Hay Returns to Teach Religion

Published in Fall/Winter 2003 Coe Courier

 It's been a typical day in Professor David Hay's Old Testament class over in Hickok Hall.  He has read aloud from an ancient Babylonian text whose creation story has parallels with the one the students have been reading in Genesis.  He's defined a few important theological terms (etiology:  an explanation why something is the way it is).  And he's gently prodded students to consider not just the words, but the significance of the text they're reading.


"The message here is that God is completely in control," Professor Hay suggests, raising his eyebrows and looking out at his students.  The students reflect on this a minute, look back at their open textbooks, and jot notes.


Whatís not so typical about this day is that Hay, the Joseph McCabe Professor Emeritus of religion really isn't supposed to be in this classroom here at Coe.


Professor David Hay retired from Coe College in 2002, after being a part of the Philosophy and Religion Department since 1971.  He and his wife, Maryóa retired Presbyterian pastoróhave built a retirement home in Georgia near Mary's family so that she can care for her ailing mother. 


Once the house was built, David returned to his longtime research interest:  the letters of Paul (about which he's written many articles and a book) and the writings of Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish theologian and contemporary of Paul's.  "I was also invited to speak to a group of New Testament scholars at Emory University about my work," says David.   It seemed like an ideal situation:  time for research and rest, along with the chance to be a part of a scholarly community.


Then Coe intervened.  During his second year of retirement, an unexpected one-year opening appeared in Coe's Philosophy and Religion Department.  Hay learned of the opening through his Coe contacts and knew it would be easy for him step right back into his role as professor.  And he realized that, despite the joys of scholarship and writing, he missed teaching. 


"I said to Jeff Hoover, 'If you're interested, I'd like to toss my hat in the ring."


"For us, it was pretty much a no-brainer," says Professor Jeff Hoover, Chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department, about hiring their recently retired colleague. "We knew that David could step right in and do his thing.  David's been a successful member of the Religion program.  He has a great rapport with students.  He's an inspiration both in the classroom and as a scholar."


So Coe College has Professor David Hay back on campus for a year, teaching courses in the Religion program and living in a small apartment in Kohawk Village.  He and his wife Mary enjoy brief visits when she can get away.


Hay arrived at Coe under similar circumstances in 1971, coming to fill in while another professor was on a one-year sabbatical.  At the end of the year, a position opened up for him to teach half time and become the college's chaplain.  He served as chaplain through 1981, then moved into full-time teaching.  He was the Charles Lynch Teacher of the Year in 1966 and chaired the department from 1987-97.


Fast forward to 2003--Hay's students are working in small groups, trying to make sense of some of Genesisís most puzzling stories:  the tower of Babel, the calling of  Abram, and the sacrifice of Issac.  "Itís time to hear your voices now," says Professor Hay. 


"Can you tell us what it means," a student pipes up, "when God says 'walk before me and be blameless'?  Is that a command or a blessing?"


Professor Hay smiles.  "What do YOU think it means?" he gently prods.  Those raised eyebrows again.  The student leans back to think about it.


As the class gets up to leave at the end of the hour, another student turns to her small group.  "I really like Genesis," she says.  "Itís just so . . . fantastical."  Her eyes sparkle with passion.  Just another typical day in Professor David Hay's classroom.


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