Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

Conservationist before it was popular is unforgettable

Lately I have been thinking about one of the most unforgettable personalities I have met. Chances are that no one reading this column will know Dr. Cullen I. Story, who was my teacher at Princeton Seminary, but that doesn’t matter. Because I want to tell you about him as an example of a person who truly lived his Christianity.

Dr. Story was the teacher of Greek and Hebrew for the seminary. That, in itself, is unusual. Most of the time a professor teaches one or the other — never both. But Dr. Story was not only amazing in his knowledge of the Biblical languages, he was expert in his ability to teach students how to read these puzzling texts and to love doing it.

Those techniques would be worth a column of their own, but that is not why I remember Dr. Story. I remember him, because as I say, he lived his Christianity.

For one thing, he went to chapel every day. Yes, at seminary, there is a chapel service every day, for preachers are supposed to love going to church. But, of course, it is the aspiring preachers who do the preaching, and to everyone (except themselves) their sermons are perfectly awful. To give some relief from hearing the students learning to preach, the professors are invited to take their turn — showing the students how it is to be done.

By and large seminary professors are longwinded, esoteric, or harping on some special issue that was their pet “cause.” Usually, the students could care less.

I tell you all this because unlike many of the students — and most of the faculty — Dr. Story went to chapel every day. I cannot tell you if he enjoyed it. But he was there. Day in and day out. He was there. I confess that I did not always go. But I was told that Dr. Story did.

His action has left its impression as I realize that my own sermons may not be scintillating every Sunday. (Sometimes I don’t even like listening to me!)

And when Dr. Story stepped into the pulpit, he did not try to be eloquent or shockingly profound. Nor did he ride his theological hobby horse. He simply tried to say as clearly as he could what the Bible taught on some subject of importance to our spiritual lives. Since no one doubted his intimate acquaintance with these subjects (in both Greek and Hebrew, as I have noted), people tended to listen to what he had to say. As it were, he had “earned” the right to be heard.

More than anything else, I remember Dr. Story’s commitment to a simple lifestyle. The town of Princeton was far ahead of most other university towns in becoming an “upscale” place to live. Lots of Wall Street brokers and Philadelphia lawyers had discovered the quiet charms of the place and had driven the cost of real estate sky high (as well as the prices of all the quaint little stores).

Dr. Story decided that Princeton was too expensive for a Christian committed to simplicity to live in, so he and his wife had moved over to a blue collar community nearby, and he preached on Sundays in the town’s little church.

He also recycled paper and plastic and glass long before it was fashionable to do so, and rigged up an ingenious hot water heating system with solar panels to heat his house. We not only learned Biblical ethics from Dr. Story, we also learned how to make tea by sitting the pitcher in the window to get the light of the sun.

What did Dr. Story do with all the money he saved from these projects? He gave it to the church’s humanitarian work overseas, and helped countless international students who wanted to study in Princeton.

I can still see him striding across the campus — his Bible and concordance both bound up with black tape. No need for buying new ones — but my, those old books had gotten lots of use!

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