Monday, October 28, 2013

Between Reformation and All Saints'

Back in the 1970s, when I was in college, one of the Lutheran pastors in my hometown was named Arthur Cullen Bryant. A descendant of poet William Cullen Bryant, he was a native of Brooklyn, if I remember correctly, and he had served as a pastor in New York and also Chicago before being assigned to our small town, Vandalia, IL.

I forget how I met him, but he was interested in local history and we both attended meetings of the historical and genealogical societies. I was exploring a call to ministry at that time, and we met informally to chat about the work. He showed me an article that he had written on a social issue and gave me encouragement. I liked him very much.

The summer before I left for divinity school, he died of a heart attack at the age of 51. His wife Marion was also ill from cancer, and she died later that year. He had pastored both in town and at a rural Lutheran church, and he and Marion were buried in the country cemetery associated with the latter church.

I try to thank people who have been helpful to me or a witness to me, but sometimes that's not possible. I did acknowledge Art and Marion in the introduction of my first book, a history of Vandalia, and I visit their graves during many visits to my hometown. I regret not being able to update him about my progress through school and church work, but of course my regret pales next to regret their children surely feel at the early loss of their parents.

Yesterday, for Reformation Sunday, we sang "A Mighty Fortress" in church, which was sung at Pastor Bryant's funeral. The yearly proximity of Reformation Sunday to All Saints' Day struck me particularly this year as I thought again of my years-ago friend and his family.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

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