I was fairly happy with most of the video programs we produced at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The majority showed evidence of our low budgets and our entry-level video equipment, but we did good work with what we had. What we lacked in state-of-the-art technology, we made up for in creativity and pedagogical effectiveness. I just watched a copy of a program we produced on “Family Wellness: A New Model for Family Ministry,’ and there is still some good material there after some 20+ years.

On the other hand… there was the program we did on the mentor-protegé relationship. I cringe even now just thinking about it. Our school was asked to create that video and study guide for the national Presbyterian Men’s organization. It was to be shown at their big annual breakfast, and then distributed to chapters around the country. The theme chosen for the year’s study was mentoring. The video was to present something of the philosophy behind the concept, including biblical principles, and then to show a couple of real life examples of mentors and proteges telling their stories. So far, so good.

Somehow we came upon a wonderful example of a Richmond area mentor, a man who worked at an A&P super market as a butcher. He had taken under his wing a young man from his neighborhood who had just been released from jail. The older man described their African-American neighborhood, how it did “take a village” to provide role models and parental discipline for the youth of the community, and how he had come to mentor that one young man who’d been in trouble with the law. The A&P employee was driving his new friend to church on Sundays, keeping in touch through the week, and generally helping the guy make a healthy transition back into the life of the neighborhood.

I went to the A&P store with camera and lights and interviewed the mentor. There he stood in his meat-stained white apron.  I’ll always remember his line, “I don’t know if you’d call me a mentor. I just try to carry myself in such a way that it helps people see a Christian life.” I then drove into what might be described as a tenement area, and interviewed the young man. It was the perfect example of how mentoring could work to change lives. But, we needed another example. The deadline for the completion of the project loomed, and I told the President of the School that I hadn’t identified another two men to tell their stories. (As I write that, I know how strange it is to write of “two men,” knowing full well that women can and do fulfill those same roles. However, this program, I remind you, was designed for the Presbyterian Men’s group.)

Someone suggested that I myself was a mentor. My “protegé” was Matt Matthews. Now, it may very well have been that informally Matt and I had that kind of relationship. Matt and I had met over burgers when he was a college student and I was doing radio. Matt later went into seminary on the campus across the road from our school, and he took an interest in media, particularly radio, but also slide shows and video, all somewhat of an extension of his degree in journalism and his call to ministry.  (At one point, Matt would take over a live Sunday night hour that I had started, a relief for me and a testing of the waters for him.)

That first meeting at lunch had led to many conversations and shared projects, including a video I am still very fond of. In moving into the formal process of “coming under care” of his Presbytery (opening the way to ordination), Matt wanted to go beyond the  standard, required written paperwork he was to submit to the presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry. He proposed that we work on a video that showed his faith journey in his local church, his love of the Hampton Roads – Chesapeake Bay area, and an earnest verbal description of his call to full-time Christian ministry, perhaps in media. We used a  hit song of the Little River Band (“Cool Change”) as part of the soundtrack, and I loved shooting the scenes in Hampton, Va.

So, yes, maybe this was a mentor-protegé thing. But the very awkward part, very, very awkward, was my producing a program about myself, that is, using myself as a major piece of the content of the half-hour. Stranger still was pointing the camera at Matt and asking him to describe our teacher-learner relationship. Finally, and most strange, was the after hours video I shot of myself talking about being a mentor. The deadline for the program was past, I was desperate to finish it, and for some reason I found myself alone in the Video Education Center that night, and had to get the thing taped. Essentially, I set the lights, attached camera to tripod, previewed the camera shot, pinned on the microphone, and interviewed myself!

Weird, yes. Unseemly? I don’t even know what that means, but probably so. Yet I thought, well…if people don’t pay attention to the closing post-production credits, maybe no one who sees the tape will know that the producer used himself as an example of mentoring. Unfortunately, someone I knew did see the video and could tell that I had produced my own segment, just by the way I talked to the camera in an empty room. So, even today I cringe.

“But enough about me; let’s talk about my protegé,” he smiled as he typed. Since this series of reflections is about how some forty people have provided spiritual and vocational guidance, shepherding, and/or nurturing to me through my life, maybe this is a kind of turning the tables on the mentor thing. To be sure, every “mentor” would be well advised to learn a few things from the “protegé,” right?  Well, here’s how my friendship with Matt has shaped my understanding of ministry and life.

Among other things, I have thoroughly enjoyed our friendship. We have backpacked along a section of the Appalachian Trail, attended the annual NABS-
WACC (an ecumenical broadcasting group) conference together, took cameras out to shoot nature’s beauty, and shared an appreciation for movies. Not incidentally, I was his best man at his wedding to Rachel.

More to the point in this space is that I’ve learned from him the value of leaping into creative projects that many folks only imagine or daydream about. Yes, Matt is a pastor, and a story-telling preacher, with literary gifts that express gospel truths through fictional narrative. He has shared his stories with me through the years, and I am always intrigued by his creative and sometimes playful insights. Matt is also a musician, a guitar-playing troubadour who not only writes his own songs, but has the common sense to surround himself with talented musicians who enrich the mix of his concerts and recordings. See, I only dream of writing short stories. And I never  practiced any musical instrument long enough to actually make a pleasurable sound. And I’m not much on collaboration. Yet, I do see in Matt Matthews’  lively ministry some hope for my own, even in my retirement. Heck, I’m writing now, aren’t I? (Don’t ask me to do this 40 day thing in meter or rhyme though.)

And Matt’s latest triumph (and I have carefully used that word) is his newly published novel Mercy Creek. What a good read this book is! Since I have read much of his early writing, I can attest to the progress he’s made as an author. He has matured in his ability to move us into the heart of his imagination. I started to go on about Mercy Creek, but will save my review until my forty essays have come to an end. Just watch this space, though.

I guess Matt did indeed go into media ministry, but instead of following me in radio-video, he uses the media of stories and songs to broadcast the gospel seeds of compassion and justice, of unconditional love, and peace that is within reach, if not at hand. What a blessing to have such friends around us! And what a good and pleasant thing it is when protegés turn the tables on us.