Kathleen and I are just back from a visit to Northeastern Seminary in North Chili, NY. We go there once a semester to meet with a four-hour evening class. The class has a collection of my materials on practical pastoral issues and from them Professor Gerhardt gives me freedom to deal with subjects of my choosing.
Northeastern seminary is on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College. From Brampton we travel westward around the western end of Lake Ontario, then east along its southern shore, crossing the Niagara River and driving 75 miles further east to the edge of Rochester, New York.
This semester the class was smaller than usual, but with a cross-section of Christian traditions – 12 students from Lutheran, Free Methodist, Pentecostal, nondenominational, Baptist and others. There were African Americans and Caucasians in almost equal numbers. But color or traditions were scarcely noticeable, veiled by the warm evangelical spirit that seemed to tie classmates together.
It was a mature group. There were ordained ministers, two or three already assigned to serve a congregation; others were on the way to ordination; yet others were lay church workers. One young woman introduced herself to me as a laid-off mechanical engineer who showed strong interest in the subject of the course.
First, we discussed the Christian funeral with its ramifications. I recalled that when I was in seminary more than fifty years ago the professor gave one lecture on the subject. That was valuable, but the first funeral after seminary can be daunting. Facing death with a family, empathizing with them, and then putting their loss into Christian perspective in a service of worship and consolation is a significant task.
Last night the subject of weddings and marriage raised interesting questions. One asked: Should a minister marry unbelievers? Answer: Marriage is an institution ordered by God for the blessing of all mankind, not merely a provision for Christians. We derive this viewpoint from the matchless story of Adam and Eve. The story is rooted in creation. Christians say marriage is the covenanted union of one man and one woman intended until death. But whether a man and woman present themselves as believers or nonbelievers, it is the duty of pastors to show due diligence in proceeding in accordance with the rules and regulations set down by the body whose ordination they hold.
The question whether a minister should marry a believer to an unbeliever was raised. The Scriptures clearly declare that Christians are to avoid the “unequal yoke” because, “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6: 14-18). Pastors need to have this question resolved in their minds and to have reached a good understanding with their church board before the matter comes up.
We have visited Northeastern happily in this role for several years. Each time, the fact that Kathleen is with me seems to mean a lot to the class. It gives us both opportunity to share with an oncoming generation of pastors and other church workers some things we know about the pastoral life from long experience. Passing the torch like this also makes us feel like an ongoing part of the church of Jesus Christ, who himself was “that great shepherd (pastor) of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20). Of equal blessing to us is this: each time we visit, a sense of collegiality develops quickly and age differences don’t seem to matter.