Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Seminary Colleagues and Students

For Horace O. Russell

National Bird of Jamaica – the ‘Doctor Bird’ found only in Jamaica

Grief arrived last night
on the other end of a phone call
from a dear friend

Grief not just for us and the family
but for the world our friend knew and loved
from the bottom of his generous heart

Colleague, Brother, Church Historian
Master of all things Jamaican
Wise and Eternally Optimistic

I hang up the phone
and weep for us and for this world
made better by your faithful presence

It’s impossible to capture in words the worldwide reach of our colleague’s life.

Horace O. Russell served the seminary as Dean of the Chapel, and Professor of Historical Theology. I worked with him as a teaching colleague and as an administrator. He was also the retired Senior Pastor of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Russell was Jamaican by birth, and world citizen by choice. He and his gifted British wife made their mark not just on the seminary, but on the church worldwide. Thankfully, his wife and another family member were with him when he left this world.

Today I’ve been thinking about Dr. Russell’s generous, optimistic support for me, and about the senior seminar we co-led more than once.

During these seminars, Dr. Russell sometimes shared case histories he’d written about his pastoral work in Jamaica. They sometimes made life in these United States seem a bit dull.

The actual outcome of each case wasn’t revealed until each student worked with it and shared what she or he would do next, and why. Never a dull moment, and always plenty of surprises at the end. His ability to enlarge our vision was one of his many gifts to the seminary.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Dr. Russell carried a small camera at all times (so it seemed to me). Usually he didn’t wait for people to pose. Informal was the way to go. No matter what we looked like in the photos, he was generous with prints of these historical records. Here’s where we were on this date; this is what we were doing; and this is what we looked like.

Today I’ve been going through my collection of his photos, torn between gratitude and grief. Grateful to know his suffering has ended, and that he was not and is not now alone.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2021
Photo of Jamaica’s national bird found at jamaicanconsulate.rs

Spring madness?

Hope and despair
Layer themselves
Between beats of my heart

‘Retirement is like that’
I could but won’t say –
Determined to make
Peace with what is
Beyond and within
My control

If not This
Why not That?
My mind spins
Out of orbit as
Early Spring lures
Me beyond myself

Retirement was about more than leaving my job at the seminary. It was about my health and well-being. I desperately needed to make a clean break.

For several years I was fine. Not being there was more than good for me.

Now it isn’t so good. Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to relive seminary politics, long-term planning or endless reports.

Nonetheless, I sometimes yearn to ‘be there.’ From 1983 until I retired in 2011, our seminary dished up a lively, sometimes contentious community of international and national students, mixed races and classes, and mixed church communities. I owe students and colleagues a huge debt of gratitude for helping grow me up into the woman I am today.

So why this yearning now? I love the church I attend. It can’t, however, give me the kind of community I experienced at the seminary, and still need.

Here’s the deal: I want to hang out at the seminary with anyone who shows up. Why? So I can practice being a stranger and welcoming strangers or near-strangers into my life. Even for a few fleeting minutes.

Maybe it’s nothing but Spring madness. Still, I like the idea and I’m already plotting ways to try this out.

Happy Monday!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 March 2019
Early Spring Photo found at Gardenia.net

Why we’re here, together

What’s it all about, anyway? Is there any method to this madness?

This past Saturday I attended a gathering of people from our church, the community, the seminary where I served, and visitors from other churches and states. We celebrated the ordination of a graduate, now a faculty member at the seminary, who has served at our church since the early 1990s. She was one of my students, and later became a colleague on the faculty.

Since retiring in 2011, I haven’t returned to the seminary for social or formal occasions. What happened with the seminary since I departed hasn’t been easy. From my point of view, the less I knew, the better. It was easier to be somewhere else, and better for my health.

But now many colleagues from the seminary were coming to our church for a celebration I wasn’t about to miss.

Was I uneasy? Let’s just say I was a bit short of a basket case last week. First of all, I had to decide what to wear. My normal church clothes (blue jeans, t-shirts and jackets) wouldn’t do.

Yet what to wear was nothing compared with apprehension about seeing colleagues and students I hadn’t seen in years.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment I walked into the sanctuary and saw one of my colleagues, I felt like I’d just come home. In fact, sitting there, surrounded by several rows of ‘us’ felt a bit like going to heaven. I think. I’ve never been there, so I can’t be sure….

Among my colleagues was a woman I’d hired as our director of student formation. My mind went back to the first sermon she ever preached at the seminary. It was about when we all get to heaven.

She asked us why we were all there on the corner of City and Lancaster Avenues, just across the street from the city of Philadelphia and just on the edge of the western suburbs of Philadelphia. And why were we such a diverse group?

We weren’t simply diverse as Americans, but as international students from all over the globe. All now thrown together in this little seminary on the corner of City and Lancaster Avenues. Perhaps feeling culture shock. Never quite sure what someone meant by that turn of phrase, or that look or that comment or question. Or why some people laughed now and some people laughed then. And others didn’t laugh much at all.

At the end of her sermon, she suggested we were at this specific location to  practice getting to know each other now, getting along with each other now, breaking the ice with each other now, so that when we get to heaven we won’t have culture shock when we see who else is there!

I’ll admit to a bit of creative memory here. But I know that was the point of her sermon. We closed with a rousing hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Just seeing and being with former colleagues and students made me grateful to be welcomed into a seminary alive with humanity. Imperfect, yet alive in ways I’ve rarely experienced in other institutions of so-called ‘higher’ learning.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2018

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