Small, Quick & Loving
After my first year as a student at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, I went to Indianapolis in the summer of 1989 to do an internship under Dr. Roy Blackwood. Following a day of driving with my pregnant wife and young son, and then moving into the third floor apartment of the church building, Roy and Margie came to greet us that first evening. After a few minutes of checking that we had everything we needed, Roy asked me to sit down at the kitchen table because he had something he wanted to show me. Soon, on an unfolded napkin taken from a nearby drawer, circles and Latin words began to form a diagram as Roy explained in earnest a concept to me. I realized I had just been introduced to Roy’s teaching on the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ. How many more times that summer and since I have seen – and used – that picture!
During that internship, I thought I would spend less time studying and more time doing “practical” ministry. Yet not only did I feel I was in “summer seminary” those three month, but I realized more than ever how studies and practical ministry go hand-in-hand. For under Roy’s tutelage I read the seminal work upon which he had developed his ministry, Messiah the Prince by the nineteenth century Scottish pastor William Symington, as well as studied through Roy’s doctoral work he had done on Symington’s ministry and theology. Far from dry academia, Roy’s studies came alive as I saw them lived out firsthand through his life.
That summer I witnessed warm-hearted, reference-filled, faith-building preaching from Roy, be it from a pulpit or at the bedside of the elderly. I saw how he had taken these doctrines and applied them in the development of a ministry that had seen hundreds converted to Christ, churches planted in other areas of Indiana whose pastors had been influenced greatly by Roy, and relationships that extended around the world. Roy’s heart-filled vision of the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom that knows no limits, no person outside its reach, no unconquerable enemies, propelled him to extend that kingdom wherever he went. That summer I saw federal and state legislators contact him, businessmen open their offices and schedule to him, and fathers and sons (the next generation) taught by him. What I both heard and saw left an indelible mark upon me, and it has only increased through the following two decades of ministering with this man in our presbytery.
On one occasion that summer, as Roy and I were traveling, he shared with me his testimony of how his mother had died when he was but a young child, and of a hard-pressed father who had to send him out of his home to be raised by nearby aunts. At that time, Roy said in great tenderness that he could not remember his mother, but had been told that she was “small, quick, and loving.” That description has stuck with me, for it also describes Roy well.
On several occasions when we have ministered together, Roy will stand next to me, look up, and say with that ever-present smile on his face, “Here’s Barry York, a man I look up to.” One day I responded, “Roy, the only reason you will ever look up to me is because I am standing on your shoulders.” He may be small in stature, but he is a giant of a man.
How quick Roy is in mind and body! Roy is a perpetual motion machine, constantly engaged in whole-hearted kingdom living. Even now, as he spends his twilight years caring for his beloved bride Margie, his mind is always at work. Roy is always seeking to be a kingdom-catalyst by seeing people in the body of Christ brought together who Roy always seems to know could work better together than apart. He has connected me to countless people in innumerable ways that have enriched greatly my life and ministry. One example is in the area of Greek. Believing in my Greek abilities far more than I did, he recruited me years ago to come down to Indianapolis every weekday for six weeks one summer (only Roy could have gotten me to do this!) so I could spend time in a Greek classroom with Dr. Renwick Wright. That time proved influential, as not only did that training help me to grow in my competency to teach Greek, but a number of men have gone onto seminary and the pastorate with the confidence of knowing this language.
With all these attributes and abilities one might overlook the chief quality about this man. Like his mother, he is loving. Many times during my ministry, Roy has helped sustain me through trials by his expressions and acts of love. Perhaps none have been so personal and powerful to me than just a few weeks ago. For some time, Roy, Pastor Rich Johnston, and the elders of the church have discussed with me coming to serve as pastor there. In December, they finally led the congregation to make out a call to me. When I received the call, seeing the names of so many friends tugged at my wife and my hearts, but seeing Roy and Margie’s signatures made us weep. Yet after much prayer and deliberation, in light of things including some deeply personal matters involving family, I was led to decline this call. When on the phone with Roy telling him my answer, to be honest I was scared. I could not bear the thought of disappointing him. But when I began to explain these personal matters, Roy began weeping for me and offering tender encouragements. Our conversation ended with one of the most powerful and caring prayers I have ever experienced. As we hung up, he was not the only one crying.
On occasion, I have heard some, who must not know Roy very well, describe him in ways that make it sound as if they think Roy must dominate people in the church in order to see the things happen around him that he has. Indeed, some have even called the pastors in Indiana “Roy’s Boys,” speaking as though he controls us like a bishop would do in other ecclesiastical settings. Not only would that thought be anathema to Roy, but it misunderstands both the power and love of God at work in Roy and in the church. If any of us have sought to imitate Roy’s example, or leapt when he asked us to do something, or spoken reverently of him, it is the power of love and not fear that you see. And as for me, call me Roy’s Boy if you will, but please understand if I’m given that title I would wear it with honor and with a smile. For it only serves to prove that God has fulfilled, in answer to Roy’s prayers, the truth of II Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” How thankful to God I am to know the life, ministry and love of Roy Blackwood.