A unexpected visit from dad and an insight by a visiting scholar highlight the All Saints’ Day message for the PC(USA)’s national staff

The Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville, president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, inspires during online weekly worship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Mount Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain peak in North America, as pictured by Joris Beugels in Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — As the preacher On All Saints’ Day during Chapel Worship held online for the PC(USA)’s national staff, the Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville offered up tender insights into some of the saints in his own life, including his father and a visiting scholar from India.

Pomerville, who began July 1 as the 11th president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, told a story of “a dad who was there for me but not always in ways I expected.” When Pomerville was 20 and a student at Alma College in Michigan, he jumped at the opportunity to study for awhile in Alaska, driving up there even after his mother urged him to fly rather than drive. He was living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment as his 21st birthday approached. Without warning, his father drove up from Michigan — an eight-day journey — to help his son celebrate his 21st birthday. Pomerville marked the occasion by purchasing a six-pack of beer and returning to his apartment to play Scrabble with his father. The next day his father got back in his car and drove eight more days home to Michigan.

“It was the first time my dad and I had ever sat and had a conversation about his upbringing, his faith and his experiences in the world — mostly because we had four walls and nothing else besides a game of Scrabble,” Pomerville said. “He had always wanted to go to Alaska.”

“I tell that story with love and affection for my dad, but there’s always the catch on the end of it,” he said. “He could have flown up and spent 16 days with me, but instead he drove up and spent one day with me and then drove back. What I get out of that story — and what I was able to process later — is that he wanted to experience the same thing I experienced, and this was his way of demonstrating his love, his compassion.”

“Playing Scrabble with him, I understood everything he had done to get me to that place. He never said it, but I watched my dad sacrifice,” including giving up vacations to help pay tuition bills. “The presence and the embodiment meant something,” Pomerville said. “I don’t know that he could have just told me that. It was feeling it and seeing it and recognizing it in a different way.”

“On All Saints’ Day, I think of the people who have gone before me and helped prepare me to be who I am — not just professionally but as a dad, a spouse, a neighbor,” Pomerville said.

One such person was Bishop Thomas Makarios of the Indian Orthodox Church, a visiting scholar at Alma College who didn’t enforce a grading system, instead inviting students to grade themselves. Pomerville decided he deserved an “A,” even though his attendance that semester was spotty. One day, the bishop asked Pomerville to see him after class.

The bishop told the student the parable of the lost sheep. “You know the meaning,” the bishop said, and Pomerville “could see where he was going, that I am that one lost sheep. I even tried to explain the passage to him, and he said, ‘No, no, no, Andrew. You and your friends in the Presbyterian church, you always talk about that one. Jesus does love that one and the shepherd goes after the one. But in my tradition, the number 100 is perfect. It is complete. It is whole. When one is missing from the 100, we are now all incomplete.”

The Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville

“We are missing you in class, Mr. Pomerville,” the bishop said. “The rest of us are incomplete because you are not there.”

Their conversation “utterly shifted the whole sense of the parable for me in a way I’d never thought of” while growing up in the church, Pomerville said. “He put it in a way that made me realize it wasn’t really about me, but he couldn’t just say that. We have all experienced Jesus Christ in a number of ways, but there are moments — these epiphanies, at least I’ve had them — where we stop and say, ‘Jesus, you have spoken to me in so many ways that I haven’t heard until now.’”

On All Saints’ Day, “I would encourage us to think about our mentors, our teachers, our spiritual mothers, fathers, grandparents — those people who have gone before us who have taught us directly, and those who have given us those examples,” Pomerville said. “There are times we aren’t able to truly understand what it means to be a community, to be a child, a parent, a neighbor, to be whatever it is we are called to be. We have to live it out. We have to see it and we have to understand it through someone else’s eyes.”

“There are ways to communicate other than telling someone, ‘I appreciate you’ or ‘I miss you’ or ‘I love you,’” he said. “Jesus gives us those opportunities to be love in action.”

As we plant seeds, we can’t see the harvest right away, Pomerville noted. He urged those in worship to “teach, grow, guide and lead us toward whatever comes next.”

“Let us be saints who pass on this tradition to the next generation,” Pomerville said, “and let us look forward to what God is going to continue to do.”

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