As some of you know, Nancy Brown presented a tribute to Mike Clingenpeel at a dinner prepared by the Connectors to honor Dr. Clingenpeel. It was held in the church courtyard on the evening of October 13, 2015. It was so well received by those present, that word has gotten back to our Glimpses of Faith committee, to please publish Nancy’s tribute for the entire church to read. Gratefully, Nancy agreed to do that, and we on the Glimpses of Faith committee are honored to have this opportunity. Here is the beautiful Tribute that Nancy presented.
Years ago a Navy chaplain at Quantico and I were in a discussion about ministers, and he told me, “Never pick a church solely on the basis of the preacher.” His words had wisdom, but on that very cold Sunday in January of 2007, when I first came to River Road Church, I knew it would be hard not to do so. Most of you had been members for many years and by then would have had an understanding of my “predicament”: Here was an exceptional pastor whose qualities were instantly noted. Now I did visit outstanding Sunday School classes, was in awe of the music, and was greeted warmly by strangers, especially a group called the Connectors. It included Vivian who invited me to a gathering at O’Charley’s. But weeks later I still kept thinking about this pastor who walked up the steps to the pulpit and jump-started me and surely others in this courtyard with his profound interpretation of scripture, his humor, his anecdotes, and his broad experience with literature, art, music (even Bluegrass), and other topics woven so richly into each sermon’s theme.
I joined River Road that April and eventually sat in the far back where I had a scenic view. Mike, I know your vision when it comes to spiritual matters is superb, but your eyesight is an area of which I have no knowledge. Perhaps you never saw me pick up one of those little pew pencils, not to doodle, but to write notes which I would transfer to my home computer. I now want to remind you, Mike, of some of your wonderful words.
Do you remember the sermon in 2009 in which you memorably defined grace simply as “unmerited favor”? It was right to the point.
Then there was that phrase in another sermon encouraging us to seek “islands of silence.” You described that we tend to consider horizontal (worldly) communication more important than vertical (godly) communication in a world of cell phones and vending-machine-like prayers”? (About the time you had finished was when someone’s cell phone rang with the music of “When the Saints Go Marching in.) That day of March 29, 2009 many will never forget.
Then in 2012 you gave us a succinct interpretation of the Trinity with prepositional phrases wisely used:
Father (above us) – Christ (beside us) – the Holy Spirit (inside us).
When you and Vivian were in high school and I about ready to finish college, I had the grand opportunity to travel to Europe with a group from the University of Richmond. One morning I stood in front of Michelangelo’s Moses, the magnificent statue in St. Peter in Chains Cathedral. I was awestruck, overwhelmed, and close to tears upon seeing this work of a genius. My knowledge of art history and biblical passages, though, was quite limited. Fast forward about forty-four years to one of your sermons about Moses with your marvelous explanation of the horns on this statue and their relationship to the meaning of the word horn in Hebrew and Latin. Immediately your wonderful words chiseled a deeper understanding of this masterpiece in sculpture.
And I also never look at a dollar bill without thinking of your connection of the unfinished area around the head of George Washington in Gilbert Stuart’s actual portrait to our need to fill in the parts of our lives that God gives us the choice to complete. Imagery and metaphor have added so much to your sermons.
No doubt many in this room have had magic moments of thought from your sermons, prayers, and overall gift of using words to enhance our church’s motto of “Thoughtful Faith.” What a joy it has been to have you and Vivian with us. You both have connected to us in ways that are so essential for happiness, spirituality, service, and most of all, love through Christian fellowship.
That aisle seat in the back mentioned earlier enabled me to see Vivian’s smiling face in the choir during the recessional as well as that of many other Connectors. Often I was actually standing next to you, Mike, as you gave the benediction. May this one from Numbers 6:24-26, define your retirement years with best wishes from us Connectors who have appreciated your many contributions to and love of River Road Church, Baptist. And we hope we think more vertically than horizontally because of your inspiring influence on our lives and because of God’s gift of “unmerited favor” to us.
“The Lord bless you and keep you, Mike and Vivian.
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”