On the Road


Thoughts around the Memory of Stanley Grenz: the Life of a Gentle Radical

Bill Thiessen
Former Program and Personnel Director, Mennonite Central Committee of British Columbia

I was wondering why I felt compelled to attend the service of "Celebration and Thanksgiving" on March 20th, in memory of Stan Grenz- theologian, professor, counselor, prolific author, pastor, and husband and father. (He died on March 12th at age 55 from a massive brain hemorrhage.) I did not know him well; I had met him a few times: once when he addressed a Mennonite Central Committe BC HIV/AIDS support group, which I was chairing in place of Ruth at Peace Mennonite Church, and again informally at a concert at the Chan Centre. I may have met him informally at another occasion or two. However, I had read his book, AIDS: Ministry in the midst of an Epidemic, which had become a classic. I also read articles by him related to the controversy of AIDS and also homosexuality, about which he also wrote a book, Welcoming but not Affirming. He had dedicated this book to Paul Cuilliard, whom he called his friend; Paul was also a friend of MCC, and a person living with AIDS. Excerpts of his writing were included in the Study Guide on HIV/AIDS, (coordinated by Ruth Thiessen), and published by MCCBC in 1997.

So, why did I (and Marianne with me) attend the two-hour service at First Baptist in Vancouver on Sunday afternoon?
It was a personal journey. I came to pay tribute, mourn and to feel a tragic loss. I came to be refreshed.

The words spoken and the tributes shared had eternal quality and confirmed for me that Stan was a rare theologian, deeply respected by his students, peers and superiors. He was an inclusionist, believing firmly in dialogue with those who held differing views, at times to the chagrin of some colleagues.

"The last words Stan would have to say to us, if he could speak once more would be", said Dr. Bruce Milne at the close of his meditation, "LOVE ONE ANOTHER, LOVE ONE ANOTHER, LOVE ONE ANOTHER!" The man who was thought to have no enemies, although there were those who disagreed with him, the man who never was known to have been angry or hold a grudge, would say with credibility, "Love one another". This brilliant, but unassuming, scholar never spoke unkindly of others, not even of "those fundamentalists", who seemed not to catch the vision expressed in Revelations 21.

What was unique about this man? He was a consummate collaborator and bridge builder, believing very deeply in nurturing community, which was rooted in his understanding of the triune God. He lived what he believed.

That was the reason. I wanted to feel the Spirit. I wanted to ride the "wave" again. I wanted to declare my thanks to God for Stan's contribution, although not fully realizing how great it really had been---and will continue to be. Twenty five books--- and counting---and numerous articles, etc.

Why did I attend?

Stan Grenz came along at a critical moment to lend a hand, to provide a boost and moral support, for the MCCBC HIV/AIDS Education Program. We were grateful to him. I came to the memorial service to reiterate thanks on behalf of MCCBC, as it were. When he spoke to a support group in the mid 1990's he addressed the critical question, "Is AIDS a judgement from God?", a subject needing to be discussed in the churches, and which he would have done very capably. He was a much needed voice.

When a person is dying of AIDS, he would reiterate, judgement is the worst kind of punishment. "The church is called to be a community in which fallen creatures can find fellowship and reconciliation with God and one another", he wrote. He would have added, "When a person with AIDS dies, will you be there? God will be."

Will we see the likes of him again? His place will not readily be filled. He was a "robust evangelical" who pushed the limits of what it means to follow Christ in the present day context: A GENTLE RADICAL.

I came to be inspired by recollections, by the atmosphere, by the tone of the service.

It was also the music.

The unanticipated blessing of music carried an inherent, but obvious tribute to Stan, so-choreographed no doubt by Edna his wife, who knew him best and who herself had the gift to honour her late husband through the carefully chosen majestic music. It was a glorious experience, elevating us all to a higher plane, almost to heaven itself, it seemed, despite or because of the tragic irreplaceable loss of an exemplary life.

The service began with a half-hour organ prelude---like a classical/religious concert in itself, and concluded with a scintillating "Toccata", causing me to leave the sanctuary almost breathless. There was more. The 1000 or more people filling the sanctuary and singing "All hail the power of Jesus Name", "Hallelujah to the Lamb", hymns of praise caused the church structure literally to reverberate, a sound one rarely hears.

And then the culmination. Edna Grenz herself confidently conducted the choir (and the congregation) in Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus". What a climax! What a tribute!

And there was even more.

Stan had said to Dr. Milne, at a chairos moment, some time ago, "If (my end) should come suddenly, I want you to speak at my funeral. And I want you to speak on the Resurrection". (A topic which he himself had often articulated in his writings.) This Dr. Milne did, eloquently.

And so it was that the Passion Week of our Lord was appropriately ushered in with a service of remembrance for Stan Grenz, with the ultimate focus on the Resurrection, as if God had so ordained it.

"He will live again", we were told. And I trust he will, through his publications and through his students who were so strongly influenced by him, because his kind of respectable "evangelical" thrust is sorely needed. His deeply held belief in COMMUNITY and respect for others, with all its implications, is so relevant.

He will live again, because love, the kind of love which he articulated and lived, God's love, will never die.

That is why I attended the memorial service for Stan Grenz.

Respectfully submitted--- between Good Friday and Easter.
B.Thiessen. March 26/05.

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