Indulge me for a moment. I’ve been thinking a lot about Frank Horton lately. Frank ministered to students on college campuses for 35 years…most of that time was spent as the director of the Baptist Student Union at LSU. It’s amazing how Facebook has facilitated a virtual LSU BSU reunion. At the center of all these memories is a wonderful and profoundly loving soul…Frank.
Conversations over the past couple of weeks have brought to mind two specific memories I have of Frank. One occurred in August of 1981…it was my first visit to the Baptist Student Union as a freshman at LSU. I had been in the BSU building before…my brother and his wife had been active in the BSU. Frank performed their wedding ceremony. However on this particular day, I walked across the big campus feeling as though it contained me and 30,000 people I didn’t know. It was a lonely walk. I entered the front doors and there was Frank standing near the fireplace. When he saw me, his face lit up with that big warm smile of his and he said, “Mike Young! I’ve been waiting for you to get here!” As fast as those words left his lips, the long lonely walk across campus was a memory and I was home. I never enter that building at the corner of Highland and Chimes without that memory coming to mind.
Another vivid memory is of an experience at Dry Creek Conference Center at Spring Assembly, 1984. The story requires a little context. By the end of my first semester at LSU I was on academic probation. I held on the following spring, but then came the fall of 1982…my grade report stated my GPA for the semester was 0.4 and included a letter from the University informing me I was not welcome that coming spring. I made that 0.4 the old fashioned way, “I earned it” as they say.
The BSU had been simply a place to meet people prior to the football games, watch TV, play ping-pong, skip class, etc. I didn’t participate in chapel or Bible studies or anything like that. It was merely a gathering point. I was a student without direction, hoping the party could continue without too many classes getting in the way. However, the potential loss of that place was devastating to contemplate…it motivated me to try again. I sat out the spring of 1983 and then entered summer school to begin my ascent out of academic probation.
So the following spring, a year removed from the disgrace of flunking out of school, I found myself sitting on the right side of The Tabernacle at Dry Creek Conference Center clinging to the back of one of the old pews resisting another guilt ridden invitation from some nameless Baptist preacher. All the BSU directors were lined up across the front of the room. I looked up and saw Frank and I went forward. I was greeted with the very same smile that welcomed me near the fireplace at the BSU two and a half years earlier. I don’t remember anything that I said to Frank. But I remember his words to me. “Mike, you’ve got so much to offer. I’m glad you’re back. I want you to run for a council position.” The council was the student leadership group of the Baptist Student Union. I really didn’t have the resume to justify such a statement. I had used the BSU, but had not served in it. I had been an extremely poor student. But there it was…
I give Frank credit for introducing grace into the harsh, black and white religious system of my youth. Everything about him seemed to exude grace and love. I am in vocational ministry today because of Frank. That often sounds more like an accusation than acknowledgment…Baptist vocational ministry can be that way. But there isn’t a week that goes by that Frank doesn’t cross my mind. And when he does cross my mind, I think how much better our world would be if the Church universal looked more like Frank’s BSU and less like a store-front for religious goods and services…if the church greeted “the other” at its doors with a warm smile and a sincere, “I’ve been waiting for you to get here!”