FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A president, a dean and three who have been called martyrs. Some after a lifetime of ministry. Some in the midst of it. Some only at the beginning. 153 in all. Each for a moment remembered by family, friends, colleagues and the generation of Christian men and women who have been called to stand in the gap.
Honoring those who have entered the great cloud of witnesses, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary held its first-ever “Roll Call,” a commemoration service for alumni and students of the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary who died last year.
Those who were honored at the Jan. 21 service represented ministry that spanned seven decades and reached around the world. The names of all 153 were read by the deans of each school. After each dean completed the list for his school, the seminary’s bell tolled seven times.
The names included the three who were murdered at Wedgwood Baptist Sept. 15, Shawn C. Brown, Sydney R. Browning and Kimberly S. Jones. The names also included Robert E. Naylor, president emeritus, and Thomas D. Lea, dean of the school of theology.
Prior to the reading of the names, Lea’s widow, Beverly, lit a remembrance candle on the stage in Truett Auditorium.
Acknowledging that most of the names were unfamiliar to the people who attended the service, Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill asked, “Why do they draw us?”
“I suppose it’s because we remember them and we are encouraged,” he said.
Hemphill spoke briefly on Hebrews 12:1-3, noting the roll call of faith in the previous chapter that included well-known people of faith and “the lesser-knowns” — unnamed prophets, women “who receive back their dead by resurrection” and victims of torture, persecution and harassment.
“You might wonder why at this point in biblical revelation the author would include such a list,” Hemphill said. “There are those who suspect that the author knew that the New Testament church would soon be facing its own persecution and wanted to encourage and to raise up a new generation of heroes.
“Where are the heroes of today? Where are those who will stand in the gap, stand for righteousness in a society that has less room for it, stand for truth when pluralism and syncretism are the words of today?” Hemphill challenged.
Noting the use of a stadium scene in Hebrews 12, Hemphill said the witnesses in the stands are not mere spectators, but former participants “who ran well and did well in their own day” and are now cheering on the participants of today.
“Why did we come to remember?” Hemphill asked again. “Not only to pay our respects to those who have gone before but also to be reminded that the task is now ours, the baton has been passed.”
Hemphill reminded the faculty, staff and students that the passage directs Christians to “lay aside encumbrances,” to be “ruthless” in dealing with one’s own “besetting sin,” to run with endurance and to focus on Jesus.
Recalling a recent visit to a cemetery near Cambridge, England, Hemphill said he and others in the group looked for grave markers for people who shared their last names although they know they are most likely not related.
“You know what’s interesting?” Hemphill concluded, “All the names [read] today had the same last name — Jesus. They ran for him. The same Father. All related. We run the race together.”