I live in Cleveland, Tennessee. I teach at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary: A Ministry of the Church of God (now that’s a name for you) which is across the street from Lee University. I drive through the Lee campus most weekdays. Hence, I am constantly confronted with memories of my time there as a student. The campus has drastically changed; Cheryl says Paul Conn is a charter member of the “Building a Month” club. It does seem there is at least one new building every year. But the core of the campus remains much as it was thirty years ago, neater, cleaner, more flowers, but much the same at least from the outside. And so I have memories. Other than all the cherished time with Cheryl, my memories center on chapel, dorm life, the cafeteria, but mostly on conversations with faculty.
Dr. Martin Baldree was a great influence on my life. He was my second cousin once removed but I don’t think I ever got him to acknowledge that. His grandmother and my great grandmother were sisters if I understand correctly. When I was about ten my mom and dad introduced me to Martin’s father at a family reunion at the Laura S. Walker State Park in southern Georgia. My dad had referred to Martin occasionally, they were about the same age and Dad knew everybody who ever lived in Brantley County and all their children’s names. Martin had no idea who we were, he was a PK who had lived all over Florida.
Ken Andrews, my pastor in Alabama, thought very highly of Martin and encouraged me to get to know him. Since God had been very specific (“transfer to Lee College and major in Christian Education”) and Martin was the chairman of the department of CE I suspected it inevitable I would get to know him well, and I did. He was my advisor and I took all of the classes he taught, except Science and the Bible which at the time he team taught with Dr. O’Bannon.
Martin was of average height and of slim built. He had a contagious laugh. He chuckled often which usually crescendoed into a full blast of joy. He was extremely well read at least in all areas of ministry. He was one of the first Pentecostals to earn a doctorate in religion from an accredited school. His major assignments were often practical, gathering and preparing materials we could use in the local church. Yet he expected a high level of critical reasoning which is probably why I came to appreciate him so much. He encouraged discussion and I thrived on it. My approach was to take an extreme position and proceed to argue my point just short of frustrating (angering) him. For me this was a strategy of discovery. I wanted to know what he really thought because I valued his opinion, and so I learned quickly how to push his buttons. By giving me room to work through the options using him as a protagonist he gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. Martin helped me clarify what I truly believed about Christian living. He is the only professor I have ever had who gave me so much liberty to learn (Dr. Findley B. Edge – a professor of Martin’s as well – at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary came close). In the process it gave him a very skewed picture of me. He once said to me that he couldn’t figure out if I was a very liberal conservative or a very conservative liberal. I responded “both.” I shall always be thankful for Dr. J. Martin Baldree. He was one of those rare college teachers who engaged me as a person around things that mattered to me all within the scope of the curriculum; he wasn’t given to impressing others with his degrees.
Other faculty influenced me as well. I am also especially thankful for Dr. James Beaty who would later become a dear friend and grandfather figure for my daughters. James Slay was a great influence in part because of his endless anecdotes and in part because of his personal interest in my relationship with Cheryl; he would often stop us in the hallways and ask me in front of her “Do you know she is PH, wonderful people those P.H.”. I also took a couple of classes with Ron Harris (who still teaches at Lee) who always took a personal interest in me; I enjoyed just talking with him. Beatrice Odom has remained a powerful influence through her charming character and grace filled life. Two of my professors, Drs. Arrington and Gause would have a much greater influence on me when I became a student at the Church of God School of Theology (now the Pentecostal Seminary where I teach).
These are some of the faculty who influenced my life. I observed other professors giving similar attention to my fellow students. Almost without exception they were great men and women of God who saw their ministry at Lee as a Divine appointment. The vast majority of them are now retired or in heaven. I know many of the current Lee faculty and the majority shares the same vision and ministry. I am thankful for all of the Godly teachers at Lee, past and present. They have/are helping generation after generation of adolescents become adults who can think clearly and contribute to the greater good, most for the cause of Christ.
January 11, 2010