Serving the Juneau United Methodist Church came about with the help of my predecessor, Thomas Dahl, who lobbied for my appointment. Tom stayed in the congregation for a brief period of time, serving as the Director of the Model Cities program. I was instrumental in “saving” the Youth Hostel program that was housed in the former parsonage and Christian Education building. When the State of Alaska took the property through a process of “imminent domain”, my workload was very, very heavy. There were many valid options: relocating and building a new building, merging with the Presbyterian Church or merging with a nearby United Methodist Church in Douglas. As I recall the vote to merge with the Presbyterians passed by a vote of 17-15. Common wisdom is that one should not allow such a vote to take place, but there was no other option, as we did lose the building and had to go somewhere.
In my ministerial journey in Alaska, I had served three years in the Kenai Parish and Bishop Grant had agreed to have me stay in Alaska. Anchor Park was open, but given the attitudes of that day, it was felt by both the Superintendent (Meredith Groves) and the Bishop (Alsie Raymond Grant) that going to Anchor Park would be too much of an promotion or increase for such a young pastor. So, in their wisdom, they moved a very popular pastor from Chugiak to Anchor Park and they moved me to Chugiak. Some of the people in Chugiak were very, very unhappy. They protested, but to no avail. When my appointment was read at the Annual Meeting, a lay person (O. W. “Bill” Lowe) who had fought to keep Leo, came bounding across Grant Auditorium and shaking his finger in my face he said: “I want you to know that we fought like hell to keep Leo…(I waited for the hammer to drop, shrinking in size) and we will fight like hell to keep you.” My size restored to normal. One major advantage is that I was not only a personal friend of Leo’s, but I had been a player in the Birchwood Camp, so I was known. It helped. However, Leo was only moved 15 miles or so from Chugiak and when a crisis came up in one family, they called Leo instead of me. Leo drove out to Chugiak from Anchorage and we visited the family together and then Leo disappeared. To my knowledge, he was not called again. It helped that we were friends.
Leo and I often went on hunting trips together. I don’t recall that we ever shot a moose, but we had some great relaxing times in the woods northwest of Palmer.
Going back to Bishop A. Raymond Grant, the common pattern in the 1960’s was for pastors to serve a three year term and then leave or return to the home conferences. I asked the Bishop if he wished for me to stay longer than three years and he did, hence my being available for appointment to Chugiak. He expressed some disappointment that more pastors did not stay, but it appeared to me that there was no discussion. Many pastors wanted to stay, but didn’t. I wanted to know, so I asked. Just a different way of operating, which, for the most part, served me well.
Shortly after getting settled in my new appointment, I met with some of the “men” of the church, which included Bill Stephens and Bill Lowe, and told them that I knew a significant amount of money was available to build a new sanctuary. I wanted their advice as to whether to make that a priority of my ministry or should we wait awhile. They said “full speed ahead” and that is what I did. With the help of strong laypersons like Harold Abrams and Stan Nickerson, the building process went smoothly. A contractor wanted to keep his crew together through a winter, so he gave us a very low bid. By and large, it was a wonderful experience. Harold Abrams was responsible for lots of construction at a nearby military base and he would stop by every evening on his way home and check out the process. When it came time to approve the architect’s color scheme for the sanctuary, we hit a rough spot. To save money, he had authorized rough beams (cheaper) and they were to be stained a light green to hid the imperfections and fit in with the total color scheme. Bill Lowe (remember him) wanted to change the recommendation to leaving them natural. Harold Abrams said “troubles come when you tamper with the vision of the architect. He should know! Bill Lowe, when he was outvoted blew up and announced he was leaving the church. Later in the evening I went to his home, affirmed that his views were valued and stayed until about 2 a.m., reflecting on the situation. He stayed in the church. Years later, he and his wife visited us in Spokane and he proudly announced that the beams had been sanded and were now their natural color. He had won! By this time the architect was dead, so no feelings were hurt. I visited the church with the natural beams and it looked okay. It only took him nearly 30 years to get his own way. One can never live life over again, but I had less patience in my older years with bullying behavior. That night I had compassion.
The color scheme matched the outdoor trees on May 15th when spring arrived. For two weeks, you couldn’t tell where the building ended and the world began.
We also had a battle over the glass windows installed at both ends of the sanctuary. They were to be tinted. The Mission Superintendent informed us that we could not have the windows because he was contributing $60,000 to the project. If we didn’t change the windows to more inexpensive walls, we couldn’t have the money. We had a meeting with the local church committee and it was my task to tell the Superintendent that if we couldn’t have the windows, we didn’t want his money. He relented. We got the money. It would be hard for the reader to visualize this, but walking down the center aisle of the church, occasionally we could see Mt. McKinley (now called Mt. Denali) about 160 miles away. Once I just gave up preaching and turned to enjoy the view myself. No one was listening to me.
One time, after complaining that the front pews were empty, Bill Lowe arranged for everyone to surprise me by sitting on the front rows. That only happened once. He was trying to make up for the temper tantrum he displayed when I tried to rope off the last few rows. He had New England roots and was angry over the pew system there where people were told where they could or could not sit. My wife seemed to enjoy engaging Bill in “recreational fights” over many issues. Both of them seemed happy afterwards. I cringed. Oh, the ropes disappeared.
We had a wonderful study group in the church, with one resident fundamentalist (maybe two) and one agnostic, if not atheist. We had loving, dynamic, respectful discussions. A rare experience in ministry. After some counseling, the agnostic gifted me with a moose horn lamp, which we still treasure.
Part of my responsibility was being in charge of Birchwood Camp. We finished a lodge and upgraded the camp with cabins (from tents) and eventually had a resident caretaker, which took a lot of responsibility from my shoulders. Since I didn’t get paid, I gave myself the title of Camp Superintendent.
