There were two Ross MacKenzie’s in Richmond when I was there. One was an editor of the afternoon newspaper. He was so conservative that one would think he …never mind. The editorial policy of the paper rued the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement, and almost any movement that moved beyond the comfortably segregated South of the 1940’s. Tripe.

The other Ross MacKenzie was J. A. Ross Mackenzie. And he still is. He was the other side of the MacKenzie clan coin. I write of Professor Ross MacKenzie with gratitude for three ways his passions helped me learn and grow. At the outset, I’ll mention that one of those passions wasn’t church history. It was certainly his passion, and his field of study and teaching, but it wasn’t mine. I wasn’t a good student of history. I took the required courses, and barely got through them. I am pretty sure that today I would have far more interest in certain periods of the history of the Christian Church, but I wouldn’t take notes, or subject myself to oral or written exams. Back then? It was just another hoop to jump through to graduate.

In fact, I can see myself in 1967 sitting in a seminar room in Schauffler Hall, less-than-half prepared for the topic under discussion. Dr. MacKenzie is quizzing the class section about our reading, and he asks me a direct question. I answer in the most basic terms, showing some, but little, evidence that I have read and understood the assignment. My one or two sentence answer seemed more than enough to me to move the next question to a fellow classmate. But Ross MacKenzie looks at me and asks, “Mr. Kellam, would you like to elaborate on that?” Elaborate? On what?

That confession aside, here are the three “passions” of Ross MacKenzie that I did absorb with keen interest. One was a matter of silence. Spiritual silence. The kind of silence in which we close off the noise of life, the sound of our own voices, and even the consideration of our own thoughts. It is that listening silence, the quiet in which we engage with the expectation that something, some One, some gentle Word will creep into our hearts and offer us a gift for which we have prayed, or one that will come as a complete surprise of pure grace.

Somewhere, years after seminary, and long into my radio ministry, I heard Ross MacKenzie speak about the power of silence, and I asked him to join me on my “Celebration Rock” radio program to share his thoughts. Then I looked for music, popular music, yea, even rock music, to amplify or provide commentary on the topic. You sense the ambiguity here, right? We talked, I played music, and when the hour was over, there had been no actual silence in the broadcast, because that was considered “dead air.” Still, I think we made the point that silence left room for “living breath.” (Pardon the word play, but that’s one reason to write these private little meditations!)

My hope was, and remains, that listeners would hear Dr. MacKenzie’s thoughtful, theological, and sensible  explanation of the need for and the gift of silence —       [breathe deeply and slowly here]                          — and then seek a quiet place to just be for a while. And the longer the while, the more one could be. And become. I knew the gift of silence before speaking with Ross MacKenzie in that interview. Because he had had a role in my first visit to a Trappist monastery where silence is golden and every other color of the rainbow. (And rainbows have no sound, it occurs.) Nonetheless (or all the more, since I’m enjoying this word thing so much today), Ross MacKenzie’s reminder of the gift of silence in our frantic and frenzied culture has remained with me all these years, and fed me.

The second passion of his that became a passion of mine was the gift of healing. In 1990, the Presbyterian Church in the USA published a liturgical resource on Pastoral Care, and within that resource was a section on ministry with the sick and dying, specifically noted in a “Service for Wholeness”.  Ross MacKenzie served on the team which created that resource, and he came to the Presbyterian School of Christian Education to lead a seminar on the topic. I headed the Video Education Center there, and we videotaped MacKenzie’s presentations on healing and wholeness. He also led worship in the PSCE chapel, and I remember that service being a powerful witness to the ministry of healing and comfort that the church has too often ignored, or run from.

The then-prominent televangelists had made a mockery of healing services (not so much “Jesus saves” as “Jesus sells”). Presbyterians had lagged behind other denominations in providing direction, interpretation, and resources for authentic rites of healing and ministries of wholeness. Even now, most Presbyterian churches don’t give a thought to such outreach. We are content to have “organ recitals” during that part of the weekly liturgy that lists prayer concerns. (“Please pray for my second cousin June who has rectal bleeding.”)

Having been blessed by physical healing myself (that’s another story), I look back on my own ministry with deep regret that I didn’t follow through with more than the very occasional service of wholeness in the churches I served. What was wrong with me? Preaching, visitation, workshops, officer training — all these were occasions I might have lifted up the power of the Spirit’s healing presence — might have, but didn’t. A passion within, but neglected without.

By the way…that word “wholeness,” as I understand it, means that even when absolute healing is not the outcome for which we have prayed, “wholeness” is always God’s will for us, and within our reach. A person whose eyes are blind, or whose legs have failed, or whose cancer is spreading can still be spiritually whole — one in spirit, one with the community of faith surrounding her/him with prayer, and one in communion with God. Holy and whole. And, yes, we did another radio interview about that.

Finally, that third passion of Ross MacKenzie’s that I have found stimulating was his commitment to the wholeness of the Christian Church. By that I mean his ecumenical spirit. I remember well the heated debate on the floor of the presbytery (and the ranting of the evening newspaper in its editorial on the topic), when Ross MacKenzie, a Scotland-born Presbyterian seminary professor became a lay reader in the Episcopal Church. (I hope that’s the right term…I was never much on history.)

He wasn’t renouncing his vows as a minister in the Presbyterian Church, nor was he, in his own heart, being disloyal to his heritage. He was simply affirming, I think, his connection to the wider church of Jesus Christ, and sharing in the leadership of another branch of the ecumenical family of the faith. Whatever the motion was on the floor of presbytery that day, I voted my support for Ross MacKenzie. From my annual Trappist monastery retreats, to my ecumenical partnerships with media and community ministries, I have experienced the wonder of the breadth and depth of partnerships that make for a united witness and effective mission.

In fact, my ecumenical spirit goes back to a paper I wrote in high school about the beginnings of the old Consultation on Church Union. I wrote of Eugene Carson Blake and James Pike, a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian, urging unity among Christians of different stripes. So, years later when Dr. MacKenzie took that step, I admired his moxie.

Now that I have written of these three passions, I realize that there is a fourth! In my early years of ministry, I very much appreciated a newsletter Ross MacKenzie published after moving from the seminary to pastoral work. It was called “Lively Liturgy,” and it advocated, well, liturgy more lively. Coming from J.A. Ross MacKenzie that would be no surprise at all!

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