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December 2, 2005

Go in peace, Mac

The phone call I was expecting, both dreading and hoping for, came Thursday morning: Pastor Mac had died. His ordeal with congestive heart failure that had slowly, steadily, relentlessly weakened him was over. He was 81 years old.

Pastor Mac—that’s Clyde R. McCormack, who was the pastor at University Lutheran Church at Northwestern University, Evanston, when I was a journalism student there in the 1960s. He’d sent out notices about the Lutheran Center in new student packets, and my parents drove me up to the white Victorian house that serves as church and study center to meet him the day they brought me to campus. I remember being rather taken back by him at first—a big man, bold and brusque and brilliant. But over four years of Sundays and many Wednesday evenings in his study where we were introduced to Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer and others, including Joe Sittler. Pastor Mac became one of the most important and beloved people in my life. And not just mine, but dozens and dozens of others.

So many images of him are crowding my thoughts today—like Mac in his big, red station wagon driving down the street on cold winter Sundays to collect the students who’d set out for the mile walk to church. We knew he’d be there for us.

I met my husband at the Lutheran Center. Mac married us the summer I graduated. Seven years later he baptized our first child. And the last time I spoke to him, about two weeks ago, I was able to tell him that that child was going to have a child of his own—due just about Mac’s own June 13 birthday. And he was glad.

But as important as Mac always has been to my personal life, he’s also responsible for my being a part of The Lutheran staff. As director of the Lutheran Student Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Mac had  talked the city colleges of Chicago into making space for a campus pastor on their four commuter campuses. That was news in 1974. Bigger news, still, was who that pastor was—a former pro football star named Gene Powell. Like the majority of the students at the campus, Powell was African American. Mac called me with the news—and with an assignment: “Write about this for The Lutheran.”

I told him you just didn’t write a story—and, boom, it would be published. But he didn’t want to hear about query letters, etc. He wanted Gene’s story in The Lutheran. Period. And so I wrote my query. And I got a reply to go ahead and write it—they’d heard about this innovative campus ministry out in Chicago. (The Lutheran then was published in Philadelphia.) And so I did. The article ran in the Oct. 16, 1974, issue.  There were more stories, lots of them, before I joined the staff in 1992.

It was always a good idea to listen to Mac. Now I’ll hear his voice only in my head and heart. But it is still big and bold and brusque and brilliant. And I thank God for that.

Go in peace, Mac. Thanks be to God—for you.

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