Since I am telling Bill Lowe stories, his wife became ill and he was unable to do his annual float on a river to get a moose. So his church friends gathered money and it was my task to give the money to him so he could do an airplane hunt and get his annual moose in just a few hours. As Bill often did, he got angry and rejected the offer. “He was not a charity case. He could pay his own way.” I was not sent home empty handed, but with money I would have to return to the donors. As I reflected on the experience, I got angry and I went back to his home, telling him that it was his duty to his friends to receive this gift. “Well, if you put it that way”, he relented and took the money and I didn’t have to return it to the donors. He won’t let down his friends.
A great deal of financial support came from the Pittsfield Methodist Church in Pittsfield, Illinois. I sent them some moose meat for a wild game dinner. I shot my own, I didn’t ask for any of Bill’s moose. Merice Richner painted a large painting of the Chugiak area (priceless now) as a gift to the church in gratitude for their support. I checked recently and the church still had the painting.
James Kirsch offered to sand the parsonage logs and then restain them. He spent months on the job. What an offer! I experimented with having dogs, as Stan Nickerson dropped a German Shepherd/Husky mix by my house. He didn’t tell me she was pregnant. She had one puppy. The dog was wonderful. Always sat beside me when I was driving the new truck to Birchwood Camp.
One time the daughter of the camp watchperson called to tell me that a dog team and sled had come into camp empty. I told her that they should not pet them. (too late) Dogs can be vicious. I drove there as quickly as I could. I found the dog musher on the camp road, looking very upset. I asked him to get in the truck, which he did. I told him I knew where his team was and we were quickly there. He was so grateful that he offered the young girl the pick of his kennel. Her mother started to say “no”, but I assured her I would be the backup, if they didn’t want the dog. Soon I owned another dog. Eventually I gave that dog to a beginning dog musher and she became her leader and won at least one race in Fairbanks.
Speaking of Fairbanks, in 1957 there was a great flood in Fairbanks and I went with a group of young men from St. John to clean out the church basement. There were feet of gravel on the floor. We hauled it out five gallons at a time. I never recovered physically (lower back) and it became my role to get the young men motivated and focused. We slept in a shelter set up at a local school gymnasium. Biggest learning: if you have a basement in a flood zone, fill the basement with clean water and the basement walls with not cave in and the damage will not be as great. You heard it first here.
The United Methodist Church of Chugiak continues to thrive. A major addition was added decades later that enables the church to serve the community in a variety of ways.
I didn’t get to enjoy the sanctuary very long as the pastor, but we did return for a visit when Birchwood Camp celebrated its 50th anniversary. There were two persons present who had been active when I was the pastor and one of them came from Missouri. Life moves on!
Also while at Chugiak, I ran for political office in 1968. I ran for the Alaska State House of Representatives as a Republican. My primary motive was to prevent the election of a member of the John Birch Society, who operated a gas station right next to the church. I also had been President of the War on Poverty program in Anchorage, so I had a wee bit of name recognition. There were 49 candidates for twelve positions. I ran 3rd in the Eagle River-Chugiak Area where I lived, but I was 35th in the Greater Anchorage Area. I was successful in preventing Mr. Anderson from getting through the primary. People did have a choice. There were some vicious attacks on me from the radical right. When I shared one of the flyers with my mother, she said: “If what they are saying about you is true, I won’t even vote for you.” Not all of what they said was true, but again, the attack ads gave me name recognition.
I didn’t think it was ethical or wise to ask for money from my church members, so it was mostly a self-financed campaign at a cost of $2,000. Two members did contribute without being asked. One of them was O. W. “Bill” Lowe. One inactive family let it be know that they didn’t think pastors should be involved in politics, so they added this to whatever excuses they had for their non-involvement in the church.
I did run on a platform that was concerned about the environment. This was in 1968. Talk about being ahead of my time! I didn’t get much support from the oil industry.
I would not have been a very good politician. It was much more meaningful to go to Juneau as a pastor and do some part-time lobbying on issues that were important to me. I didn’t have any influence on the member of The John Birch Society (C. R. Lewis) that did get elected in Anchorage. But others appreciated my participation in the political process.
Juneau United Methodist Church was a very unique appointment, as the church property was taken from us by a process of imminent domain by the State of Alaska to build a new court house. We merged with Northern Light Presbyterian Church to become Northern Light United Church. In the merger we kept their name (primarily because I liked it) and the Presbyterians were then gracious enough to pray the Lord’s Prayer the United Methodist way. In 2014 we returned for the 40th anniversary of this new church and found that it was thriving. This made me feel good.
DOUGLAS COMMUNITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH was part of a two-point parish, created when Douglas could no longer afford a full-time pastor. I agreed to having Bea Shepard as a Lay Local Pastor during my years there, which made it very convenient when I was not available to preach in Douglas.
East Anchorage United Methodist Church 1981-1988
There were many interesting experiences while I was the pastor at East Anchorage United Methodist Church from 1981-1988. Having come from a very tense situation in Nome, I was ready for a change in pace. Here are some of my memories.
THE RAPTURE IS OVER
It didn’t take me very long to establish myself at East Anchorage. Knowing that many Christians believe in the rapture, I announced that it had occurred on June 29, 1981. This date was selected by one of the leaders in Arizona who gathered his 50 followers in his home awaiting the rapture on a specific date. Hoping to put that “doctrine” to rest, I announced that the rapture had occurred on that date and for some reason, the most perfect people I knew were still around, including my mother. But more shocking than this was the fact that Jerry Prevo and Jerry Falwell were still around. What does that tell us? Jimmy Swaggert has lost his claim to holiness, but it doesn’t seem to prevent people from sending his organization millions of dollars (2015). So much energy spent on an idea that holds little to no merit, in my view.
