In 1985, then Dean of Yale Divinity School Leander Keck traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to deliver a lecture. I do not recall where it took place or the topic that drew me to hear him. I do not recall seeing anyone else in the room, or whether it took place at the University or in a local church.
At the time I was working on a Ph.D. in Community and Human Resources at the University of Nebraska and had just finished my oral exams and completed the dissertation proposal. My elder son Joshua at the age of six had just started first grade, and younger son Micah attended Prairie Hill Learning Center, a Montessori School out in the country.
And then there was Dean Keck, an unassuming man raised in North Dakota in a German speaking household by immigrant parents. His peasant roots would never be forgotten, not at all the character or demeanor I anticipated from the head of an Ivy League graduate school, who received degrees from Wellesley College, Andover-Newton, and Yale.
“Lee Keck was appointed Dean of Yale Divinity School in 1979. During his decade of leadership, Lee guided YDS through a challenging period marked by inflation and other economic problems that not only vexed America but created enormous financial pressures at Yale, including a new imperative to balance budgets. Lee took on the challenges with the determination and optimism that were characteristic of his leadership. As he declared at his installation, “The future is as promising as we have wit and wisdom to proclaim. Human hurt is too deep, moral issues too pressing, for us to be satisfied with less than our best.”
This past week, Leander Keck died at the age of 95 and joined his Creator in glory. His easy manner and inviting presence reminded me of a kindly uncle eager to mentor a younger relative. After the lecture, he answered my questions about seminary with that kind of familiar repartee. By the time we were finished, a path to the call I sensed, but had not named, was secured.
When a few months later I received the acceptance letter and scholarship, we packed up the children in a 1980 Honda and drove across a country we’d never seen to a place called Connecticut that we would soon call home. From the start, I knew I was among people who were odd like me, eager to stay up late in the stacks of the library where famous theologians hammered out their theses for generations of the eager “Divines” as we were called, who followed.
When the local grade school canceled classes in New Haven, CT due to snow, son Joshua accompanied me to seminary. Listening intently one day to my Belgian professor of Mysticism from Yale College, I observed my son’s awakening to a future that eventually led to his own seminary education, and son Micah would one day become an attorney because he came to believe that through the law, the world could be just.
We never forget our mentors, the ones who see us, the ones who invite us, the ones who nurture our gifts and inspire our dreams. It must have been like that for the first disciples so long ago, who showed up day after day to see Jesus, to hear Jesus, to walk with Jesus to a place they had not been and did not know they wanted to go. All they needed was an invitation to “Come and See”.
Prayer: Gracious God, as this new year now begins, we pause to give you thanks for leaders of character and faith, who showed us the way. May we be faithful as mentors for those who follow us, as were those faithful mentors who preceded us. Amen
God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you,
Rev. Dr. Anna V. Copeland
Senior Minister, The Community Church of Vero Beach, Florida