Growing Faith

written by Dr. Barbara A. Kammer

When asked to contribute to the Urbana Theological Seminary blog, I readily agreed.  Then reality struck! Whatever would I be able to contribute since the request was very open ended? What did I know that would be of interest to anyone else? Many ideas were considered and then rejected. As I was doing homework for my class at UTS, a sudden thought came.  Why not discuss what UTS can offer those of us who do not plan a career in church ministry, but rather feel a need to grow in our relationship with God. (And “no,” this is not an advertisement for UTS, but an acknowledgement of a resource in our community which is available to all, if one knows about it.)

But first some background. I had the privilege to practice medicine for thirty five years plus eight years of post college training as a diagnostic radiologist with a special interest in interventional radiology.  It was in this radiology subspecialty that one had patient contact, not just the managing and interpretation of human images.  The direct patient interaction, to me, was the best part of the practice of medicine, and this particular area of practice was just developing.  I had found my niche, and I loved it! How else to feel that one could make a difference in someone’s life in such a positive way and improve that patient’s health by the techniques and   technology that replaced more invasive procedures? Little did I realize, as a young professional, what my patients would teach me while I was trying to treat them.

The patient’s primary physician would decide that a particular procedure might benefit their patient.  A consultation would be requested for discussion with the patient of the benefits and risks of that procedure so that the patient could decide what he/she would prefer to do. Most of the time the interventional radiologist saw that particular patient only two or three times, the procedure was completed and the patient returned to his/her prior activities. However, there was a group of patients with more chronic diseases, usually vascular/blood vessel disease or cancer, who returned for repeated interventions.  It was the cancer patients and their families who taught me one of, if not, the most important lesson of my life. It was not what was said, but what could be readily discerned if one only were observant.  Each time the patient came in for this particular cancer treatment, a catheter was placed into an artery for purposes of delivery of high dose chemotherapy to a specific organ. Each treatment lasted five days, and each day the catheter position needed to be verified for stability. Some of these patients underwent multiple such procedures, providing the opportunity to know them better.

It was during these interactions that it became apparent that there were distinct differences in a subset of these patients. All were dealing with extremely serious disease, but one small group was different. They were “special” and seemed more at peace with themselves and the ability to cope with whatever came.  It became abundantly clear that this peace and contentment was a manifestation of their faith. Their trust in God was supporting them through this valley in life. These patients and their families had something special! I wondered if I were the patient and not the caregiver if I would have that faith and ability to cope.

Fast forward thirty years to the summer of 2010. On a warm and humid Sunday morning, my family and I attended a church service in which the guest minister was Dr. Cuffey. It was evident that he possessed extensive knowledge of the Bible and its interpretation.  While we had lived in the CU area for more than thirty five years, we had no knowledge of Urbana Theological Seminary (UTS). In fact, we had never even heard of it. Thus began the journey to learn more about UTS and what might be available under its auspices. Would this be one way to learn more about what we, as Christians, believe and the background for it? Could this institution and its classes augment what might be available through one’s own church and independent study? Could this be a vehicle to grow and enrich one’s faith? Survey of the available classes one might consider brought a resounding “yes.” One did not need to become an enrolled student with plans for full time ministry as a vocation, but could just take classes for a fee, simply for the fun of gaining knowledge and enhancing one’s own Bible reading and understanding.

Since I had retired from my demanding profession and our children were now adults, it was time to become more serious about answering the question I had wondered about so many years previously.  Could I handle life’s very deep valleys with the grace of some of my patients? So began my venture at UTS as one way to grow my personal faith. Dr. Thomas’s class on the History of Christianity was the place I decided to begin. Back in the classroom was a trip back in time. Sure, I had studied all of my life to remain current in my profession, but the structure of formal classes, papers and tests sent my memory bank back about fifty years.  Could I still do that and compete with those younger than I? Having lived in a professional “man’s” world for so many years was a lot different than this. I did not have the computer skills of those younger than I.  Would I be able to finish the exams in the allotted time? Well, along came Dr. Thomas, who was very forgiving of my challenges and was SO accommodating.

I learned quickly that I was on a much lower plain theologically than some of my classmates, but I was there to learn and grow. Ultimately, I realized that was OK. I was a student, similar to when I had been a medical student.  I did not yet have all the knowledge needed, and that was part of the journey. After all, I had to remember why I was personally doing this, and my needs would never be those of others. Each of us in the class was there for a different purpose, but with an overarching common desire for knowledge.

The story continues, and this year’s class is the wonderful Survey of the Old and New Testament with Dr. Cuffey. Whatever he is discussing in the Bible is an enhancement of my prior knowledge. I will never read the Bible again in the same way I read it before this class. For those who are students of the Bible, this class is a treasure chest for your future.

It is exciting to learn.  Each of us will find something unique that will aid in growing one’s faith. That is an individual path, but so important. The people and classes at Urbana Theological Seminary have been such a resource for me personally. Perhaps they might be for others as well. Only time will tell whether I will have some of the grace I saw in my patients, but the pathway to growing one’s faith has been stimulating and rewarding.