November 1, 2012

In mid-October I had the occasion to write two letters of tribute. The first was in honor of Bill Herzog (Former Member of LABC and our Interim Minister in 1980 and 1987) on his retirement from the faculty at Andover Newton Theological Seminary. The second was in memory of Howard Moody, longtime pastor at the Judson Memorial Church in New York City who passed away in September. Both Bill and Howard were mentors of mine and, in different ways, significant to the story of our church. Thus, I hope you will find these letters to be meaningful.

Dear Bill,

I am grateful for the way you introduced me to the Bible, the way you instructed me in the ways of ministry, the way you lovingly cared for people of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church and the way you modeled for me the way in which one may live as a thoughtful, humble follower of Jesus Christ.

I matriculated at the American Baptist Seminary of the West in September of 1980. I arrived on campus with the desire to help people, teach the Bible and lead the church. I came with some significant knowledge of Christian history but without any understanding of the history of the Bible. You helped me understand that the Bible was not dropped from heaven on a startled humanity but that it was formed as human beings and human communities tried to understand the presence of God in their hopes, longings and fears, in their stories and in their struggles. Your perspectives enabled me, for the first time, to truly love the Bible.

In sermons you delivered in the seminary chapel, in class lectures and other presentations you made, you helped me see that a minister is not an oracle to be consulted for ultimate truth but a caring, sometimes broken, presence whom listens intently to in the name of God to the people of God. You helped me see that it is the work of the minister to show up even when the result of that showing up is unclear and uncertain. In guiding the people of Lakeshore as their Interim Minister you embodied this ministry of presence.

Your intellect and academic credentials are outstanding. Still, you were able to connect with people on a level of feeling and emotion. Your learning was not a barrier to connection; it was a means of connecting. You demonstrated that being a learned follower of Jesus is not a show of superiority but a patient struggle to understand and implement the ways of Jesus. You showed me that discipleship is a patient conversation rather that a parade of personal pride.

I remain your grateful student,
Jim Hopkins

P.S. I still read from The Faith of 50 Million every year as Opening Day approaches. [Bill is a member of the Society of Baseball Research]

In Memory of Howard Moody, From Jim Hopkins

I first encountered Howard Moody at the 1985 American Baptist Biennial in Portland, Oregon. I had been ordained for all of two years and was representing the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, where I served as Associate Pastor. Being a dedicated first time convention goer I signed up for meals, workshops, studies, consultations, plenaries and receptions. By the last day of the convention I was very tired and almost talked myself out of attending a breakfast meeting where some guy named Moody was going to talk about urban ministry. I didn’t yet know Moody but I was most certainly getting to know urban ministry so I went, mainly because there had been so little at the convention that spoke directly to ministry as I was experiencing it.

Howard spoke directly to ministry as I was experiencing it. The work of the urban church was not glamorous, it touched people easily forgotten by the larger church and popular culture, it was about showing up in the name of God even when showing up seemed to count for so little, it was about believing that the “least of these” deserved the very best we had to offer. Howard made it clear that urban ministry offered more than its fair share of disappointment, frustration and disillusionment. He made it clear that the denomination as whole would pay only cursory and sporadic attention to our demanding work. Still, he insisted there would be glimpses of grace that made it all worthwhile. He said that there would be a symbiotic relationship between the difficulty of the issues we faced and the knowledge that we were in the right place, at the right time, for the right purpose. My understanding of my call was greatly enhanced. My commitment to urban ministry found deep roots.

In the years that followed, particularly as the American Baptist Churches engaged in pitched battle over the place of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers in our family, I would come to learn of the magnificent ministry that Howard led in New York City, I would come to learn of his courage and strength, I would come to learn of his wit and wisdom, I would come to learn of the power of his arguments and force of his character. I would come to learn that while he did not suffer fools lightly, when his friends stood on the side of justice, he encouraged them mightily.

In 2004 some of us gathered at Judson Memorial Church to draft a document titled the Judson Declaration. It was a heartfelt effort to lift up the centrality of the freedom of the soul and autonomy of the congregation to the well being of our American Baptist tradition. Howard was a leading voice and a central force in our work. Laboring with him to say something of enduring significance through that document was last time we would work together. As such, while I continue to find meaning in the words we wrote, I treasure the experience of being in the room and at the table with him. The energy he exuded remains an inspiration to stand as a Baptist in my city for those things that enlarge human life, even when the majority finds them to be irritating and inconvenient.

We are part of a proud tradition. We stand on the shoulders of giants. We make our own contributions to the living history of which we are a part.

Peace,
Jim H.