The Preacher Who Doubted
Russ Montfort died last month. When Yvonne and I first moved to Nashville, we were active at West End United Methodist Church, where Russ was senior pastor.
We made lifelong friends at West End, but what brought us back each Sunday was Russ’s preaching. Joseph Hough, at that time dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and later of Union Theological Seminary, once said that Montfort was the best preacher he had ever heard. I don’t doubt it. It wasn’t a matter of style, though Russ had plenty of that. It was what he said.
Russ thought about the big issues of life, including doubts, then shared those thoughts with the congregation, who listened gratefully. He wasn’t following a rulebook; he was struggling to figure things out and had invited us along.
People flocked to hear him—not just Dean Hough but also Vanderbilt students and, so it seemed, half the employees of the United Methodist Church agencies, many of which were located in Nashville, causing West End to be referred to by some people at that time as the Mother Church of Methodism.
I still remember some of Russ’s sermons. He struggled with the question of whether God can be both all-good and all-powerful and came to the startling conclusion that, since terrible things happen, God’s powers must be limited.
He compared life to a particularly harrowing stretch of I-440 east of town.
He explored sin, defined it as missing the mark, praised the impulse to take risks, and therefore encouraged us to “sin to the glory of God.” That message was delivered the week when our friends Rich and Mary Margaret had brought their child for baptism and Mary Margaret’s very Catholic family had traveled from New York to see it. They were appalled; we loved it.
We still love it, and we love the memories of that special time in our lives, which were made deeper and richer by Russ Montfort.
Rest in peace, Russ.