I first met Lamar Williamson in seminary. He had just returned to the U.S. from mission work in what had been known as the Belgian Congo, and what was to become in 1970 Zaire. He taught New Testament, though I never actually had him as a professor during his time at Union Seminary in Richmond.
When his brief contract at Union ended, he crossed Brook Road to teach at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, a graduate school for church educators. Though our paths crossed now and then once my media ministry took root in Richmond, it was when I joined the staff at PSCE that I grew to know, admire, and respect Lamar. I had known him to be a New Testament scholar and theologian. But I soon discovered a man of deep and energetic faith.
He was (and remains) a peacemaker. Once the Video Education Center opened on campus, we produced a 20 minute program about some of the difficult issues on which Christians of conscience disagree. The first two issues were abortion and homosexuality. The third was a less obvious choice: war tax resistance. I went to Lamar’s office and recorded his personal witness as a war tax resistor. A Bible in hand, he spoke eloquently, passionately, of how his faith had led him to a controversial and risky position. As a peacemaker, he would not pay for war.
Lamar was a popular teacher. It was obvious that he cared deeply for his students. His continues to be a winsome personality, blessed with warm humor and a welcoming spirit.
He was (and remains) a devoted (pardon the dated description) “churchman.” An advocate for social justice, he was a liberal voice in his native conservative “Southern Presbyterian Church.” A native Arkansan, Lamar was an advocate for racial justice as Virginia’s capital city moved haltingly into its new age of black-white cooperation and leadership.
Lamar’s published works include New Testament commentaries, including the volume on Mark in the “Interpretation” series. It is a scholarly study, yes, but marked by warm interjections that connect the Biblical text to contemporary life and culture. That is a valuable gift for the preachers who prayerfully delve into Mark’s gospel story in order to build a solid sermon for Sunday. I was privileged to sit in on an informal conversation between Lamar and Howard Rice, co-authors of “A Book of Reformed Prayers.” Sitting at Lamar’s family table, they were choosing the last prayers to be included in that book. It was a summer morning in Lamar’s home in Montreat, NC, and though Lamar has no reason to remember my being present, I cherish the memory of just listening in.
The school lost a bright light when he retired. But that retirement meant more journeys to Africa, continuing study and teaching in new places, and clear connections to the denomination’s work in peacemaking and social justice. And the building of his retirement home on the side of a mountain in Montreat. Here is where he earned my designation as a true “renaissance man.” He literally built that three story home with his own hands, everything but the plumbing. Or, was it the electrical work. Well, one of those he entrusted to someone else. But the rest…
And once that home was complete, Lamar and Ruthmary Williamson shared its hospitality with scores of folks in the years to come. Joan and I found welcome there for almost every summer conference we attended at Montreat in the 1980s and ’90s. Our “rent” was a meal to which we treated our dear friends in beautiful, downtown Black Mountain.
In their 2010 Christmas letter, Lamar and Ruthmary wrote of their having to leave that beloved mountain home for accomodations more suited to a couple entering their mid-80s. They quoted a line from a prayer in their wedding service 61 years ago: “…to live together as heirs of the grace of life.”
How that grace has lighted my own path. How blessed the peacemakers, indeed. And what a blessing to know them all. What a challenge to follow them.