Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots: Fred Brenning Craddock (Chalice Press, 2009) 117 pp., $19.99.
Reading Fred Craddock’s Reflections on My Call to Preach is like listening to one of his sermons: the reader/listener is thoroughly engaged by Craddock’s low-key presentation, entertained and challenged by the linked chain of his trademark stories, and left wanting more when the narrative comes to an end.
In a slim volume of just 117 pages, Craddock contemplates his earliest days, sharing stories about family members and friends, pastors and others who helped to shape his understanding of God and of what it means to discern and to follow God’s call in ministry.
As Craddock draws the reader in with a string of anecdotes from his formative years, he adds layers of personal reflection and wonder, noting influence and inclination without pointing to any single event as “the” moment of calling. Rather, he consciously tries to “connect the dots” that contributed to his call while confessing that he doesn’t know where all the dots are, or exactly where God’s call and human will overlap.
“To this day,” he writes, “‘God called’ and ‘I decided’ are experienced as two sides of the same coin” (p. 4).
Except for a closing chapter called “Reflecting on These Reflections,” Craddock begins and ends the book with the same paragraph, an account of orientation at Johnson Bible College, where a disinterested administrator could not spell “Brenning,” the name he normally went by, so he substituted “Fred.” “Thus,” he says, “began the life of Fred Craddock.”
Craddock grew up poor in the rural reaches of western Tennessee. With four siblings, a hard-working mother and an alcoholic father living in a tiny two-bedroom house, privacy was scarce. Putting food on the table and shoes on feet were major undertakings: at one time, Craddock writes, everyone in the home except for his father and younger brother contributed to the family’s meager income. Older readers from similar backgrounds will smile knowingly at his recollections of living through the Great Depression, while younger readers may find some understanding of their grandparents’ frugality through Craddock’s skillful storytelling.
Craddock is remarkably transparent in sharing his struggles along with his strengths, his shifts between wavering and certainty about God’s call. After his first botched attempt at sermonizing led the teen-aged Craddock to question his call to preach, it was a question from a foul-mouthed co-worker at a box-building plant that helped to cement his commitment. When asked point-blank “Are you called to preach?”, Craddock’s answer – more certain than he expected – was “Yes.”
Countless beneficiaries of America’s “dean of preaching” are happy that Craddock replied in the affirmative, and preachers who ponder their own call will be glad he said “yes” to writing this insightful reflection.