What McCormick Seminary Did For Me After Fifty Years

By the Rev Dr Charles G. Yopst, D.Min., R-DMT

The central theme and energizing force in my life and ministry has been the body-active bold imaginative compassion of Jesus Christ and His Word. This compels me to draw others to His Church, to serve Him. The Apostle Paul wrote of this, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

It almost seemed like a dream to celebrate with seven other classmates of the Class of 1959 at McCormick Days, October 29 and 30, 2009. Of my own life story's several periods, before McCormick, I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana with an alcoholic father. A high school Principal's avid interest in Abraham Lincoln lore inspired me to read Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln and then the Bible through. I discovered God's grace. I became a Christian. I found gutsy Hebrew hope. God called me to ministry. A Presbyterian layperson led me to learn from George Sweazey's Effective Evangelism. I was attracted to McCormick Seminary by its urban location and its famous faculty and its class of 1934 which included my pastor Robert MacDanel and the president of my college Gaylord Couchman. At McCormick I studied under George Ernest Wright and Marshall Scott, both also of the Class of 1934. After graduating from McCormick in 1959, I soon discovered and read of the life of the late Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941). Nominated to the high court by President Woodrow Wilson, he greatly expanded the social conscience of American Law. Through his associates, he became a posthumous mentor to me.

Thirteen years after reading Sandburg and Scripture, while serving a small parish near New York City, I met Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. A few years later I sat in Presbytery meetings in New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., where President Lincoln worshipped a century earlier. Near that small New York parish a century earlier, Anna Bartlett Warner had composed "Jesus Loves Me" and General Daniel Butterfield composed "Taps" used in every military memorial since then. The late Bruce Larson had served it as student supply. Pastoring a congregation in suburban Washington, D.C. brought me many rich experiences, including attending assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr's memorial at National Cathedral called by President Lyndon Johnson. My wife Mili and daughter Kathryn and I traveled to Israel, Rome, and London. I took off several years for secular work in banking and retail sales. Then I served an active congregation in south central rural Appalachian Pennsylvania which John Penn, brother of William, deeded in 1766. I had learned that as much as anything else anywhere, people's attitudes are very important.

Returning to Chicago in 1979, near our parents and our daughter's college, I served six interim pastorates, and earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in Group Pastoral Care from McCormick Seminary (1993) in conjunction with a Master's degree and national registry in Expressive Arts Dance/Movement Therapy from Columbia College Chicago (1998), the only protestant clergy-person in history to earn both of these degrees. I had performed liturgical dance earlier. Both of my theses described practical applications of body-active compassion in local congregations. I used these skills to help them to grow in attitudes of bold imaginative compassion. I also ministered in a mental hospital to all populations of mental healing, children, difficult adolescents, geriatrics, sexually abused, and on. In 2004 I received the Dance/Movement Therapy graduate department of Columbia College's first Distinguished Alumni Award. I lead workshops on skills and practices of compassion. I also served as a part-time medical hospital chaplain. These compensated more than enough for no CPE training in 1956-1957. I retired several years ago.

McCormick Seminary nurtured me with vital Biblical studies and also my daily personal devotions. The Seminary also opened my awareness to social needs, whatever social positions and whatever historical Biblical traditions there are, and to the precept that authority is lodged in groups, and with equanimity for opposing views.

After fifty exciting years in ministry, I am grateful to McCormick Theological Seminary for strengthening my faith and compassion and that it continues to graduate such leaders today.