Monday, January 17, 2005

Doc Englert

Sad news from last Saturday: Donald Englert died at the age of 95.

"Doc" was a former parishioner of mine at Faith United Church of Christ over on Wabank Road. He was an amazing guy, and he will be missed.

The details from his obituary only scratch the surface. They never do capture all there is to know about a person.

Doctor Englert earned a Ph.D. from Dropsie College for Hebrew—he was proud to be the first gentile to do so—and was the Old Testament professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary for 37 years. Every time I preached on the Old Testament, I could be sure that he would have a correction, more details, or a conversation about interpretation ready for me by the time he shook my hand on the way out the door.

His wife Ethel would lose patience eventually. "Come on, now" she would say in her always-cheerful tone, "you're holding up the line."

And then Doc would call me that night to add one more bit or to pass on a joke in his dry, direct voice.

He told the world's worst jokes: well-delivered groaners of puns. The one that comes to mind concerns the family of a former student, whom he encouraged to grow certain bushy flowers under growing lamps, and to peek out at them occasionally, so that they could speak of "while Shepards watched their phlox by night..."

See what I mean?

Doc was an old-school liberal, meaning he was more interested in doing the right thing than in partisan politics. His obituary mentions that he "helped organize the Lancaster Interracial Council and the Lancaster Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews." But he also worked in a ground-breaking integration program in St. Louis, and lent his support to many causes over the years.

He was a pastor during the Depression. He used to tell me that he started out as an interim, but then the economy collapsed, and no one dared leave a church for fear of not finding another. His congregation was happy to keep him around a few more years.

He was ordained in 1934, and got irritated when I marked the 65th anniversary of his ministry one Sunday morning. He didn't like the fuss.

Of all the things he could be remembered for, though, I think he himself would have picked only a few. He was proud of his work on II Samuel, of course. But some of his fondest memories were of organizing the Seminary basketball teams in the 1940s and 50s. He was still bitter that he lost a good recruit in one of my senior colleagues—as that colleague was approaching retirement age. Students who played on his teams recalled with a laugh Dr. Englert's penchant for arguing with the refs.

More than anything, however, I think Doc would have wanted to be remembered as a good husband and friend to Ethel. He delighted in taking her to lunch, in how she fussed over—and at—him. She was his conversation partner, his steadying force, and when Doc did weddings at the Seminary chapel, the attendant who reassured nervous brides and straightened their trains as they walked down the stairs an into married life. Through it all, she kept up a ready laugh and an enthusiasm for life that knew no bounds.

All of us who knew Dr. Englert will miss him, but none more than Ethel. We wish her well in what is surely a very difficult time, and we promise that Doc's example will live on with us.

And God help us, so will some of those corny jokes.

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