In Remembrance, Rev. Dr. Lonnie McLeod

Dr. Tyler Hendricks, speaking at the memorial service, Grace United Methodist Church, New York, October 31, 2009

in memoriam lmcleodRev. Dr. Lonnie McLeod, Jr. 1948-2009I'm here representing Unification Theological Seminary and I'd like to ask that our alumni, faculty, current students and staff who are here please rise, for I am speaking on your behalf. Dr. Lonnie McLeod served our school with honor and merit for some seven years. It was a pleasure and benefit for us all to have him with us as professor, ecumenical advancement officer and Dean of the New York Extension. But my heart for Lonnie is personal more than professional. And as I reflect, he had the ability to personalize the professional, to bring love and caring into the sometimes too cool and arms-length world of academia. All of us at UTS have our Lonnie McLeod stories, and I hope mine can open a little window on all of them.

Lonnie told me that he grew up in an all-white town in the Carolinas, and the only church was white and did not welcome his family and so they worshiped at home. Their message each Sunday was the Bible, and he as a child was the one appointed to read the Bible. They had no minister, no theology, no doctrine-just the family and the Bible. To me, that explains Lonnie. The family and the Bible. And he was the reader; he was the story-teller, the truth-teller. So his theology was fresh, original and common sense. I never heard anyone talk about Jesus and Moses and Noah the way Lonnie did. They were part of his home and family.

Lonnie had a generosity of spirit. There were many occasions when he could have criticized, me as his seminary president and Lonnie never did any of that. I made mistakes, even to his detriment, that he could have called me on, but from Lonnie I got only understanding, only caring, only approval. "You did what you could. You did what you had to do. It's over now. Let's go forward."

Lonnie had a great capacity to take things as they come, and not give a second thought to what might have been. He was a man at peace with himself. He could laugh at himself. I can see him smiling his infectious smile-and he smiled with his eyes and whole face, not just his mouth. I can see him smiling a moment after his body fell to the floor, and accepting it, fully at peace.

He told me that he got angry sometimes, but I never witnessed it-and I'm glad I didn't. The most I saw was this. He wouldn't raise his voice; his tone and cadence and facial expression did not change. He just held out his clenched fists. And he has big fists. And I knew, Lonnie is serious about this.

[At this point I took off my watch and held it up.] This is my Lonnie McLeod watch. It was a wedding present from my wife's father back in 1980, and after a few years it stopped working. They told me it would cost $150 to fix. So I let it sit and got by with cheap watches or no watch. And somehow, last year on a long drive to Washington, DC, and back, just Lonnie and me, I talked about this watch. Lonnie was someone with whom you could talk about anything, because he cared and was a natural counselor. So Lonnie told me to bring him the watch, and I did, and it still wasn't cheap to fix. But he said, you got a birthday coming up, right? And he had it repaired for me, as a birthday present. So two people gave me this watch-my father-in-law, and Lonnie McLeod. And I'll wear it until the day I meet Lonnie next time.

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