(update) Even as I choose to ridicule the idea once again, I see that I got the date wrong. The Rev. Bill Maupin in Tucson, Arizona, predicted the date of June 28, 1981. Then he revised the date to August 7, 1981. The Internet provides no more updates. Fifty members of his group, including some persons with “education” sold their homes and gathered at Maupin’s home, awaiting the end. They waited in vain. The Internet does not provide any more information. They had their fifteen minutes of fame. Bad theology abounds.
I am reminded that this “idea” is related to Israel and there are many prominent preachers who are promoting the idea that “the end” is connected to what happens in Israel. So we see a very unholy alliance between politicians in Israel and certain high profile preachers in America. Nothing good can come from this and one thing is for sure – no amount of words or political manipulation will bring about the “rapture”. Shame on those who think otherwise.
PASTOR, I AM READY
While in Nome I had related to a family composed of grandmother and grandson. The grandson was very angry and unresponsive. The grandmother was after me to “turn him around”, but it was obvious that he was far from ready. One day I talked to him privately and told him that I was aware that he did not wish to have any conversation with me about religious matters, but that if he was every ready for conversation about the church, I would be available. Then I moved from Nome and lost track of him. One day while in the East Anchorage church alone with the door locked, I heard some one knocking. I opened the door and there was the young man. He simply said: “I am ready”. Wow!
It so happened that two young adults sought out the church that year and spent a very focused year learning what Christianity and faith was all about. One came from an angry period in his youth and the other came from a family that claimed to be atheistic in belief and practice. Both found help for their own lives from that year of study and reflection. It was a special experience for me.
NEVER PROUDER OF A CONGREGATION
A family participating in our church had a problem when I was out of town. When I returned a couple of individuals, including my wife, had organized thirty (30) volunteers to take care of their children during the husband’s working hours, so he could keep his job and his source of income. There was no expression of judgment about what had caused the problem, just a loving expression of service. I think of this when people are critical of the church in general. Not in this case. It was the church at its best.
“THE PASTOR IS TRYING TO KILL YOUR CHILDREN”
East Anchorage was a relatively small congregation with an average attendance around 100 persons. We were two blocks from a trailer court with 400 trailers and we were one mile from some of the most expensive homes in town, but access was blocked by a designated street that had not been opened. I petitioned the city to open the street and became aware that I needed the congregation to be behind my efforts.
Meanwhile the husband of one of my members who lived near that non-street became upset with my efforts and he did what any serious United Methodist evangelist would do – he went door to door with the message that “the United Methodist pastor is trying to kill your children” by opening up the dead-end street. Traffic would increase and thus “endanger all of our lives” or in this case “endanger the lives of your children”. When this matter was voted on by my congregation, it was defeated by a vote of something like 30 to 2 (Barbara stuck with me). Two of the leaders of the church took the critic over in a corner to tell him what they thought of his behavior. We had not seen him in church before this vote and his family felt the urge to go elsewhere after this vote. Sad, but true. I missed his wife, but I didn’t miss him because he had never been there before this great debate. The street remained closed.
I was shocked when one of the active members said that they liked the church as it was – small – and that helped explain why my efforts to grow the church may have had an uphill battle. We were able to reach one family in the trailer court. We also had one family that drove the long way around from the exclusive housing development to worship in our church.
And probably those who were told that I was out to kill their children would not have been motivated to try us out.
We had a serious vandalism problem at one point. There was a wooded area on our property and some youth did things we didn’t want them to do. At some point I did a stakeout and observed bad behavior and followed the child home. I knocked on the door and the father answered. I explained my concern and he looked me right in the eye and said his son had been home all evening. In my sternest voice I replied, “Sir, I have been standing out in the cold for two hours and I just followed your son to this house one minute ago.” For some reason, the Father folded and the problem stopped. They didn’t come to our church either.
BIGGEST PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT
Some neighborhood children would heckle the church because of our address: 1666 Patterson. Don’t know who planted that idea, but without a congregational vote, I got the address changed to 1660 Patterson.. Only meant a new letterhead, among other things.
At a farewell party, after serving there seven years, I remember one colleague noting how popular I had become in Anchorage. Yes, I replied, I had discovered the secret. Don’t do anything and you will become popular. That was not the whole truth. I had become involved in some unpopular issues, but I did it quietly and behind the scenes. When one controversial issue came up, I gave the organizer a significant amount of money and asked him to keep my name out of it. He did and he was successful in whatever the issue was. I don’t even remember what the issue was, but it related to alcohol and I didn’t want to become known as a one note or one issue person.
Another reason for getting along so well at East Anchorage was that I developed the ability to listen to and affirm many individuals who did not necessarily agree with my take on things, but because they felt “listened to”, they didn’t give me a rough time. I remember one person being angry over a bad headline that communicated exactly the opposite of what was shared in the article. I calmed her down, but when people get angry, often the damage can not be undone, even with facts.
The biggest community battle I remember was the discussion over whether or not to change the Council of Churches into an Interfaith Council. In that context, it meant changing the by-laws so that the Jewish Rabbi could become a member. The Catholic Archbishop had sent down word that he wanted it to happen, so I gave it a great deal of energy. At the crucial meeting, the motion was defeated. I calmly expressed disappointment in their decision and indicated I would be spending my energy elsewhere. In other words, I threatened to resign. That is a power play that one should not use very often or with great discretion. In this case, the body called for a five minute recess and folks formed groups all around the room. I took a Catholic priest into a corner and berated him for his negative vote. I told him how disappointed I was to hear the same words out of his mouth about the Jewish rabbi that had been said about Catholic priests in the 1960’s after the Vatican council allowed priests to join Ministerial Associations. He changed his vote. In fact, everyone changed their vote in the sense that there were no negative votes. The motion passed. Then the Episcopal priest from the downtown church announced that he would no longer participate in the organization. No one called for a recess. The goal was achieved.
