This weekend the Lake Avenue Memorial Baptist Church of Rochester, NY celebrated the last Sunday of their beloved pastor Rev. Peter JB Carman. I was unable to be present for the service so I thought I would publish my thoughts of thanksgiving for the person I consider to be my pastor.
A number of years ago when the VOR and I drove from Richmond, VA to Rochester, NY so that I could explore the possibility of transferring from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, VA to Colgate Rochester Divinity School one of the first people I spoke with was Peter Carman. I met Peter because someone pointed to him and his church as a modern example of church living out the social gospel. From the get-go Peter was warm, thoughtful, and gracious. His example and presence clearly steered my vocational choice.
I transferred schools thinking that I would have a better chance of getting into a top PhD program with a degree from CRDS. I wanted to devote my life to the study of the social gospel, especially the life and writings of Walter Rauschenbusch. The school, at that time, housed the American Baptist Historical Society's library (which is the steward of the Rauschenbusch papers). I did immerse myself in the life and writings of Rauschenbusch. Looking back on the school almost 10 years removed I can genuinely say they did approach ministry from a social gospel perspective. I took the maximum number of classes, audited two every semester, and spent any spare time in the archives; I even worked in the archives so I could spend more time with the material. During all of this time, however, I was worshipping at Lake Avenue and watching and conversing with Peter. His presence and words graced me so when it came time to submit application papers to PhD programs I found myself saying "No" and saying "Yes" to pastoral ministry.
Peter Carman witnessed for me that one could be a scholar, a pastor, a friend, a husband, and a father. Peter showed me how one could be a liberal and love Jesus with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. Peter showed me that being a liberal is not about being against conservatives but is about the true root of the word liber: to be free. I have taken this admonishment to heart - I am not a pastor who seeks to make others in my own image. I simply want to help folk to be free people, free people living out the image of God within them. I am still amazed at the various theological positions of folk at the church I serve. When I describe myself as an evangelical liberal I think of this model as my working definition.
After I chose (or it chose me) the pastoral vocation I went to work in WV. I loved the church and my time there. After a couple of years it was apparent (due to finances) I would have to explore another call. I looked for a little piece then Peter called "Hey Travis I used to serve a church in Lincoln, RI - would you care if I submitted your name." I said sure but there was no way I was moving to RI, I thought it would be good experience. A few phone calls, an interview and yada yada yada I was called to be the pastor of the Lime Rock Baptist Church. During my tenure here I have leaned on Peter and am thankful for his advice, his causing me to laugh, and his integrity.
Peter will soon begin a new venture as the pastor of the Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church. I know he will do a great job and the church will be a even greater presence in Chapel Hill and the research triangle area. Godspeed Peter and family.
One last note, while I was going through the ordination process Peter insisted on talking to my dad one day while we were in Rochester. My dad enjoyed Peter very much; my dad was not easily impressed but Peter impressed him.