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Having a catch

The Coote family of Bob and Polly and their two daughters, Marian and Margaret, were our next door neighbors in faculty housing at San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS).  The Chinn family arrived fresh from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon in July, 1978, in the house next door, 138 Bolinas Avenue, San Anselmo. 

Bob earned his PhD in Old Testament Studies from Harvard and had been teaching at SFTS for 3 years when we arrived on campus.  The Coote and the Chinn families moved into the seminary homes on Bolinas Avenue the same year, 1978.  It didn’t take long for us to become friends.  Our friendship has grown and deepened over the years, even after I left the faculty in 1990.  I came to SFTS on a 3 year appointment to serve as Chaplain and to assist in the Department of Ministry.  It was a newly created position to bring on campus an active “practicing” pastor from the parish to enhance the practical dimension of the curriculum.  As chaplain, I provided pastoral care to students, faculty and staff.   In the Department of Ministry, I assisted the Director in the Field Education program which included a “Shadow” experience for first year students and an internship in the third year.  God had other plans.

The 3 year appointment was non-renewable so that the seminary could cycle in a new pastor from the field every 3 years.  Two significant events changed all of that.  The Director of the Department of Ministry, Howard Rice, was elected Moderator of the General Assembly, a two year assignment which would take him away from campus and many of his teaching and administrative responsibilities.  The President of the seminary called me into his office and offered me a new contract, replacing the 3 year non-renewable contract with a “permanent” appointment, so that I could take over the responsibilities of the Director.  In Howard’s absence, I became the Director of the Department of Ministry.  My family was thrilled.  The second significant event occurred at the end of my first year.  I learned that the Biblical faculty was looking for someone to teach the Hebrew introductory course.  I applied and was accepted.  So teaching Hebrew was added to my responsibilities.

Teaching Hebrew brought me closer to Bob.  I turned to him for assistance with the language and for any help with instruction.  We began discussing the Bible, in particular how one might preach a text.  Because Hebrew and Old Testament were my favorite subjects when I was a student, Bob and I had a shared interest and love.  Then came the Senior Seminar which we taught together.  The seminar was Bob’s brain-child.  “The Use of the Bible in Ministry” challenged our students to find appropriate and relevant biblical texts to address case situations in ministry.  Bob provided the biblical scholarship and I provided the ministry context and experience.  It was a very popular and demanding seminar. Bob and I loved teaching the course together.

I don’t remember how it started.  But I can’t imagine anything that better captures our relationship than when we have a catch together.  While we don’t solve any of the problems of the world (not for lack of effort), we are not deterred.  We are not afraid to discuss anything; and we always talk baseball. (We’ve made one pilgrimage to Spring Training; that’s another story which I will write about another time).  With each throw, we add a comment to the topic of discussion.  And our topics range anywhere from campus politics to church life, from the Bible to baseball, from faculty to family, from students to sermons, from faith to forgiveness, from ministry to music, from politics to pulpit.  There is something in the act of throwing, in the grip, in the release, in watching the flight of the ball, in the feel of the ball settling into the glove; the rhythm and the process repeating itself over and over again.  As the ball flies back and forth, time is lost on us.  Time is irrelevant.  Contained in that rhythm and routine, we are held by a mutual trust and love.  We bring who we are to the moment, to the topic of conversation.  We are free in our thoughts and in what we say, smooth and natural as in the throwing and catching of the ball.  There is an absence of judgment because where we may disagree we see it as another way of looking at things.  We honor and respect each other, valuing what each has to say.  We experience reverence in our relationship.  And you can witness that in the flight of the ball, with every throw and catch.

3 thoughts on “Having a catch”

  1. Am I interpreting correctly that you two still regularly meet to have a catch together? If there is room which doesn’t invade privacy on this question, how has Bob Coote’s life journey continued since those early years at SFTS as compared to your life journey?
    I have always appreciated your teaching us Sunday School of Discipleship students the meaning of different words in Hebrew. The way the sounds rolled out of your throat suggested that you really enjoyed doing it. I kept wishing you would offer us a class in Hebrew, but you never did (woe was me).

  2. Gwen, Bob and I still meet to have a catch, but not as regularly as we’d like. Furthermore, because of our aging arms, coupled with my hearing loss, the distance between us is not great. Bob is working on a new book!

  3. Hi Cal,
    What a wonderful way to have a conversation. I’ll bet that some problems could be solved if world leaders would discuss issues like you and Bob.

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