Often being ahead of my time on some issues, I had suggested including the Islamic Iman in the by-laws, but I was told not to push my luck. I do not know if the group ever included such a leader or not. They are included in many cities in America now when it comes to interfaith witness.
Change often is slow and rarely comes easily.
ELEPHANT ON MY CHEST
One evening, I felt a great constriction on my chest. Barbara insisted on calling 9-1-1. It was nice to know that she didn’t want to become a widow. I was popped into the hospital for all kinds of tests, including the iodine test to determine if I had a heart problem. It was good to learn that I had a good heart. Every pastor in Anchorage (there were twelve of them) made pastoral calls on their colleague, even my superintendent, who may have been the indirect cause of the constriction. That was an interesting experience. Some of my colleagues who visited longer said that we had brilliant conversations. I had no memory of them. I guess drugs can do interesting things.
It was a mystery as to what had happened, as I was getting along well with my spouse and my congregation. A doctor gave me a book: “Is it worth dying for?” and the title was helpful. I made the decision not to care as much about what was happening in the larger church. I decided “not to give a damn” about things I could not impact or influence and I think it helped.
There has been no recurrence…yet. I think I still give heartburn to some people but the “Letters to the Editor” have slowed down in retirement.
Based on my experience at East Anchorage, I have told many that “inclusive language” creates even more controversy that equal rights for gays and lesbians. I based this on one worship service that focused on the importance of “inclusive language”. After the sermon two individuals attacked my position. One woman communicated that if I ever used the inclusive language scripture again, she would leave the church. Rest of the story – due to material shared in United Methodist Women meetings, she came to me a year later and apologized. A man actually came to the front at the close of worship and shouted at me, fists clinched and veins on his face bulging and saying: “Why do you make such a big deal out of something that is so unimportant?” Come again? Unimportant? Oh well, a few months later, when I was serving another church, he died and his last words to his wife was to contact me to do his memorial service. At that service, I began by saying that this individual could be very stubborn and his extended family laughed with enthusiasm. I had nailed it. With the permission of my successor, I had returned to do the eulogy. Sadly, he did not reach out to the family after the service. A missed opportunity for him. I left town immediately after the benediction.
After the difficult experience on inclusive language at East Anchorage, I led by example. Inclusive language in worship bulletins and in my sermons. It didn’t work! But at least I didn’t get rejected over inclusive language in my last three churches. Probably few even noticed. But I certainly wasn’t successful at getting people to change their language. God is still He and many men still refer to woman as ladies. Change takes place not at all or very slowly. Hymns and bad translations have more influence than this preacher. What really gets me are United Methodist female pastors who still use exclusive language.
As I will note elsewhere, Hope Retreat Center was a favorite place of mine. Personal retreats were a part of my routine and whenever possible I would take others to the end of Palmer Valley. When my brother Wayne visited we went there and found a vehicle hopelessly stuck 92 feet from the road. My brother’s tow rope was 90 feet long. We improvised and rescued a grateful owner, but the rope was never the same. We also hiked in Girdwood, going to the summit area on the Crow Pass Trail. Awesome views are available there. Lake Eklutna was also a favorite place to visit. Portage Glacier and Matanuska Glacier were two other spots easily accessible from Anchorage. One of my regrets is not taking advantage of these places more often. Hatcher Pass Road out of Palmer-Wasilla provided great recreational opportunities, but we rarely took the time to enjoy them. Most of the time, it was work, work, work! One available recreation did not tempt me: skiing. The closest I got to skiing was visiting members in the hospitals with broken legs. Even today, one of the dangers of cross country skiing is having encounters with moose on the groomed trails. Moose rarely lose in such encounters. One time I walked to church on Sunday morning, only to discover a moose and calf in the church yard. I turned around and went back home to get my car. One should never trust a cow moose with a calf.
On one of my retreat times at the Hope Retreat Center, I read an entire book by Lyle Schaller “It’s a Different World”. I would read until I got sleepy and then I would sleep. It helped explain the changes I was experiencing in ministry. Such as: when I started in the 1950’s people welcomed pastoral calls without prior appointment. In the 1980’s, calling without an appointment was offensive to many people and some didn’t wish to be visited at all. In today’s world (2018) pastors are seen as coaches and trainers and pastoral care is the responsibility of the many, not the few. When you think about it, it makes sense. But living in changing times was not easy.
One humorous experience was visiting a former Catholic family who thought I was going to inspect their house (look in the closets) when I scheduled a pastoral call. We were very close for several years.
THE REST OF THE STORY
East Anchorage United Methodist Church was closed in 2016 on its 50th anniversary. Attendance had dropped to such a low level that it was unsustainable. The Alaska United Methodist Conference offices are now located in the building, as of 2019. I was unable to go for the final service. It is just as well. The nearby trailer park was leveled several years ago. The last time I drove by, it was still undeveloped. The nearby Anchorage Baptist Temple continues to thrive. Most of the participants transferred to St. John United Methodist Church. Some went to Anchor Park United Methodist Church.
A FUNNY STORY
Once upon a time, Dr. Jerry Prevo (Anchorage Baptist Temple) hired some one to picket his church and he was exposed. As he dealt with his embarrassment, his elders brought him a new suit of clothes. When I learned of this, I asked my congregation why they didn’t buy me a suit of clothes. Just saying.
