Dr. Fred B. Craddock died this morning. This breaks my heart. More people than you can imagine will have a story to share about him, a truth of how he touched their lives and made a difference in their way of being faithful. This is mine.
By pure luck and circumstance, perhaps, although what I believe to be true about this life we live would claim that God had some sort of hand in it all, I found myself, halfway through my time as a student at Lexington Theological Seminary, offered a six-month internship at Cherry Log Christian Church, a then (15 or so years ago) fledgling congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). CLCC was so new that they’d only just moved in to a sanctuary proper, having been worshipping in a rented community space for some time.
This congregation, nestled in a little town in North Georgia most well-known for being a weekend cabin destination spot for Atlanta’s upwardly mobile professionals and recent retirees, was led by a pastor by the name of Fred Craddock.
My colleagues and friends in Disciples ministry circles know the name, because we learned early and well to listen when Fred spoke, to read what Fred wrote, to pay attention to what Fred lived. This is an article published in 2011 that is, perhaps, one of the most important things ever written about him, should you not know his name.
Fred was a giant in the world of Christian preaching. But he was, in life, so very unassuming. He was short of stature, kind in eye, gentle in the way he spoke, even as his words carried tremendous truth and power. For six months, every Sunday, I hung on his every word, and I watched with awe as he pastored to and communicated with–with equal ease and grace–the lowliest mountain man, desperate from a crumb from any table, to some of the richest, most well-titled families in North Georgia, to the most educated of retired college professors.
Except the Sunday I had to preach, at his request. Not because he was going to be gone, but because he wanted me to preach. “No, thank you,” was not an option. So I said yes, of course I would, even as my stomach lurched and my heart skipped a couple of beats at the thought of preaching before this man who had–quite literally–written the book(s) on preaching.
It was a Sunday in Advent. And the year before, my aunt and uncle, after many long and painful years of waiting for a child, had adopted my cousin Isaac. And in my sermon, I talked about Isaac, how his coming among us had been a miraculous thing, a new thing, full of hope. And how that reminded me of how Mary must have felt at Jesus’ birth.
After the service, as I stood at the pulpit greeting some folks, Fred walked quietly over, placed one hand on over mine where it sat resting on the pulpit, and he said, “Thank you for your words. Well done.”
Behind the pulpit at Cherry Log Christian Church was a small step stool, an old wooden one, embroidered with the initials “FBC.” I have no idea how many people knew that stool was there. Or how many pulpits that stool had been set behind. To even tell of it feels entirely too intimate, like I’m telling someone else’s secret. But that stool is my favorite memory from CLCC.
Fred stood on that stool when he preached.
And I, every Sunday at Cherry Log, when I stood at the pulpit to offer a prayer or the invitation to offering, or some words about communion, I’d have to discreetly slide that stool out of the way, with one foot. To stand on it would have meant my 5’9″ self would be too tall to read any notes I might have sitting on Fred’s pulpit.
And every time I scooted that stool aside…well, it felt like sacrilege.
Like I was a little girl playing dress up, stepping into shoes too big for me.
Only…Fred would’ve had none of that on my part. None at all. Because for him it wasn’t about the status, the titles, the endowed teaching positions or the TV interviews or the disciples of his work flung far and wide. For him, it was about loving God and following Jesus as best he could.
And that’s all he expected from any of us.