I am a Jew who loves Christianity. I suppose that sounds a bit like a confession. I owe this love to my teacher and my friend Allan Patriquin. And I know I speak for Allan’s students when I reflect on our love and respect for the person who helped us learn to love the study of how faith is formed and lived.
I have vivid memories of Allan’s classrooms at Beloit, of reading the New Testament for the first time, of struggling with my developing intellectual and personal fascination with these texts. And I remember Allan’s patience, his practice of deep listening which he offered to the least engaged as well as the most. He encountered his students as partners, and as such expected us to be up to the task of learning and conversation. In accepting that challenge I was transformed in ways that changed the trajectory of my life.
There was Allan in 1975, my first year at Beloit. That beard made him appear somewhat biblical, and my 18-year-old eyes saw him as older than he actually was (indeed, he was much younger than I am now). What I experienced in that first class with him was a teacher whose students understood the commitment we all made to be present in the classroom and to work hard together. In that classroom I experienced the challenges of thinking and writing with a partner, and of learning to think rigorously about religions, including my own. And in that classroom I began to recognize that the ideas and the questions were drawing me toward them in a way that I could not resist (although I tried – but not for long). What could I DO with a degree in Religious Studies? And why was I so interested in the New Testament?
I will always be grateful for the patience and encouragement of Allan and of my parents. I don’t really know if Allan was aware of how I felt. I don’t remember talking about it with him. I was eager to learn and grapple with the ideas, some of which were familiar to me but which I was seeing in new ways. And many of the ideas, and their historical and theological contexts, were completely new. In fact, they represented a set of beliefs and a history that I understood to be at the very least incompatible with my own, and at worst dangerous and to be rejected. In the end my desire to learn overshadowed any doubts I had. And before I graduated my father, who died just a year before Allan, wrote me a letter supporting and encouraging me, telling me that studying and doing something that I loved would always be better than choosing something that seemed expedient. Indeed, I don’t know how many daughters can call their Jewish mother as often as I have to tell them they have just come from church without causing panic.
Allan remained my teacher and mentor long after I graduated from Beloit. Even after Professor Patriquin became “Allan,” he was always an adviser, a mentor, and a friend. Three years of graduate school in Jerusalem in the days of those flimsy blue aerograms created a gap in our communication. But we stayed in touch sporadically, and each time I thought I might have lost track of him, I was able to find him again, a kind of long range anchor whose steadfast support I sought out.
I was so excited to find myself closer than I expected to Allan and Charlotte when I moved to New Hampshire. And lucky that we were finally able to spend time together last summer on a beautiful day. The beard was gone (yes- it had been a very long time since I had seen Allan). But the few hours we spent sitting on the porch and talking was such a blessing, and a reminder of what a gift it was to have time to spend with my teacher.
On behalf of all of Allan’s students I would like to thank his family. My own academic life has made me acutely aware of the commitment of time, energy, and emotion that many of us, Allan included, bring to our craft. And that meant sharing him with all of us who became part of his extended Beloit family. We are grateful for that gift and we share your loss and grief.
Toward the end of my time at Beloit, I wrote a final paper for a course in 20th century Christian theology. This was another in those years of firsts. We read Tillich, and Niebuhr, and Bultmann among others. I worked hard. I did OK on the paper. I think I got a “B.” Allan wrote a lot of questions on my paper. A week later I gave him several additional pages responding to his comments and questions, and when he returned it the last note said, “Let’s call this an A.”
It was only then that I realized I had not read, and thought, and written my responses expecting to have my grade changed. I did the work because I understood that learning is a conversation, and I did not want the conversation with Allan to end. And so I wish for all of us no end to conversation and dialogue, and learning, and understanding.
And may Allan’s memory be for a blessing to his family, his students, his friends, and all who mourn. זכרונו לברחה