Three Colleagues

Eugene Peterson, in his memoir, The Pastor, writes:
Two or three months [later], I removed all of my academic diplomas from the wall of my study and replaced them with the framed portraits of three men whose company I wanted to keep as I lived into my newly realized vocational identity [as a pastor]....My picks for mentors were John Henry Newman, Alexander Whyte, and Baron Friedrich von Hugel--the company I would keep to stay in touch with the conditions in which I was now working. The three, though long dead, were no strangers--I had been in prayerful conversation with them for a long time--but now I embraced them as colleagues, not just as admired ancestors.
As Peterson often does, he got me thinking. Who would I choose as co-travelers, colleagues, in my life as a pastor. Three people occurred to me almost as soon as I asked the question:

Peter Marshall. I first discovered the great Scottish-American preacher, Peter Marshall, when I was a boy. I remember being entranced by the movie, A Man Called Peter, on our black-and-white Sylvania television. He was the much-admired pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and U.S. Senate Chaplain in the late 1940s. I must have been a teenager when I read the book on which that movie was based, and in my late teens (I think) when I first discovered a book of his sermons: Mr. Jones, Meet the Master. That collection, and others I soon acquired and devoured, probably influenced my preaching--then and now--more than any other single influence. His flair for dramatic narrative, his formatting, his way of approaching a text or a topic, are models to me, to this day.

Samuel Logan Brengle. I also discovered The Salvation Army's "prophet of holiness" in my teens. He died twenty-two years before I was born, but I became acquainted with him through his writings and the writings of others about him. As a teenager, I read Clarence Hall’s inspiring biography of Brengle, Portrait of a Prophet, and as a result began systematically reading his books. By the time I was twenty, I had read them all: Helps to Holiness, Heart Talks on Holiness, When the Holy Ghost is Come, The Soul-Winner’s Secret, Resurrection Life and Power, The Way of Holiness, The Guest of the Soul, Ancient Prophets and Modern Problems, and Love-Slaves. His Helps to Holiness is one of six books I reread every three years (two each year). Perhaps more than any other person, living or dead, Commissioner Brengle taught and guided me as a young man, and his influence remains with me to this day.

Thomas Merton. In contrast to Marshall and Brengle, I didn't discover Thomas Merton in my teens. And I list him here as a fellow traveler and colleague not primarily because of his writings (which have blessed me), but mainly as a representative of his monastery, The Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky. Merton entered the monastic community of the Abbey of Gethsemani in December 1941 and lived there the rest of his life (he died in 1968). Roughly thirty years later, I visited the abbey for the first time, on a weekend silent prayer retreat. God used that place to open to me a new life of prayer that has sustained, deepened, and guided me ever since (I've written a little about that here and here and here).

So, if I were to choose, like Eugene Peterson, the portraits of three "mentors" or colleagues to frame and place in my pastor's study, so to speak, it would be these three men. I would want my ministry to be characterized by the preaching depth and sensitivity of Marshall, the personal holiness of Brengle, and the contemplative prayer life of Merton and the monks at Gethsemani.

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