I didn’t take any education classes in college or grad school. What I know about teaching I have learned from reading and watching.
Over the six several years, I have had the deep privilege of being a student of, teaching with, and observing Father Timothy Kimbrough. It’s not often that one person is boss, friend, teacher, parent of child in your care, priest, and confessor. This post is occasioned by Fr. Timothy’s upcoming move to Nashville. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been thinking about what I have learned walking alongside him these past years.
Wherever You Are, Be There
I met Father Timothy when I found myself desperate for a class the second semester of my first year of seminary. I was to start law school the next year and had little concrete idea what I was doing with myself, what I was going to do with law and theology degrees. The class, Anglican Church and World Mission, was an unlikely choice. I was a Baptist and had no aspirations toward foreign mission work, but I knew another person in the class and had been intrigued by the Episcopal church (American branch of the Anglican church) since attending a middle school run by an Episcopal parish. At the beginning of every meeting of the class, we took 45 minutes to celebrate the Eucharist. It was a pedagogical choice that on its face made little sense. With only 2.5 hours a week of meeting time, why waste such a portion of it on an act in which many of us engaged on Sunday anyway? But Timothy understands the formative nature of liturgy, the way in which a series of acts begins to ingrain themselves into one’s head and body as it is repeated. We didn’t simply go through the motions every week; we asked questions. Timothy took the time to explain the thought behind the words and the gestures. I remember little about the missional history of the Anglican church, but the words of the liturgy have become a part of who I am.
Taking time sometimes means being late. However, even in a hurry to appointment I’ve seen Timothy stop and look someone in the eye and ask how he or she is or something about his or her life. Often the exchange only lasts 30 seconds to a minute but because of the focus of the encounter, you cannot help but feel you have been noticed, acknowledged. It’s an approach I try to emulate when I begin to feel pulled in a thousand different directions at school.
Enthusiasm is Catching
Whenever Timothy is teaching, especially middle and high schoolers (whom he always refers to as “young people”), there is always a light in his eyes, an intensity. His great excitement for the Church, the Scriptures, it’s almost embarrassing, because one might think it is uncool to care that deeply, to be that excited about anything. But at the same time, it’s deeply attractive because its genuine, not the fake enthusiasm so many adults affect when they’re attempting to engage youth in something. I live for those moments in class when I’m totally wrapped up in something and students, even the hesitant, cool ones are drawn in.
Timothy always takes great care when he speaks. Some of my favorite times listening to him are when he pauses and you can tell he’s sifting through for das richtige Wort zur rechten Zeit (the right word at the right time) to parse a phrase or situation. When talking to parents or colleagues in difficult situations, I often recall and try to imitate this care with and for words.
Offer Responsibility and Expect Great Things
Visiting a student and her family in the hospital shortly after a serious accident
Offering a response to the Gospel (a homily/sermon given by a lay person)
Acting as a lay Eucharistic minister
Becoming the Youth Minister while Timothy was on sabbatical in Africa
These are just a few examples of the times I have felt so uncertain of my ability to do or be what was asked of me. Sometimes the thought Timothy thinks I can do this was enough, even if I didn’t share his belief.
I’ve seen that terror and uncertainty in some of my students’ eyes when they’re asked to write, or read, or speak. I try to be that same reassuring but still challenging presence for them.
Godspeed, Father Timothy. May our paths cross often.