James R. G. Hawkinson

1930 — 2011

by Chris Gehrz

I’ll always remember Jim Hawkinson as he looked one cold December morning in 2009. My wife and I had just arrived at the hospital for the scheduled C-section that would deliver our twins. We didn’t get two steps into the ward before hearing Jim’s unmistakable voice call out from the waiting room. Now, Jim was our church’s visitation pastor at the time, so I hoped and knew that he would visit us at some point. But I certainly hadn’t expected that he would drive half an hour through several inches of snow to greet and pray for us; or that he’d come back again the night before we went home. I don’t know how infant memory works, but I hope that Isaiah and Lena have some glimmer of recollection of Jim, who so dearly loved to see young ones toddling around the church on a Sunday morning.

Having been blessed by the friendship of a man who was forty-five years old when I was born – closer in age to my grandparents than my parents – teaches me all I need to know about the importance of belonging to a multi-generational church. It’s not the kind of diversity that most twenty- first century congregations seek or advertise, but it specially underscores the familial nature of the Church: sisters and brothers gathered as children of God, in the Father’s House, “in it together” – as the current president of the Evangelical Covenant Church is known to repeat – as the Body of Christ, the Son.

Yes, Jim taught me to cherish the Church, past and present, as I cherish my wife and children, parents and siblings, grandparents and cousins. Not because it’s perfect – we who are a part of it know better than its critics that it’s not – or because it makes me perpetually happy (nope), but for reasons Jim laid out in a 1965 essay:

“I love her worship. I am revived daily by her quiet, yet constant fellowship. I love her hymns, and the Word she proclaims. I treasure her celebrations of the sacraments. I honor her teachers. I salute her servants. I stand behind her leaders. I laud her achievements and I love her aspirings....in this climate of unrest, when she suffers so much from foe and friend alike, let me raise a song from the heart. I stand gladly in her battlements. I participate joyfully in her wider ministry, and in the seeking with her of that renewal we all so sorely need.”

Jim — whose fellowship was constant, if not quiet — was a Pietist, not just a Covenanter, and that last sentence is as good a summation of Pietist ecclesiology as I’ve read. We of the Church are given to know intimately how we sin against God in thought, word, and deed. But still more, we are graced by newness of life and the joy of leaving less and less work undone.

And even now, I hear Jim’s voice add Francke’s words: “To God’s glory and neighbor’s good.”

Jim is survived by his wife, Alyce, and five children and their families: Judy, Eric, Mary, Peter and Paul.

Chris Gehrz is a professor at Bethel University, St. Paul, Minn., and member of Salem Covenant Church in nearby New Brighton. Read his blog The Pietist Schoolman at pietistschoolman.com.

See all articles by Chris Gehrz