In his charge to the Class of 2007, Theodore J. Wardlaw, president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, recounts an unpleasant ordination examination conducted by his Committee on Preparation for Ministry.
The meeting ended with them saying, “Mr. Wardlaw, we’re not persuaded that you can answer two of these ordination questions in the affirmative. In face, we think you may be a Neo-Kantian Whiteheadian.” (apparently an unpopular theological stance in South Carolina during Rev. Wardlaw’s seminary days…)
“It began to dawn on me in that moment that they had not in fact been dazzled by me at all. And for the next forty-five minute I spent a lot of time going over the fine points of the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, and listening to them lay out their vision of what they expected from someone whose ordination they were about to certify. At at the end of that time, by the grace of God, they handed my head back to me on a silver platter; and, a few minutes later, as I was slinking to my car, a member of that committee hollered and asked me to wait up for him. He’d excused himself from the rest of that meeting, still going on, to say something to me. He was an elder in Greenwood, South Carolina, and he ran a hardware store.
He caught up with me, and he said, ‘Look, fellow. I know we were a little hard on you in there. But here’s the deal. the secret to being a successful minister of the Gospel is showing up. … What I mean is that, if you were ever my pastor, I’d want you to know all that stuff that you were talking about back there. I understand that that stuff’s important. But you would get to really be my pastor if you came to see me in the hospital, if you called when my wife was sick, if you were there when my kid was running around with the wrong crowd. I’m talking about showing up, that’s all.”
The hardware store owner’s words carry great weight for today’s ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wardlaw draws this connection:
“I want to borrow his words as my charge to you this day. And as I do so, I want you to understand that I continue to be a strident proponent of the importance of stewardship of the mind, of thinking out the faith, of reading widely, and staying up with what the great thinkers of our tradition are writing about and saying in these days — it’s a value that our tradition brings to the smörgåsbord of Christianity, and God knows it’s greatly underappreciated in our time. The stewardship of the mind may be the thing we do best as a seminary. But I also want you to remember what that hardware salesman said to me: it’s also important to show up.”