Dr. Donald Macleod served as a mentor and friend when I began studies at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1969. This Scottish Presbyterian revered Psalm 100 as an international anthem of God’s gracious friendship towards humankind. Its crescendo rises at the grand finale of praise: For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to the end of the ages.
When Donald Macleod stood by you, a student in his class knew this professor seldom fell away as a fair-weather friend. . We saw ourselves as “Macleod’s Men,” though the language may be sexist, it’s how we described ourselves on campus when few women studied for ministry. He received telephone contacts from a myriad of Search Committees looking to fill their pulpits. When “Dr. Mac” extolled the strengths of one of his “men,” Pastoral Search Committees seemingly treated Macleod’s inventory of candidates as the very voice of the Lord.
Since graduating from Princeton Seminary in 1972, I have stayed in touch with “Dr. Mac,” sending him sermon manuscripts, as well as commentaries written for both secular and religious presses. He unfailingly responded with helpful comments and incisive insights. Once a student of his, always a student, loyal “Dr. Mac” believed.
My heart broke after he answered one of my periodic telephone calls. He no longer recognized my voice. I understand a kind Princeton classmate visited and read to him my letters and scribblings.
One memory is especially precious to me.
Tucked in the northeast corner of New Brunswick Presbytery, where the seminary is located, is the First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Pleasant, a community of faith I served in my first charge. Though begun by Scot Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed in the 1730s, this church in Mt. Pleasant never grew much. Blink once, and you passed through this hamlet.
I regularly invited Princetonians “Dr. Mac”, David Crawford, Elmer Homrighausen, and Norman Victor Hope to preach for me.
On one occasion when he was scheduled to preach, Sunday came with frigid rain pelting the roads, turning them into ice rinks. A few hearty parishioners straggled into worship. “Dr. Mac” traveled serpentine rural roads in his patented Cadillac roadster and preached to the shivering few. I apologized for the slim crowd. He would hear none of it. “Dr. Mac” said the pews were stuffed with angels and archangels. “Your people need the Bread of Life,” he reminded me, “as much as those in the crowded Riverside sanctuary next Sunday.” Following his engagement at Mt. Pleasant, he preached at the Riverside Church in Manhattan.
Early in my seminary studies, I found my course load crammed in a semester when “Dr. Mac” taught Presbyterian Worship, kept for posterity in a book by the same name. So, I audited the course. “Dr. Mac” showed deep gratitude for my interests in his course, especially during the 1960s when students vacated the chapel in order to “worship” as catalysts for social change in Washington, D.C.
Whereas some considered his demeanor stuffy, I found his droll wit bone-rattling funny. Yes, he exhibited a crisp personality that didn’t suffer fools gladly. His vision of worship clashed with cultural norms that decreed introducing inane, casual conversations from pulpits. “Dr. Mac” believed worship must reflect Isaiah’s vision, “high and lifted up.” He didn’t delight in the degradation hip language foisted on worship in the 1960s. Worship must be suffused with a divine pulse.
The ancients, tongue-tied when describing all there is to God’s majesty, confessed He was a rock. Unwavering. Strong. Dependable.
“Dr. Mac’s” friendship reflected this divine, faithful strength.
JACK R. VAN ENS, is an author and Presbyterian minister who heads Creative Growth Ministries in Arvada, Colo.