Many years ago I found myself attending the same dinner meeting as Tom that was at one of our churches. Tom offered me a ride and that drive in rush hour traffic was the longest conversation I ever had with him up to that point. We were talking about Lenten practices and I remember him asking about Lenten practices with children. I started to name several things and one of them was pretzel making. Tom immediately asked “What do pretzels have to do with Lent?” I remember being a bit surprised but I immediately talked about the history of pretzels and engaging children in making them as a way to introduce prayer practices. Tom let me talk a lot on that drive.
Later, as I reflected on it, I realized that he knew the story about pretzels but he wanted to hear me talk about it. He wanted to know what I know, to gauge how I share, and where my passions lie in teaching. And since then, I have also used that technique – questioning someone to find out where they are, what they think, and to see how they might share this information – one of the oldest teaching methods in history.
I can remember many things about Tom, but I think I like to remember him best as a teacher, passionate about faith and finding that gentle questioning is often one of the best learning tools we have. Perhaps this came from his deep work as a spiritual director. I noticed him effectively use this many times over the years. By gently asking questions he moved from the place of a “bishop who knows everything” to “someone who cares what I think and know.” And I think this is what helped him be so approachable with children and youth as well as adults.
We will miss you Tom, but thank you for leaving us so much to think upon and learn from.