Last month, I did something I’ve been dreading for almost 20 years. I spoke at the memorial service for my college chaplain, The Rev. Dr. Talmage Skinner who was the chaplain at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina from 1986 until his retirement in 2003. Talmage was a United Methodist minister who spent most of his ministry at two colleges and mentored hundreds, probably thousands of students. Twenty years ago, when I was his student and discerning my own calling to ministry, he told me and a couple of other peers that he wanted us to have a role in his memorial service.
A lot happens in 20 years, and we hadn’t spoken about that conversation since then. But shortly after his death a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from one of the other students he had asked to participate; an invitation to fulfill his wishes. I believed it and, yet, I couldn’t. There were so many of us who loved him dearly, who were mentored by him, who also had deeply meaningful things to say.
Knowing that, I decided to reach out to a cross-section of Wofford alumni and asked them to write a couple of paragraphs about Talmage’s influence as a student as well as how it had shaped them to be who they are now. Selfishly, I’m glad I did this. The reflections were beautiful and deserve their own place to be shared. I used some of the common themes to help shape my remarks for the memorial service. People cited his words from the homily he preached at their wedding, how he had influenced their vocation (many are now clergy), and how he brought patience, understanding, and openness to the pastoral conversations he had with them as students and alumni. He was truly a gift to so many people.
The scripture text I was given to read at the service was a passage from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament. In that letter Paul tells the Romans that if God is for us who can be against us and that it’s Jesus Christ who intercedes on their behalf. It was clear that Talmage Skinner interceded on behalf of all of these people who shared their reflections with me. He stepped into their lives and offered wise counsel, a loving heart and listening ear, and a space for them to settle in to their true identity. This was such an appropriate text, because in so many ways Talmage was for us and by being for us demonstrated that God is for us. He helped us know and embody what the apostle Paul tried to communicate to the Romans, that none of us can be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is a central part of the Christian faith that too often gets missed, left out, or forgotten.
I suspect there’s someone in your life who has done for you what Talmage Skinner did for me and so many others. I suspect someone in your life has interceded on your behalf and been a real advocate. No matter who it was, if they’re still alive I hope you’ll call them or write them a gratitude letter or email, so they’ll know the impact they’ve had. If they’re not alive then find a way to tell a story about them to someone else. Stories are powerful and have the potential to carry forward the legacy that others have given us. They also have the power to shape others through our telling of them. Ultimately, though, may you live your life in a way that will carry forward those legacies, in a way that will help people know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University. He’s a 1999 graduate of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.