Our denomination publishes an annual directory we call the Yearbook. It’s filled with statistics of all our churches, agencies, ministers, and more. Every five years it includes a necrology—a listing of our clergy who have died. It has long been my custom to read all the names. Thoughtfully and slowly. They gave their lives to our church and deserve to be remembered. We build on their shoulders.
Years ago I did a similar thing. I was studying at Cambridge University in England. Outside of town I happened upon a large graveyard called “The American Cemetery.” It held 5,000 of my fellow countrymen who made the supreme sacrifice for our nation in World War II. I felt I owed them some recognition. I read all 5,000 names. Slowly. Pronouncing and pausing till the task was done. It took me a long time. I felt that in some small way I was paying my respects.
Every five years I do the same with our Christian Reformed necrology of ministers. Paying my respects. I recognize many of the names. I see their faces. I hear their voices. What a variety! A whole gamut of personalities!
The Lord calls all kinds. Some names stand out. Others less. Yet who is to say which person made the greater contribution: this one known to all, or that one who labored with less distinction but with equal devotion?
When my ordination was noted years ago in these pages, I received a number of letters from people in various states asking for my picture. It seems that there were those who made scrapbooks of our clergy. Something like others do with stamp collections. I doubt whether any such hobbyists exist today. We’ve grown too impersonal. I hope that some of those collections have found their way into our denominational archives.
So many of our past clergy lived in a horse-and-buggy world. No computers. No secretaries. Travel—to fill a classical (pulpit) appointment—could be rigorous and time consuming. Those who pulled us through the Great Depression of the 1930s often labored without a paycheck.
I remember a “dominee” (pastor) who declined to accompany some friends to a café for a cup of coffee. He didn’t want to spend that nickel in his pocket on something frivolous. (Years later his son let me in on that secret.) Even so, our ministers broke their backs for peanuts. Some preaching three sermons a Sunday plus making bulletins and leading all societies and catechism classes. Their sermonic styles might not fly all that well today. Many followed propositional preaching (the famous three points), but all faithfully proclaimed the Word in all its fullness. Their work bore fruit—relatively informed laity.
In today’s world we see many more resignations from the ministry. Defections. Demissions. Depositions. But I don’t idealize the past at the expense of the present. Today we are also blessed with many who are faithful in the pulpit. At the same time, I view our necrology as a list of heroes in the faith. To God be the glory.
Some minutes of past synods make for tedious reading. As products of today’s culture, we might view some in-house past clergy debates as majoring in minors. But let us judge the past in the light of the past. And if we meet today’s issues and challenges as they in the past met theirs, standing solidly on God’s Word, we shall be a blessing to our day as they were to theirs. Thank the Lord for all those names that make up our ministerial necrology.
Young people, we need more—for church and kingdom—to follow in their steps.
Who will say, “Lord, here am I”?