Attentiveness: Honoring Faithfulness
Before he was Fr. Ray, he was Dr. Pendleton, a counseling professor for (probably) thousands of seminary students, including me.
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
This past Sunday Fr. Ray Pendleton celebrated the Eucharist for the last time at the age of 90 (plus one day!).
Before he was Fr. Ray he was Dr. Pendleton, a counseling professor for (probably) thousands of seminary students, including me.
I realized, receiving the body and blood of Jesus from the hands of Fr. Ray on that Sunday, that there is a deeply spiritual work of healing and connection that happens in the Eucharist (we call it communion). On my knees I looked up at this senior saint as he handed me the host and whispered, “The body of Christ . . . .” Why did this moment bring me to tears?
After nearly a half a century of teaching counseling at Gordon-Conwell, along with close to six decades of personal counseling, and again decades of being a pastor and then priest, there is so much behind the voice and hand carrying out the sacred task of extending costly grace that Sunday morning. All the stories, all the broken lives, and the restoration of lives and families, all the years of meditating on God’s Word and receiving a word in season—all of this gathered behind that single gentle gesture of serving of the broken body through an outstretched hand.
Faithful. Kind. Attentive. Encouraging. These words were used over lunch in describing the good Father to the congregation. One priest mentioned that he considered Fr. Ray one of his best friends, despite being separated by about 50 years. It was clear that there was a special connection between the two as he spoke with great affection.
Certainly, this priest, counselor, and professor has seen and experienced great suffering and pain in those three important roles—much suffering. But last Sunday, on the other side of this life of service to others (ministry) was joy, celebration, thanksgiving, and (did I say joy?) laughter.
Providentially the lectionary Psalm for the day was Psalm 92:
“. . . The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
And shall spread abroad like a cedar in Lebanon . . . .
They also shall bring forth fruit in their old age,
And shall be green and full of sap,
That they may show how upright the Lord is.
My rock, in whom there is no unrighteousness . . .” (vs 11, 13, 14)
During the time of thanksgiving and sharing, we were being taught again by Fr. Ray. Listening to the wisdom, faithfulness, and kindness of Fr. Ray made us all a little better. We couldn’t help but ponder these characteristics for ourselves. He was teaching even as he sat silent with natural grin, occasional tears, and a faraway stare as if scanning his decades of service.
We learn and we become better when we honor these faithful saints. I ask myself, can I be so faithful? Can I learn to listen so well and to be so encouraging to others? Lord, help me.
“Jesus, may I not be so busy, pre-occupied, or self-absorbed as to miss the important task of sitting at the feet of our senior saints. Teach us to be like them as they are like Jesus. And make us so faithful in the midst of the storms and sufferings of this life. Amen.”
Well done, good and faithful servant.
“Attentiveness” is a weekly blog by Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.