It is Ash Wednesday, 2011. Just before my pastor made the blotchy sign of the cross on my forehead at the evening Ash Wednesday service, she spoke of the discipline of fasting. Her meditation broadened the idea of fasting beyond “giving up (some) food for Lent,” and I began to consider what I might sacrifice in order to add something good (helpful, faithful, constructive, creative, and/or uplifting) to my life path during these 40 days.

There came an  “aha!” moment. I will give up some time in order to engage in daily writing, something I haven’t done for many months. But what to write about? I needed a focus, and not just ramblings about my views, my Lent, my self.  Lent isn’t about me, I have written elsewhere. It’s about the Christ. Still… what is it that helps me understand my childhood decision to “follow Jesus?” Or, more to the point, who was it whose life helps me understand the direction my life has taken?

Starting today and for the next 39 that follow (not counting Sundays, of course!), here are the forty I followed in my journey of faith and doubt, of rising and falling, of walking and running the path. I have made no list, by the way. So I do not rank these forty, whoever they turn out to be. I suspect I will have more to say of some than others. But in some way, all have guided me in the ways of peace, grace, and, yes, jazz.

I begin with Judd McConnell, who was the chaplain at Westminster College during my years there. I was already on the path to ministry, suffering through a “tri-major” of religion, philosophy, and psychology. I never had Judd for a course, unless I count the pre-marriage seminar that Joan and I enrolled in over a course of several Thursday nights. Apart from that, I didn’t have Judd as a formal teacher, yet he modeled for me a ministry of worship, preaching, counseling, and retreats.

Back then (’62 – ’66) Westminster, as a Presbyterian-related college, had “daily required chapel” services. When that requirement was relaxed midway through our college years, Judd pulled several of us together to design and lead some services on weekdays, services in which we grew as both worshippers and worship leaders. I still have a note he sent me after I preached at one of those services. He offered  thoughtful words of encouragement and challenge, so important at the time, because I was struggling to stay in school.

That would be the counseling part that Judd offered me, and that I remember so well 47 years later! I made an appointment to see him when all those worship services had become more routine than meaningful. I complained, “I’m not getting anything out of worship any more.” And he asked, “What is it that you are putting into it.” Oh.

Far more critical (and absolutely scary at the time) was my academic failure. Because I was more involved with extracurriculars than in studies (radio, newspaper and yearbook photography, theater, etc.) I went on academic probation three times by my junior year. And I flunked out.

When a pre-ministerial student flunks out, huge dominos fall quickly. No college, no seminary, no ordination, no fulfillment of a “calling.” Basically, you let God down. Yikes. But Judd McConnell helped me with some vocational aptitude tests that showed that ministry was indeed the right “call” for me, and when I returned to school after a semester out (and having  flunked my army physical after being quickly drafted — I was flunking everything that year), I rebounded academically. 

Judd’s overall leadership of college spiritual retreats, the annual “Spiritual Emphasis Week,” and  in something called “Karux” (the pre-ministerial “fraternity” that included a handful of women!)– well, he kept me on the path that led to ordination, and my years of ministry. Judd even opened my eyes to different forms of ministry. The only ministers I knew about were pastors. But I found out there were chaplains too. And my call to non-parish ministry eventually took shape during seminary.

Judd’s devotion to his students and their spiritual growth laid a strong foundation for me, and he was certainly one whose influence guided me on the path of faith.  

Oh, and he and his wife Peggy must have had a little something to do with Joan and me enjoying the 44th year of our marriage! The chaplain’s pre-marriage seminar worked very well, thank you.