The 2015 Timothy Conference was held in the Philadelphia area this past March during a late winter snowstorm. Before five inches of snow arrived, Dr. Darryl Hart conducted a walking tour of Philadelphia Presbyterianism in the heart of the old city with the eighteen young men who attended the conference. The first stop was the site of the first General Assembly of the PCUSA in May 1789, moderated by John Witherspoon. Presently a pizza parlor sits atop the long-gone foundation of Second Presbyterian Church. Nine blocks away, we stood opposite the site of the OPC’s first General Assembly, 147 years later, held at the New Century Club. The sign said “Do Not Enter”; it is now a parking garage. We also walked and jaywalked where Machen did on his way from his Chancellor St. apartment to Westminster Theological Seminary’s first home on Pine St. (Our guide assured us that Machen was a jaywalker as well as a mountain climber.)
These are our roots as Orthodox Presbyterians living and serving the Lord in America. They remind us, on the one hand, that “here we have no lasting city” (Heb. 13:14). On the other hand, we share a rich theological heritage with men like Alexander, Hodge, and Machen. Knowing who we were and who we are as a church is surely a helpful context in which to nurture future ministerial leaders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the twenty-first century. As the prophet said, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isa. 51:1).
This year’s “Timothys” came from around the world: Paul Lauer from Japan, Achu Mba from Cameroon (by way of the OP church plant in Gaithersburg, Maryland), and Asher Westerveld and Samuel Daigle from Quebec, Canada. Some grew up in the OPC, such as Danny Dieckmann, Ben Hoekstra, Danny Lynam, and Robert Muether. Others have been in the OPC less than two years, such as Emeka Duruji, Will Lyle, Jedidiah Smith, and Joshua Young. It is noteworthy that eleven of them have fathers who are ordained, and that half were homeschooled.
Are these green shoots in the OP corner of the Lord’s vineyard the new growth that will be tomorrow’s fruit-bearing branches? Pastor Mark Sallade, the first conference speaker, made the arresting remark that a good number of his closest ministerial friends are ten to fifteen years older than he is, and that, as he looked out at the young men seated before him, it was thrilling to think that there were quite possibly future ministerial friends in the group. Both Pastor Sallade and Pastor Larry Westerveld urged the men to become now what they imagine themselves to be in the future as ministers of the gospel: lovers of God, of his worship, and of his people. Dr. David VanDrunen and the Rev. Danny Olinger presented the daunting but necessary educational and examination process that lies before those who aspire to the ministry.
This year’s conference (the ninth) completed our second circuit around North America. “Why does the Timothy Conference move around the country?” we are asked. It is in order to share the burden and the blessing of hosting the conference in a local OP church near a Reformed seminary with OP faculty and students. The Subcommittee on Ministerial Training has been scrupulous about not recommending one seminary over another, so moving the conference serves to highlight a different seminary each year.
Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania, is ideally situated to facilitate exposure to lectures at Westminster Theological Seminary. This year’s conferees had the privilege of listening to a two-hour lecture by Dr. Richard Gaffin on the Pauline letters. Seven OP students, four of whom were prior Timothy Conference attendees, joined one of the lunches served by the ladies of Calvary Church and shared with the Timothys how their studies and opportunities to serve in the church were helping to develop their gifts and their sense of calling.
Danny Olinger and other conference speakers stressed how important it is to be serving in the local church. In fact, each conference attendee was required to submit a brief essay covering what he had learned at the conference and how he intended to serve in his local congregation upon returning. This is actually quite challenging, because many young men of 16–22 years are not quite sure what they are allowed to do or what their pastor and elders would like them to do. Surely there is an opportunity for both sides to be more proactive!
Finally, this Timothy Conference featured a visit to the OPC administrative offices in Willow Grove to see where dedicated men and women serve the denominational committees. Upstairs the men toured the Grace Mullen Archives Room and saw what two faculty offices looked like in the early days of Westminster Seminary: a single shared oak table with chairs across from each other. In the adjacent room, they sat down around the large conference table where so much planning and prayer for the future of the OPC takes place. It was clear from the serious and humorous reflections on OP history offered in an engaging lecture by Professor John Muether that the young men are not yet ready to fill these committee chairs that have been filled by the likes of Murray, Galbraith, and Tyson. They are still becoming what they hopefully will be.
One long-serving staff member noted as the young men went out into the lightly falling snow, “Well, there goes the future of the OPC.” Indeed. But the nourishment and shaping of these twenty-first-century servants still belongs to present-day OP families and churches. Pray for our Timothys that they will resist the temptations of the Evil One, and that they will think soberly about the gifts God has given them to use in the church. Show them how to serve in their local congregation and presbytery. Prepare to support them financially when they head off to seminary.