I keep in my office a story tellers stool carved from the trunk of a tree. It is my most prized gift, brought back from Papua, New Guinea. I use it every time I give a children’s message or tell a story to the preschool. It was given to me by Father Bernard (Bernie) Boff upon his return from one of his many missionary travels. I was so honored by his thoughtfulness and the idea that it somehow was meant for me.
Bernie (as I knew him) passed away on Thursday (Aug. 8, 2013). Now wonderful memories are coming back.
In the 1980s I was invited to an every-other-week lectionary Bible study at the Roman Catholic bishop’s residence. It was called “Bernie’s Bunch.” Well, it seemed pretty cool for a young United Methodist pastor to be invited to the bishop’s residence for Bible study (although I seldom ever saw the bishop). Bernie was serving at that time as the director of global concerns for the Toledo diocese and was living in the same residence. He provided the coffee and refreshments.
For me it was wonderful. Each time we met, I was in the presence of pastors that I still regard as giants: the Rev. Chester Chambers (director of urban ministry for the United Methodist Church), the Rev. Cal Krueger (pastor of First United Church of Christ), the Rev. Stan Schneider (retired professor of preaching at Trinity Lutheran Seminary) and several others. I was molded and shaped by their understanding of scripture, their commitment to scholarship and an intellectually sound faith.
Since Bernie’s role in the diocese was essentially as mission interpreter, he had to come up with a mission sermon out of every text for the week, even if it was not self-evident. I think, sometimes, he really stretched the text. Stan was an advocate of the three-point sermon. He was a master at it. Give him just a few minutes and he would have a complete sermon mapped out. Cal and Chet were both very involved with issues of U.S. involvement in Central America at the time, and brought those concerns to the table. All of us were deeply concerned about the poor, especially those in urban areas.
I was especially blessed to be invited to a cottage on Lake Erie that Bernie co-owned. It was a time when we, as clergy, were able to relax and socialize away from the everyday activities of ministry.
Bernie was active with Toledo Metropolitan Mission (TMM), an ecumenical agency committed to systemic change. While Bernie was active helping people one on one, he knew real change came by changing the institutions that created poverty and discrimination. was privileged to chair the board of TMM for many years. I later served as its executive director.
I now attempt to carry the legacy of “Bernie’s Bunch,” as I facilitate a group of clergy each week in Bible study at a coffee house in the Warehouse District. I am now approaching the age Bernie was when I first joined “Bernie’s Bunch.” Cal and Stan are deceased. Chet is still as active as an elderly gentleman can be.
Bernie was as sincere, genuine and real as it gets. I am indebted to him in many ways. He was one of the saints in my life.