The Chaplain

Image  source

Image source

In 2010 I began exploring the North American seminary scene trying, in my immature way, to discern God’s will for my life.

In March, my father and I traveled to Dallas to attend what was then dubbed DTS’ “Focus Day”—a weekend-long orientation of the school. We attended classes, walked campus, spoke with present students, and chatted with the admissions and financial teams. It wasn’t that all of this was unhelpful, but it really did little to still the storm of indecisiveness and uncertainty swirling within me.

But then, there was chapel.

Our guide led us through the doors of Chafer Chapel. We walked down one of the aisles to a handful of reserved rows near the front of the auditorium, found seats, and sat down. Students were filing in at the same time, chatting loudly with one another.

The faculty was also making their way onto the chapel platform where rows of chairs flanked the wooden pulpit at the centre. For someone who had never been in a seminary chapel before, this was quite a scene. To me, it screamed formality, supportiveness, and respect.

The worshipper

Suddenly, a wild-eyed, white-haired man appeared at the pulpit and, with a warm and genuine smile, greeted the attendees. The place quieted down almost immediately. After welcoming us who were visiting the seminary, Chaplain Bill Bryan introduced himself, asked everyone to stand, and led the room—students and faculty—in what I eventually came to know as the “seminary’s hymn,” All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.

Up to that point in my life, I had never heard singing like that before. The large room was filled with strong, passionate voices boldly declaring the glory of God and his worthiness to be crowned. The faculty, on their feet as well, belted out the hymn, following the Chaplain’s lead. At times, he would even turn to the faculty members on either side as he sang, almost egging them on, challenging them to meet his own enthusiasm!

But above all those voices was Chaplains’. He loved that song and it showed. At one point, his trumpet surprised me as it made an appearance, declaring, almost triumphantly, the reality of the truths being sung.

After the hymn, J. Dwight Pentecost prayed, Chuck Swindoll preached, and I walked out of that chapel certain of where I’d be attending school in September. To this day I’m convinced God used those three men to move me in that direction.

[Little did I know at the time, but four years after that initial introduction to Chaplain Bill, I would hear him lead that same hymn for the last time at the convocation celebration I would attend. This video still gives me chills.]

The mentor

Fast forward two years and I’m sitting in Chaplain Bill’s office, invited by him into a mentoring relationship that would span the final two years of my time at Dallas Theological Seminary.

There’s much that could be said here, but suffice it to say that Chaplain Bill was instrumental in preparing me for graduation, for ordination, for pastoral ministry, and, most importantly, for life as a godly man, husband, and father. He was gracious and wise, compassionate and humble, enthusiastic and passionate.

As you can see in his retirement video below, “passing the baton” was a passion of his and I’m so thankful God brought him into my life for a season to invest in me, an imperfect baton carrier.

The dismissal

Hearing that Bill Bryan went to be with his Lord and Saviour this morning, I couldn’t help but think of the way he would mark the end of every seminary chapel he led.

Typically, after the speaker finished their message, Chaplain would sidle up from the wings of the platform and, as though he possessed power in the palm of his hand, would lift his arm to the assembled group and utter quietly, as if not to disturb the weight of the moment, “dismissed.” I always felt that, with that single word, Chaplain sent hundreds of freshly equipped and reinvigorated servants of the King out into the world to serve him boldly.

Now it’s Bill Bryan that has been “dismissed” from this life and into the glorious presence of the Lord he so loved serving, the King he so enjoyed worshipping, and the Saviour he so humbly revered.

Chaplain Bill is now experiencing what he loudly proclaimed countless times before:

Oh, that with all the sacred throng
we at his feet may fall!
We'll join the everlasting song
and crown him Lord of all.
We'll join the everlasting song
and crown him Lord of all.

Update: Here’s a tribute page from the seminary at which Chaplain Bill served, including the video of his memorial service.