Airplane crash in Gambell, Alaska (St. Lawrence Island): August 30, 1975.
As some of you know, I was the pastor at Nome Community United Methodist Church from 1974-1981, a total of seven years. One of my first accomplishments (under the leadership of Presbyterian pastor Alice Green, serving at Savoonga, also on St. Lawrence Island) was the establishment of the Nome Presbyterian Church and the Aywaan Bering Sea Larger Parish. The Larger Parish included two Presbyterian Churches on St. Lawrence Island, at Gambell and Savoonga, located 140 miles and 170 miles out into the Bering Sea from Nome and 40 miles from Russia.
To assist me in relating to the people of that island, it was arranged for me to visit each community at least once each year. One of my visits was not pre-planned.
On a very foggy Saturday day on August 30, a Wein Flight F-27 airplane full of passengers (31 with a four-person crew) was attempting to land at the airport in Gambell. The plane had not been able to land for days, so the pilot was making an extra effort to land through the fog and rain.
In the course of making this attempt to land the airplane, the pilot made a very fatal error. He probably thought he was landing to the left of the Bering Sea waters, when in fact he was landing to the left of a small lake on the island, which was backed by 600 foot Mt. Sevuokuk (Gambell). When he learned of his error, he put on full power and attempted to miss the top of the mountain. He failed. The tail of the plane hit the top and the plane was flipped on its back as it crashed on top of the mountain.
This mountain contains an unique part of the Siberian Yupik culture in that traditionally people are buried on the slope, with whaling captains having the highest place of honor there. While hiking, it was not unusual to find bones and skulls among the rocks.
After the crash, there was silence on the mountain top. Soon there were several sounds: the moans of the injured, the crackling of deadly flames from fire and the prayers of one of the passengers, Estelle Oozevasuk. Gilbert Pelowook, an Alaskan state trooper in route with a magistrate to Gambell for a case, regained consciousness. Some how he got out of his upside down seat and soon started tearing the airplane apart with his bare hands, attempting to save as many as possible. Some of the passengers had broken backs. When he was done, he had saved 19 passengers beside himself. Ten died and one young man, in shock, uninjured, had wandered off the mountain without helping anyone. He suffered greatly for that lapse in his response.
As word of the tragedy reached the outside world, I was asked to fly with a medical team in a small plane to the island to provide pastoral care. There was one extra seat. The church at Gambell was without a regular pastor, though a lay pastor was providing services. Even though I was scheduled to fly to Anchorage (500 miles away) on the following Monday in preparation for a major trip to the People’s Republic of China. I made arrangements for a replacement for myself on Sunday and departed for the island.
When I got there, this is what I found. The villagers had removed all survivors and all the deceased from the mountaintop. The crash site was less than half a mile from the village, but rugged terrain forced the rescuers to take the injured about five miles by land, around the back side of a cliff face. The survivors were ferried across a small lake and given emergency treatment at the village school. Every one had a note pinned to them detailing the known injuries.
When I arrived there were nineteen persons on stretchers. A Coast Guard supply plane had gotten word of the tragedy, striped itself of cargo, picked up a medic at a Loran Station and was going to provide airlift of nineteen victims to Nome or Anchorage. After I left Nome, fog came in and no one could land in Nome. The airplane had the range to take the victims to Anchorage, which they did, getting there at approximately midnight on the day of the crash.
After arriving in Gambell, I had just enough time to have a word of comfort and prayer for the stretcher patients as they were being tied into the airplane. Seeing that Coast guard C-130 take off was one of the most moving experiences of my life. For a long time, I got teary-eyed just thinking about it.
Then another type of work began. I went to the four homes that had experienced death that day, sharing prayer for the deceased. There were many images from that day.
-I went to one home where a woman had lost her husband, George Imergen. Her faith was so strong that she comforted those who came to comfort her. It was a powerful experience. Later she lost a son from freezing and a son-in-law in a car accident in Nome. Her faith never wavered. She was a remarkable woman.
-I went to the home of an elderly couple in their 80’s, Charles and Amy Slwooko, who had died of smoke inhalation, with no outward sign of damage to their bodies. They were members of the Nome Presbyterian Church and were making one last visit to Gambell. Thirty members of their extended family gathered to dress the bodies for burial from their children to their great-grandchildren. It was also a powerful experience.
-A young girl, Sharon Campbell, had died in the fire. I went to comfort the family and was able to comfort her mother. But the father stood outside the home, just glaring at me. He was very angry with God and I was there representing that God. We did not speak. He just glared. My heart ached for his pain. He glared a lot in subsequent years.
As the day wore on, I was under terrific pressure to stay and “bury the dead” in the traditional fashion of the village. Quickly! I was faced with an important decision: should I provide this pastoral service and risk losing the opportunity to go to China? I thought very hard about this and decided that the lay pastor Winfred Matuklook could provide this service just as well as I could. Most of the pressure to stay was coming from him. So I decided to go to China, if and when the next plane left for Nome.
As the night wore on, we learned that the Nome airport was “socked” in. After midnight, I was informed that we would prepare to return to Nome. Two other passengers were with me, the state trooper who rescued so many people and the young man who was not injured. The medical team had flown on to Anchorage in the larger plane.
I returned to Nome at 4 a.m. I slept until worship time, then crept into the balcony to hear my substitute, Rex Okakok, take care of the service. He did a wonderful job. Then I prepared to fly to Anchorage. Because I was gong in a day early for the flight to China, I had an extra day to visit the injured in the hospital.
