I have no doubt that almost any of the hundreds of alumni of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education would include Isabel Rogers on their list of people who touched their lives in a significant way.

Not having been a student of hers at PSCE, I never took a course from her. But learn from her I did. And find inspiration in her, yes, I did. She had been on the PSCE  faculty for many years by the time I went on staff there in the early 1980s. She taught Christian Ethics and Theology, and I listened and learned from her on many occasions, sometimes while holding a microphone or pointing a video camera, or just having a good conversation with her.

We all, students and faculty colleagues alike, called her Dr. Izzie. Except when we called her Madam Moderator. That was on the occasion of her elevation to the highest elected post in our denomination, Moderator of the General Assembly, in 1987. Serving in that position for a year, she became teacher and spiritual leader of the whole Church, not just its graduate school for church educators. We were sorry to lose her for that year, but so proud of her leadership and happy that her classroom became global during her tenure.

Dr. Izzie was an early advocate for gay/lesbian inclusion in the life of the church. Her previous advocacy for civil rights of African Americans and “liberation” of women fed her sense of justice for all, and was rooted in her understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She was also an environmentalist, a hiker, and one who took seriously our stewardship of the earth. She preached passionately, taught fervently, and “walked the walk” in her own life.

My “media coverage” of this woman of faith included a radio interview we taped when she had been elected Moderator, plus a video interview that followed an academic Sabbatical during which she worked at a downtown YWCA women’s shelter, offering loving support to women who had been physically and psychologically battered and abused. (She had worked there as a volunteer every Thursday night for over four years, but the Sabbatical put her on staff full time.) Available on line, an excerpt of that interview is archived as a result of  Isabel Wood Rogers being honored in 2008 as a part of the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Women in History program. That honor came a year after her death.

PSCE Video also produced a half-hour resource for churches entitled “Controversy and Community in the Church.” With doctoral student David Hindman, Dr. Izzie discussed three topics that the church was finding divisive in the late 80s: abortion, homosexuality, and war tax resistance.  Her willingness to engage in such public dialogue was part of her determination to help students and church folk  form their own theological systems, in other words, to think for themselves.

Students loved her, of course. She was accessible, so open and engaging. Her classes were stimulating. And she honored the views of those who disagreed with her, never threatened by those views, but debating them honestly and fairly.

I was honored that she accepted my invitation to preach at my installation as Associate Pastor of Bon Air Presbyterian Church. Honored? I was thrilled.

 As I think about what her life means to mine, one memory off-campus stands out. I was an adult advisor at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium one year at Purdue University. Isabel Rogers was coming in to preach the sermon at the close of the week, to a “congregation” of 6000, most of whom were high school youth. I recall being a little nervous for her. Those kids were used to high energy, youthful leaders, and here came Dr. Izzie, an older woman, professor from a school most of them had never heard of, a tall, lanky woman named Isabel, in a suit with frilly white shirt and what appeared to be a string bow tie. I so wanted them to accept her, and for her to inspire them.

I needn’t have worried. Her sermon was perfectly on target, her communication skills went right to the heart, and her message included an admonition to openly express  our love for one another. I don’t know that she had quoted the Stevie Wonder song, “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” but had I known her topic and could have gotten to her before she spoke, I’d have made that suggestion. She didn’t need it. She had those teens in the palm of her hand.

As she was speaking, it occurred to me that there was one kid there in that crowd that needed to hear me tell him that he was loved. He had been a member of the break-out group that I was leading, and after our five days of morning group meetings, he had come up to me and thanked me “for being the one who isn’t here.” I was puzzled at that at first, but remembering what he’d  shared with our small group earlier in the week, I realized that he was thanking me for being in his life, when his own father wasn’t. In other words, he was thanking me for being like a Dad to him that week.

After Dr. Izzie’s benediction that afternoon, I walked out the stage door of the huge auditorium and walked into the crowds who were leaving the campus for home. How I wished I could find that boy among the masses.

Well, some wishes are prayers, I suppose. And there, walking toward me was the boy, Mark. What a coincidence. Well, what providence! Pure grace. So that I wouldn’t embarrass him in front of his friends, I guided him a few feet away and, telling him how much Izzie’s words had meant to me, I told him I loved him. Without flinching, he returned the blessing, and rejoined his friends. I think we corresponded by letter once or twice that summer, and then lost track of each other.

But I never lost track of Dr. Izzie’s guidance, her social conscience, or her friendship. A few years later (1996), after Joan and I had moved to Vermont, we came home from our son’s college graduation to find a note on the front door of the manse. It was from Dr. Izzie! She had found her way to Craftsbury, discovered our church, and left us a note expressing her disappointment that we weren’t home.  She promised that if she were ever in our neighborhood again…

A truly remarkable woman, and one whom I followed, along with quite a crowd of witnesses!

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