They Called Him Pastor

Recently I read Proverbs 17 and the third verse touched a heart cord. It says: “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” This is so meaningful because my father died in July at age 86. He lived a full and godly life. I am at a stage of life in which I delight in my five grandchildren, or as Proverbs poetically says “children’s children.” I also realize the tremendous legacy of life and faith my parents provided. Why is it that the fullness of this heritage came only after they were both gone? I suppose having the privilege of giving my father’s eulogy helped me realize how proud I am of my Dad.

Here is that eulogy.

Have you ever said you’d do something and then wondered if you should have volunteered? My son, Thomas, is with me this morning as my pinch hitter if I cannot make it through.

If I were to title this eulogy it would be: “They Called Him Pastor.”

I was young when I realized I shared my father with others. I was on the front stairs to the Springfield, Massachusetts Advent Christian Church when someone addressed me and told me what Pastor Dean said. I didn’t fully understand why they called him Pastor, because I just called him Dad.

Then they called him Prof. Dean and when he went into college administration they called him Dean Dean. So people could be respectful and address him as Dean – or they could have been disrespectful when they called him Dean. They could have been extremely respectful and address him as Dean Dean. On the other hand they could have been making fun of him. Finally after years of hard work he obtained his Doctorate in Theology and they called him Dr. Dean. I just called him Dad.

Many of you here this morning took theology classes under my father. How many of you felt apprehension over his exams? I see a few hands. How many of you remember the first question of every theology exam? That’s right: What is the definition of systematic theology? How many of you can still recite that definition? Say it with me.

Systematic theology is that science which derives truths concerning God from Scripture and formulates them into a connected body of doctrine.

In one of my last visits with Dad he informed me why he put that question as the first question on every exam. Would you like me to share that reason? It’s because he cared about us, his students. He knew how apprehensive we were and wanted to give us the opportunity to nail the first question word perfect. He believed that would set us at ease for the rest of the exam.

Along with the definition of theology and the quote in the program, “Don’t let the limits of your understanding become the limits of your faith,” I remember another statement my father made: “your emotions must always be subject to your mind.” In my childhood and youth Dad lived by that credo. Only once did I see my Dad cry.

Somewhere along the course of time I grew to dislike sharing my father with others. For a long did I felt he didn’t have enough time for me. I see now this was more my longing to be closer to my father than any deficiency in Dad. For he gave me more father parenting that he ever received. His father died when he was young and grandma moved him and his three sisters back home to her mother. So Dad grew up with no male role model.

I look back as an adult and am deeply grateful for his investment of time in my life. After he began his teaching careen he often served as interim pastors for churches in transition. He took me along on many occasions. In fact I once inflated Advent Christian Sunday School membership rolls by becoming a member in two different church Sunday Schools. I don’t recall the specifics of our conversations, but Dad gave me the precious gift of time. He also gave me the heritage of camp meetings – sometimes (it seems) attending twenty a summer. One that stands out is the 1964 New York Conference camp meeting. Dad was the evangelist, for he was at that time the new preacher on the camp meeting circuit, and Ariel Ainsworth, the veteran preacher and college administrator was the Bible teacher. Just Dad and I attended this camp meeting where under Dad’s preaching I committed my life to Christ as savior.

Somewhere along the line I caught Dad’s passion for missions for he served as the recording secretary for the American Advent Mission Society many years. I spent two summers in Central America on short term mission trips. Then, with Dads’ encouragement, I attended seminary and with my wife spent a term as missionary to the Philippines. It was God’s gift to me during the summer of 1984 when on furlough and the resident missionaries at Washington, Maine, camp meeting that Dad was the Bible teacher there. At 1:15 AM Sunday morning Mom pounded on our camper door and said Dad had chest pains that didn’t go away this time. Dad since denied he ever said “this time.” Later Dad told me about when in the ambulance the EMT’s couldn’t get a blood pressure reading he felt deep peace. He realized he actually believed what he said he believed.

In retirement Dad and Mom went to India so Dad could teach at a seminary. I encouraged him to journal because the new cultural experiences would soon become the new normal. He recorded his experiences. During this mission trip with my parents half way around the world I went through an excruciating and painful personal crisis. Dad wrote me and advised, “The fewer people who know about your personal problems the better.” I appreciated his love, concern, and support, but found tremendous healing in sharing in the safety of support groups.

Although Dad did not daily journal he did reflect on several experiences he and Mom went through. These he later expanded and compiled in his book, Don’t Drink The Water. I wonder if Dad realized that when he shared his struggle of feeling like a failure as a cross-cultural teacher, he was in fact doing the very thing he had cautioned me not to do. He shared his personal problems with others.

After Mom died in 2010 Dad grieved for Mom. I then received a trickle of essays in which he shared reminiscences of their life together and of how God ministered to him in his grief. Each time I read on of his essays I cried and each time healed a little more of my own grief. Then I learned (I am not sure how much siblings knew) Dad had written 34 essays. A year after Mom’s death I sat with my Dad for forty-five minutes while he shared from his experiences. All the time Dad wept unashamedly. Along with others I encouraged him to publish his essays. That ended in the release of his final book: Good Grief: God’s Sustaining Presence During My Time of Heartache.

In sharing his problem of grief, Dad brought healing and encouragement to many. Dad’s commitment to serve and obey God overcame his reluctance to keep his spiritual journey private. What a gift that is!

Dad fully grieved Mom.

And then came Lee. [I looked directly at Lee.] Last year when I visited Dad he was alive again. He fully embraced life because he had met Lee. The two of you were like teenagers! Calling each other five and six times a day. How delighted I was. Because of you Dad again fully engaged in life. Although I don’t think teenagers’ calls go like this, “David, its breakfast, have you taken your medicine this morning.”

During my last conversation with Dad, before the cerebral hemorrhage took his life, he reminded me, as he had several times before, how proud he was of my going to seminary, serving as a missionary, and of my writing. I told him I loved him and was proud to call him Dad. I ended by reminding him of the common hope we share when I paraphrased a sentence from his first book:

“Good night, Dad, I’ll see you in the Morning.”


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