When I arrived at the “native hospital”, where eighteen of the victims were being treated, I was welcomed with open arms by the staff. I was a bit surprised at how I was received and then I learned why. They had not informed any of the victims about the deaths of next of kin. So it became my sad duty, not only to have prayers for healing, but also to inform a young man (Isaac Kiyuklook, age 22), through an interpreter, that he no longer had a mother and a nephew. His mother Abigail (Daisy) Kiyuklook and her grandson, Franklin, Jr. had died. I also had to inform others of the loss of relatives.
My finest work that day was with the magistrate, Abner Gologergen. He had several broken bones. As I went into his room, he looked up at me with his arms and legs in traction and asked me this question: “What happened?” I took a deep breath and said, “Abner, you need to focus on your own healing. There will be time enough later to learn what happened. I do not want to share negative things. Now, do you really want to know what happened?” He thought a bit and said, “No, I will wait awhile”. He waited and he focused on healing and he was healed, thanks to modern medicine and rods inserted into his body. He was a wonderful man, both before and after his accident.
So I was gifted with the opportunity to minister directly to eighteen people twice in a period of eight hours as I did “the rounds” in that hospital. It was a profound experience for me. It was one of the most exhausting and stimulating and memorable experiences of my ministry. Then I went to China.
[Here are the names of some of those involved that were at the hospital (apologies for the spelling that may be incorrect): Isaac Kiyuklook (22 years of age); Merlys Oozeva (age 18); Abner Gologergen (broken leg and hip); Estelle Oozevasuk; Jerry Kanooka (age 8), Lena Malewootkuk (age 8), Laura Malewootkuk (older than Lena), Woodrow Malewootkuk (age 43), Gerald Kanooka (age 35), Harry Koozaata, Evelyn Koozaata (age 46), Bryan Koozaata (age 8), Karen Booshu (teenager), Esther Slwooko (age 17, Kenny James (young adult) and Ennis Apatiki (age 20)]
The woman who prayed, Estelle Oozavasuk, also eventually healed of her broken bones and when she worshipped with us at the Nome Presbyterian Church in route back to Gambell, it was a real day of celebration. She sat in a chair and moved to some dancing music that we were sharing that evening. she couldn’t walk, but she could move her limbs and she could praise God.
Eventually the entire village of Gambell was recognized for the skill and care they gave to the injured people. Trooper Gilbert Pelowook was recognized as a hero.
And I have struggled with the theology of death and dying ever since. When I read a newspaper article that God takes people away from us in accidents, I remember Sharon Campbell’s father glaring at me and I understand why people think like they do. Does what gives some people comfort cause others pain? God did not cause that plane to hit that mountain, but many believe it to be so. If I believed that God operated that way, I might have joined the father in some creative glaring.
One of Charles and Amy’s adult daughter looked at the mountain and said: “God is sending us a message. If we don’t get right with God, more tragedies will happen to this village.” I tried to challenge that theology. I was unable to change that theology. Should I have worked harder to change it?
God didn’t send the plane into the hill above Gambell, Alaska. Good things come from such tragedies and we can be grateful for that reality, but let’s not give God the credit or the blame for the tragedies. We can be grateful for the way in which many of the villagers and the trooper responded to the tragedy. And with improvements in air safety, it has not happened again. May it never happen again.
PREACHERS AND PREACHING
I have estimated that I preached about 3,372 sermons in my career. I took lots of preaching courses in seminary and grade-wise I did as well there as in any of the other disciplines taught in seminary. Many of those sermons were forgettable. I know because that has been the testimony of lay persons (they don’t remember them) and there are many (most) that I don’t remember. Unanimous opinion!
I was licensed to preach on May 4, 1957, and the license was given to me at a special service on June 10, 1957.
The process started in 1956, with approval of the Ludlow Quarterly Conference on April 15, 1956. The District Committee approved me on May 19, 1956. I completed the studies on April 23, 1957. I was ordained as a Deacon in 1960 and as an Elder in 1962.
If I were completely honest and this is the place and time for honesty, I have only heard one great preacher in my career. His name was Harrell Beck. He broke lots of the modern rules, but he held his audiences spell-bound. He could talk for an hour and you would not want him to stop. He might come to some great stopping points, but he would go on and wow his listeners some more. But his techniques could not be taught or caught. He was unique. One of a kind. He was the Old Testament professor at Boston School of Theology. He taught Old Testament to Martin Luther King Jr. and to several bishops in The United Methodist Church and last of all, to me. I discovered him or he discovered me at the summer school at Vancouver School of Theology. Once discovered I kept going back for more.
When he was working, he spent every weekend preaching somewhere. When he retired, he and his wife were going to China for some teaching and enjoying that culture. However, he went into a doctor’s office and died. His wife was very angry. She had given him to the church for many years and now that he was retired, it was going to be her turn. It was not to be.
Oh, I have heard some good sermons, but Harrell Beck was consistent. His lectures were like his sermons. Or should I say his lectures were sermons. Hour after hour, I never tired of listening to him preach the Word. I shed tears when I learned that he had died. More tears than when I learned of my father’s death.
Donald Hartman was very good at first person sermons. He would assume the role of a biblical character and present the sermon in that way. I never mastered that technique. Robert Moon was very good at getting to the heart of the matter on social issues. I did that occasionally. Usually I lost members every time I tackled tough issues. Sometimes they didn’t want to think about such issues in worship. Often they disagreed with what I said.
It got so bad at East Anchorage that one astute lay person asked for a public hearing of the membership to discuss my sermon on the death penalty. (I was and am against it). Apathy reigns in most churches, so only about a dozen people showed up to hear her protest. Even her husband (who probably was more angry than she) did not show up. Every other person present disagreed with her, but she felt heard, so she didn’t leave the church. What was interesting is that one 80 year old woman, who also disagreed with my position, affirmed the fact that she wanted me to tackle tough subjects. The woman requesting the hearing wrote a touching tribute when I was honored at a later occasion.
