During this Lenten journey of 40 days, I am “giving up” some time each day to write about someone who guided me on my own faith path. Today, “Dr. Kirk” as most of us called him.

One of the most important phone calls I ever got was from Dr. Robert White Kirkpatrick. I suspect that for him it was just a routine “recruiting” or “courtesy” call, a seminary professor calling a prospective student to say, “We are looking forward to your coming to our school.” But to me, that was a call that played a major role in my Call (capital C noted?), my vocation as a minister, and more, as a minister who would work a couple of decades in radio.

Dr. Kirk had founded the forerunner of Richmond’s present Public Radio station. WRFK, with call letters representing the initials of his own father, was Dr. Kirkpatrick’s idea for training ministers-to-be to speak well. The idea was that if a seminary student learned to communicate effectively announcing classical music on a radio station, that talent would enrich his/her eventual ministry from the pulpit.

So Dr. Kirk (with financial help from his father, I’m guessing) gathered some used and new radio equipment, obtained an FM frequency abandoned by an AM station (WLEE), and put WRFK on the air at 106.5 mH, a very odd placement for an “educational” station, but proudly we announced, “At the top of your FM dial.”

When I had applied to Union Seminary in Virginia, word got to Dr. Kirk that I not only had radio experience in college, but that I was leaning toward using radio (somehow) in ministry. So, he called me at my off-campus apartment and told me about WRFK, and about how several seminary students would be chosen to work in the Union Seminary Audio-Visual Center as part of the school’s “work scholarship” program. He welcomed my coming to Union and promised me several hours a week on air.

Speaking of air, I remember walking on it for a few weeks after that call. As a mediocre student in college, I thought I was lucky to be welcomed to any theological graduate school, much less one with media sensibilities. (I had looked at Princeton and Louisville seminaries too, but only  Union had a 16,000 watt radio station!)

Once I had begun at Union, I realized that some of my A-V work scholarship hours would be spent in the dusty, musty old attic of Schauffler Hall, cleaning 16mm film in the archives. And toting A-V equipment from classroom to classroom. But within a few months my hours at WRFK expanded, and eventually that radio experience led to being the station’s primary voice during my last years in school. Doors opened to a media ministry that ran from 1968 to 1992, when I finally was elevated to a part-time pastorate in a small country church in Vermont.

Dr. Kirk’s primary role at UTS was professor of Speech and Homiletics. Besides teaching preaching and serving on the team of professors who taught the “practical” courses and seminars at the school, it goes without saying I guess that part of his position was directing the Audio-Visual Center, which included the massive Reigner Recording Library, the radio station, and A-V tech support for instruction. (His “speech” course included each student producing  religious PSAs (public service announcements), one on audio tape for radio, and one on black and white reel-to-reel videotape for TV. Remember, this was the 1960s!)

It was Dr. Kirk who shaped much of my approach to media ministry, and who supported my growing commitment to radio production. He helped form the committee of Presbyterian media folk who found the money to offer me my first call as a church media professional in ministry. It was Dr. Kirk who secured a TV internship at a Richmond commercial station during my UTS years. And, after Dr. Kirk had successfully made WRFK a Charter Member of National Public Radio, it was he who secured a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to hire me as the station’s first professional staff member, a “program production specialist.”

While I was not a very good or worthy protegé, Dr. Kirk was a solid mentor– a faithful, knowledgable, and veteran guide to me and countless others. And if I didn’t say it at his memorial service many years ago, I must say it now: he was one of the kindest men I have ever known.

One more thing. He stuttered. This professor of speech had overcome, with serious therapy, a severe stutter. When he preached or made formal presentations, his smooth voice was pristine in its diction and comforting timbre. When he spoke informally, however, that stutter still presented itself, if not audibly then in trembling lips. One more reason I followed him on my faith path, and with deep respect… and love.

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