seminary students were men.”

But, I close with this. The thing that stands out most prominently and lastingly for me about Richard Allen Bodey is something he said in a sermon he preached seminary chapel. I remember nothing but four words: “providence big with mystery.” Those four words have served as grid for making sense of my own life and the lives of so many I the people I was privileged to serve. Yes, providence is big with mystery.

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