Thursday, March 5, 2015

Remembering David Phillips

 It's been nine years and we miss him.

Nine years since that freezing Sunday morning when his car spun out of control on an icy highway en route to Christ Chapel. He never arrived to deliver his sermon.

It's been nine years, and still his personality, his humor, his contemplative theology, his practical jokes, his commitment to disciple students, and his love for travel and missions continue to infuse our church body.

Sometimes mid-sermon, a phrase or story from Ted Kitchens evokes a strong memory of David. In earlier days with a more intimate sized-church staff, Ted served David in a fatherly role, a spiritual mentor / pastor role, but also just as a good plain friend. Their mutual love for Young Life and relationships and laughter imparted a lightness from the pastoral staff that somehow balanced our church body's heavy hurts and needs.

Corbin and I met David in September of 1996, our third week visiting Christ Chapel. We had been married less than a month and wanted to visit this church because Sharon Wimberly, Ted's assistant, was so kind to us over the phone. We visited three Sundays in a row, attended the only worship service offered - 9:30 Sunday morning - in what is now the chapel with Louis at the piano leading us in hymns.

Right as the service ended, I said to Corbin, "It's just so weird not knowing anyone here. Maybe we should go visit some other churches and we might circle back here at some point."

At that moment, the young woman in front of us turned around and said, "Hi, I've never seen y'all here before. I'm Lisa." We told her we were newlyweds, looking for a church, and that we might want to work with youth or something like that. She responded with, "Well, my husband Steve is out of town hunting, but we're helping starting a new college class downstairs - want to come check it out?"

We followed our new friend Lisa down to the basement where a handful of TCU students gathered with their warm and engaging student pastor, David. He looked about a day older than the college seniors. That very week we started up Bible studies and filled the calendar with college gatherings and social events. Weeks turned into months, and the college group grew so large that we removed the room dividers and took over the entire basement. Within a couple of years, our college group was simply too loud for the sanctuary above, and the church bought us a temporary, enormous "bubble." The bubble sat at the east end of campus, which at the time was at the opposite end of campus from big church. I'm still impressed that David somehow talked the Elder board into purchasing that (very attractive) temporary facility and putting it smack-dab in the middle of church property.

One August Sunday morning, David, Corbin and I flitted around the bubble talking and visiting with a couple hundred TCU students who had just returned to campus. The fall semester was just starting up, and the college students filled the domed room to overflowing. Jon Dansby and Ryan McCarthy sang and played worship on stage as students grabbed seats. For some reason, this brief season represented the harvest being plentiful, but the workers few - with all of the amazing couples who invested in the college class in those years, this particular semester David, Corbin and I were the only leaders available.

David pulled Corbin and me into the little hallway outside the main room. With wide eyes and a smirk, he said, "Ok guys, what do we do? Do we just go on stage and say, "Welcome back, everyone, but you may as well go on back to your dorms. We have absolutely nothing for you here." Moments later, David ascended the stairs and spoke a meaningful message to those hundreds of college kids, and the semester rolled right along.

For the better part of a decade, Corbin and I considered the college ministry team our small group - we worked together, studied Scripture together, prayed together, laughed together, ate together. We debated whether it was acceptable for ministry leaders to drink alcohol, and what standards to expect from college student leaders. We led Bible studies that started at 9 or 10 pm to accommodate college schedules. We put in all-nighters for slumber parties, set aside weekends for college retreats, and eventually reared our babies and toddlers through a lens of college ministry life.

One spring break we, along with Richard Petty, accompanied David on a college mission trip to his beloved Guatemala, where he taught us the importance of staying at a nice hotel and enjoying great food even when on a mission trip. Seriously, David planned those mission trips in such a way that we jumped in and lived among the villagers during the week, but the last couple of days were capped with travel and leisure, so that we understood the country offered a variety all levels of wealth and poverty. 

So these days, as I walk into our church on cold wintry mornings nine years after David's passing, I am at times choked up by his deep legacy in our church body, and how his ministry continues to ripple through our congregation.

Last month Kathy Burr and Michael Burr - mother and son - joined up and presented some encouragement to high school parents by sharing their experiences during Michael's teen years. We first met Michael as a high school student, and his mom Kathy was and continues to serve as our Children's minister. Woven through their stories of conflict throughout Michael's teen years, David's name surfaced as one who remained tethered to Michael during that tumultuous season. David never gave up on Michael, which in part kept Michael from giving up on Michael. Michael is now married with two darling little girls, and he oversees a thriving high school ministry, tethering himself to students who might need a little extra TLC. Corbin and I are touched by Michael's kindness, his vision for ministry, and his attention to students - including our own.

We met Ryan McCarthy during his senior year at TCU, right at the time we started attending Christ Chapel. Ryan was fresh out of a crazy lifestyle, head-fast into an even crazier lifestyle following Jesus. Ryan played the drums in the worship band, accompanied David on a zillion pranks, and worked alongside David discipling students behind him. Years of leadership at church followed, and now Ryan, husband and father of three, oversees all of Christ Chapel's student ministries from middle school through college. In the way he depends on God's Word as truth, the way he manages his family with kindness and fun, the way he serves student and student leaders, we see the investment of David's life poured out through Ryan's.

When I listen to Cody McQueen, one of our teaching pastors and a truly gifted communicator, I hear echoes of David's kindness and grace. It was an abundant, over-the-top joy when David finally found the woman of his dreams, Jen. They met, married, and he was head over heels for that girl during their brief marriage. Jen was all that David's friends hoped that he would find - kind, beautiful, lovely Jen. And then, when she spoke at David's funeral, she again spoke the encouraging, life-giving words that we his friends needed - kind, beautiful, lovely words about the truth of David's character, his life, and his place in eternity with Jesus. She shared that through his actions, David taught her the definition of grace. The irony that Jen later married Cody, and as a teaching pastor Cody continues to guide our church body with kindness, truth and grace, is a stunning picture of the grace David so passionately overflowed to all who knew him.

There's a camp in Santiago, Guatemala I've never visited. Campamento David. Even after David's death, those student mission trips to Guatemala continued on. Around 2005, Christ Chapel students helped clear the land and our church donated money to help build this retreat center, named by Alfa y Omega church in David's honor due to their close relationship.

David's legacy of living solely for Christ's glory certainly continues to seep through our church body. David's email tag line (yes - we barely had email back then, but we did!), was Soli deo Gloria. That thought - that our lives are solely to bring God glory - permeated his conversations, his decisions, and his relationships.

David, we miss you. We certainly haven't forgotten you. And the impact of your relationship with Christ continues on in so many of our hearts. And - surely there's practical joking ahead as we all regroup in Heaven, yes?!

Foot note - way to go, Christ Chapel elders, for supporting a growing college ministry. College is the most self-centered group on campus. This is the age group who typically takes and uses resources, but rarely gives back. Yet our church saw the value of lives impacted for Christ during this season and put staff and facilities at David's disposal to grow the ministry. Countless lives have turned to Christ as a direct result of David's ministry and influence. Not only that, but our church body receives the tremendous gift of these college kids pouring into our high school and middle school students as volunteer leaders. There are so many amazing things happening in and through our college students through the amazing leadership of Ben Fuqua and his team, but that's another post entirely.