Tribute to "Jack" White highlights memorial service

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Professor Katie Day’s tribute to "Jack" White highlights November 27, 2012 memorial service for late, retired seminary faculty member

At one point in her moving, sermonic memorial tribute to the late Philadelphia Seminary Professor Andrew J. “Jack” White, his former colleague the Rev. Dr. Katie Day acknowledged that some in the room may not have known White personally.

“But you know him if you are part of Mt. Airy because of the indelible mark he left on the community, on the fabric and character of this school, and the neighborhoods here,” Day said.

Prof. Jack White in 2005The evening memorial service honoring White, who died last May 6 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his second wife, Phyllis Ann, was delayed nearly a month because of Superstorm Sandy. But the remarks by Day, who described White to be her “earliest and closest colleague” when she first joined the seminary faculty in 1985, were worth waiting for. In addition to the family, including his son, Jamie, and seminary community, the service was attended by those in the Mt. Airy community who had known White.

Day, the Charles A. Schieren Professor of Church and Society and director of the seminary’s Metropolitan and Urban Programs, began by saying how honored she was “to be invited to preach about a friend and colleague to so many of us for 30 years and someone who was a neighbor for longer than that.” She said it was fitting that earlier in the day the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Endowed Chair, which White once held, had been conferred upon faculty member Dr. Jon Pahl. She joked that as a Presbyterian (pastor), having the memorial service and chairing on the same day was probably “predestined.”

“Jack was vibrant and effective in his relationship to students, and when he took over the role of supervising interns here he had to let go of some of his teaching responsibilities, and he was always gracious and supportive of me, a green, junior colleague,” Day said. “We have such vivid memories, including those of a beloved husband…with that beautiful white hair and sunny disposition -– always.”

She noted that the Scriptures for the evening (1 Corinthians 13: 8-13; James 3: 1, 13; and John 14:1-3, 25-28) “well reflect who Jack was.”… From James, … “not everyone should become a teacher because you will be judged harshly … Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in gentleness borne of wisdom.” She said White’s character demonstrated gentleness borne of wisdom.

Day read remarks from former seminary president Robert Hughes, who following ordination in 1962 decided to take a seminar class with White because he had grown tired of “lecture-style” classes in seminary. Seven students in the classes heard “mini-lectures” from White and then gave short papers on strategies they were using to engage their congregations. Hughes wrote about plans for an after-school drop-in center for teens awaiting a school bus at his congregation in Ashland, PA.

Prof. White in 1997“Jack White was a mentor (later a colleague),” Hughes wrote. “He gave me a precious gift.” The center, an ecumenical model, operated from when Hughes created and staffed it until the local school board adjusted the school bus schedule to be more accommodating for students. Hughes, who could not attend the memorial event, wrote that White also was careful in his placement of seminarian interns.

Day noted that White’s “gentleness borne of wisdom was not limited to the campus. He served on community boards like East Mt. Airy Neighbors and Mt. Airy USA.” In a time when many adhered to the notion of separation of church and state, she said “that wasn’t Jack. He had no conflict in serving his political party and his neighbors.” She said after Jack left the campus the school had never returned to being a “monastic presence” but to this day maintains its public presence and theology.

Day turned to 1 Corinthians and passages on love. She said White’s retirement from the seminary was “graceful and definitive … I got a large chunk of his library and scrapbooks” as a demonstration of White’s love. “What endures? Love,” Day said. She recalled that when White and his first wife, Mimi, retired, “they hit the road, volunteering from Texas to Bratislava even when her health declined…They focused on repairing the world. They demonstrated that what endures is love, not knowledge.”

Day acknowledged the love White and second wife, Phyllis Ann, found together after Mimi’s death. She referenced the writing C.S. Lewis penned after the loss of his love, “I never knew grief felt so much like fear. It hits the core of your being. You fear how you will go on and fill the hole in your heart …”

She then turned to the passages from John, “Peace I leave with you … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. In God’s house are many dwelling places … I go to prepare a place for you.”

She recalled West Side Story and its music, the scene of Tony’s dying and still singing “There’s a place for us …” She noted the power of Puerto Rican teens affirming their hope that there is a place of acceptance and safety for them.

“Jesus in John had a bigger vision with the promise of God that there are many places for us,” Day said. “Jack had a concern for developing low-income, affordable housing … God promises safe, affordable housing for all of eternity. That gives us hope. Jack would like that …”

Presiding minister for the service was seminary President Philip D.W. Krey. Assisting ministers were Mary Hansen-Joyce and Daniel Purtell. Ushers were Timothy Hearn and Angel Marrero-Ayala. Sacristans were Colleen Montgomery and Kat Steinly. Director of Music Ministries Michael Krentz furnished the music.