Usually when I experimented with new techniques in preaching, I would get push back from a portion of the congregation. That didn’t feel good and it is one aspect of ministry that I did not and do not appreciate. Many people like routine. So change is threatening.
I was a fan of dialogue sermons. Many were uncomfortable because they were not comfortable with interaction, with others or with the preacher. Such sermons are harder to prepare than traditional sermons..
Now that there are television screens and computers available for worship, one hears the mumbling from those who do not like it. Such tools can be very useful for communication. I was saving film clips for years, but never got to use them because the technology was not available in the worship setting..
Example: a clip from The Elephant Man where he proclaims : “I am not an elephant. I am not an animal. I am a human being. I…AM..A..MAN,” would add visual power to any preaching about accepting people as Christ accepted people. I never got to use it. My bad.
I took a course in Preaching Contemporary Literature in seminary. Even got an “A”. I practiced what I was taught.
Occasionally I had sermons that even I could remember. I loved biographical sermons. I have sermons on Naude’ Beyers (South Africa), Corrie ten Boom, Gandhi “Is Gandhi in Hell?”, Kahlil Gibran, Nikos Kazantzakis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth, Ed King of Mississippi (we even had him preach at Stanwood), Anna Howard Shaw, Bartolome de Las Casas, Fanny Crosby, the story of LeChambon, France, and Andre’ Trocme, Elizabeth Peratrovich (Alaska), and Michael Servetus, . It may have been more effective to use these persons as illustrative material, rather than spend a whole sermon on each person. Who knows? I bored a few people, but I was not bored. That should count for something.
Ideas must be considered dangerous. Nikos Kazantzakis was treated badly by the Greek government. Who is Nikos Kazantzakis? He is best known for writing “Zorba the Greek”. But he also wrote “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “The Greek Passion”. I saw the movie “The Greek Passion” in the 1960’s. It was a formative religious experience for me. I made sure lots of people saw it and no one was affected by it in the same way I was. That should be a cautionary fact as we engage in “spiritual formation”. When Nikos died the government wanted to bring his body back to Greek soil, but his widow would not allow it to happen. Good for her. Kahlil Gibran was excommunicated, but when he died and his body was returned to Lebanon, the roads were literally lined with people to pay respect as his body passed by on its way to burial. Michael Servetus was condemned as a heretic by both Protestants and Catholics. This may not be true of all heretics, but when some one upsets the establishment this badly, I think we need to learn more about what he or she was writing and saying and doing. And so I have done that.
Books and/or movies occasionally inspired sermons: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Babette’s Feast, Chocolat and the Harry Potter Movies would be examples. Sometimes the titles were better than the sermons: “My Dog, the Methodist” and “Thank God for Fleas”. When I saw the movie “Chariots of Fire”, I dug a little deeper and learned the wonderful story of Eric Liddell, missionary to China and martyr for the faith.
So I think Dr. Merrill Abbey might have been proud of this preaching pupil. At least I let one course affect my preaching from time to time. Biblical truths can be communicated through contemporary literature and movies.
In my retirement years, I find myself telling personal stories. Barbara (my spouse) may tell me if I get too carried away.
CAMPING IN ALASKA
So many stories and so little time. There are four camps I have used in Alaska: Birchwood Camp in Anchorage, Southeast Camp at Juneau, Salmon Lake Camp at Nome and Hope Retreat Center at Hope. I have already written about Hope, so I shall not repeat much here. However, I have added our experience of hiking two trails in Alaska: Chilkoot Trail near Skagway and Resurrection Trail between Hope and Cooper Landing. They certainly qualified as “camping” experiences.
During my summer at Moose Pass in 1961, I was ordered to be a counselor for one week at Birchwood Camp. Years later I either learned or was reminded that I worked in the first camp to be held in this camp. Cabins were large army tents set on a platform. The dining hall was an even larger Army Tent. I don’t remember who was in charge, but the second week of camping I was in charge. Unfortunately, another pastor who had a doctoral degree from Boston School of Theology was a counselor during the second week and he was insulted to have to work with a Dean who was so inferior to him. He criticized me right in front of the campers. It was one of the few times in my life that I came close to slugging some one, but deep down I knew that would not be a very cool thing to do. Camping in those days was run according to a strict plan and I did make a mistake and he was gracious enough to point it out to everyone in the camp. I went for a walk and Mary Ann Harlan talked me down from my anger. I took some satisfaction in the fact that his people skills were not good and from a distance I learned of some of his exploits in ministry. At one point in my later career he was interim superintendent of the Alaska Missionary Conference for a few months and I wondered if I could pass that time without any interaction with him and I succeeded. Not my greatest accomplishment, but interesting to me.
(A footnote to my anger is that I carried that anger with me back to seminary. Eventually I was sharing this anger with one of my professors and as he observed my physical reaction to the memory, he asked me: “Where is this preacher who is making you so angry?” I told him that he was in Portland, Oregon. Then the professor asked me: “How many miles away from you is he?” And I guessed 2,000 miles. Then the professor gently pointed out the power I was giving this individual. He could make me angry from a distance of 2,000 miles. “What a powerful person he is!” For some reason that helped me and the physical reaction to the memory immediately became less. I didn’t even have a physical reaction when he was given the task of being my interim superintendent for three months.)
When I returned to Alaska full-time, I served at Kenai and Chugiak, so camping at Birchwood continued to be part of my summer responsibilities. I remember one lad from Seward who had been physically abused. If his story was true, he had run away from some one in Kansas and ended up in Alaska. I did observe scars on his back. He had an attitude. Some older children teased him and he picked up a piece of firewood and hit one of them over the head. Fortunately, it did no permanent damage, but the older children were ready to teach him a lesson and he ran away from camp. By God’s grace I was able to find him and bring him back to camp. I had stern words with the aggrieved parties and no one was killed on my watch.
