The other day a friend emailed to let me know that our Bible and Theology professor from Malone College (now University), Herbert R. Dymale, passed away this last week. Dr. Dymale was a hero for many of us who had him over the forty years he taught at Malone. Here was this old German theologian who had served in Hitler’s army as a medic, was taken prisoner of war, and while he served his time in the states decided to study at get his masters at Princeton theological seminary. Later he became a “working theologian,” not unlike the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, as he taught theology and pastored as a way to maintain his grounding in ministry. Actually, in a way, Dymale was our living Barth, he shared story after story of his service to the church, his deep passion for sharing Christ, and living and preaching the “Christ Event.”
I took at least 5 classes with Dymale, and he was my adviser, during my time at Malone and while he was getting up there in years when I had him, and we, more often then not, found him wandering in and out of his lecturs as though on a casual walk around Myer’s Lake (where he lived in Canton), many things he taught us still stick with me even today. One, of course, was his incessant demand that every sermon we preach contain at its central core the “Christ Event.” Dymale, who was no stranger to Friends history and theology, saw the Christ Event as the central historical moment in human history and the point of which everything the church does and says needs to turn. What Jesus did in his ministry, on the cross, and through the life offered to the church through the resurrection is what makes us truly the body of Christ. I’ll never be able to pen a sermon without thinking about my semester with Dymale proclaiming that a sermon is not really a sermon unless it contains within it, as its central point, the Christ Event.
And certainly one aspect of the Christ Event is its power to call us to live changed lives and beckon us to live according to our calling; for me Dr. Dymale fully embodied this feature of Christian witness. Shortly after starting my junior year at Malone, I approached Dr. Dymale after a class I had with him (he was also my advisor) to talk about where I was headed with my studies. I think finally he must have realized that I didn’t have any clear direction because he asked me what it was I planned to do when I graduated. Up to that point, I planned to go into ministry. Dr. Dymale questioned me further, where was I working now, he asked. Earlier that summer I started work at Berean Christian Bookstore over on 30th street. For Dymale, this was an unacceptable response. He asked rhetorically, “If you think you’re being called into ministry, then don’t you think you should be working in a church to see if it’s really what you’re called to do?” It was rather frank but also a pretty reasonable question to ask.
He was right of course; interning at a church made a lot more sense for a student of Theology than stamping names onto people’s Bibles and selling “Testamints (though that latter required an equal amount of patience!). ”
I know it seems like a small thing, but Dr. Dymale’s prodding me to get serious about ministry set me on a trajectory that might not have happened otherwise. Within just a couple months of this conversation I quit my job at Berean and was hired at small Friends Church in Akron. From there I not only became a member of that church, but I felt God draw me to working in and with the Quaker tradition as a whole. Subsequently, I went to seminary and am now pursuing doctoral studies on issues relating to the Friends church in our contemporary culture. Without Dr. Dymale’s very gentle but stern push towards the vision I thought God was calling me toward, I would have never found what was in fact my true calling.
Dr. Dymale, as well as a handful of other professors at Malone College, played a very important role in changing my perceptions of the Gospel, showing me what it meant to be faithful in day-to-day life and our helped to shape my ideas of ministry and the role the church in our society. For all of this I am grateful of Dr. Dymale ministry as a professor.