When assigned to Chugiak, I was expected to manage the camp. No salary. So I insisted on a title: I became the Superintendent of Birchwood Camp. Lots of adventures. When it came time to purchase a new vehicle, I wanted a four-wheel drive Chevrolet. Roger Thompson, pastor at First United Methodist in Anchorage wanted to save some money and buy a regular truck. Finally I looked Roger in the eye and said: “If you prevail in this discussion, the first time I get stuck, I will wait until midnight and call you for help.” He was convinced and he supported my request. And when I got stuck with the four-wheel drive vehicle, I didn’t call him.
A new lodge was built and Alaska Methodist University gave us some old equipment. Barbara designed and helped us install the kitchen. That design has stood the test of time. I was inspired to harvest lots of salmon for summer camp food. I purchased a set net and hired some native Alaskan men to do the work on a 50/50 deal. The first summer my share was stolen and the second summer the power went off and all the fish in the camp freezer were spoiled. I gave up. It was during these years of cutting firewood in the winter time that I learned I was allergic to birch wood. Ironic, to say the least.
Because of vandalism, we moved to having resident managers (Loren and Julia Rodebush) and that has been the case even to today. I recommended to my successor at Chugiak that he avoid being the camp superintendent and he was pleased to make that arrangement.
Remembering James Kirsch: he worked for the Alaska railroad and part of his task was burying things the railroad no longer used. Occasionally, I would get a message from some one that if I went to the railroad tracks, there might be something I could use. It was a miracle. But one acquisition was special: steel I-Beams for a bridge. That required some special equipment to move them into place, but a new bridge across a tiny stream lasted for many years.
Some of my stories are difficult to date, but after serving in Juneau and Nome, I came back to Anchorage and found myself as a counselor in a high school camp. There were at least five students whose fathers were clergy and they treated the dean very badly. I knew we were in for trouble when one camper arrived with a pickup truck full of furniture and sound equipment. For some reason we allowed him to stay, but bear in mind I was not in charge. The disrespectful treatment of the dean got so bad that I intervened and a truce was arranged. I can’t remember how that was accomplished, but it was not a pleasant experience.
The next year there was a new camp planned for 2nd graders and I volunteered. It was a wonderful experience. This was approximately 1983. One child, also a preacher’s kid, was asked to help set the table and his response blew me away. He was thrilled to be asked. I knew that I would be working with early elementary children as long as possible.
We returned for the 50th anniversary of the camp and Walter Hays Jr graciously arranged for me to share the spotlight of sharing memories. It turned out that I was a counselor in the first camp held there in 1961. For the second camp, I was Dean. Promotion came fast in Alaska.
SOUTHEAST ALASKA CAMP – John Argetsinger Campus
I was a leader in this camp for five years. It took a great deal of energy for two weeks of camping. I came up with the brilliant idea of selling the camp to the Juneau School District for Environment Education classes, with the understanding we could use it in the summer time for two weeks. That deal went through and they upgraded the kitchen and then gave it back to us. The School Board cancelled its two best programs as a power play with the voters. I don’t know how that turned out, but some of the founders of the camp were not happy with me. I was never thanked for getting the camp a new kitchen.
One of the activities was hiking five miles to either Eagle Glacier or Herbert Glacier. I carried my 30-06 with me and the wisdom of that was confirmed when I came upon bear scat that was still steaming. With noisy children, we never saw a bear and for that, I am grateful.
On one of those trips I found an orange mushroom known as “chicken” mushroom. I harvested it and cooked it and it was well named, as it tasted like chicken. One brave camper wanted to join me in my feast, but I was too nervous about the liability, so I said “no” to his pleas.
Over the years, lots of dedicated lay persons have kept the camp going. Now there is a resident manager, so the pastors of the Juneau churches do not have to provide the main leadership.
As a footnote, the following was inspired by some camper or group of campers in 1973 to share at “Stunt Night”. They also messed up my sleeping bag at that camp. They lovingly called me “Super Dean”.
“Super Dean. We love you. Why don’t you care for Cabin 2. We slave for you night and day. Trying our hardest to keep you warm. We light your fire, we sweep your floor, We cologne your cabin from door to door. We serve you food on the floor. Why can’t you love us a little more.”
Then there was this song from Jesus Christ, Superstar, I think.
Day by day, Day by day Super Dean 3 things we pray Love us more dearly Treat us more fairly Understand us more clearly Day by day, Day by day.
At the time, it was fun, but with the passing of time, it was unique and very creative.
SALMON LAKE CAMP IN NOME
This camp was owned and operated by the Lutherans, but they were very generous in sharing the camp with others, including the Methodists. It was in a beautiful valley about 50 miles from Nome. My best story came when I took a group of women to the camp for an activity. One mile from the camp a bear stood in the road and looked at us and then went into the tundra away from the camp. The women announced that they wanted to go home. I didn’t think that was necessary, so I delivered them to the camp. Then I drove home. They got home to Nome before I did. I never figured out how that happened. Native Alaskans in the Nome area do not like bears. Bears were used in the same way my brothers used the boogie man to scare me as a child. However, I never saw a boogie man and we all saw the bear.
HOPE RETREAT CENTER
Having been the pastor in Hope in 1961, I took youth groups there every chance I got, both when I was the pastor in the Kenai Parish and when I was the pastor at Chugiak and much later, when I was the pastor at East Anchorage. I have written about Hope in another blog. (see January 2015)
Chilkoot Trail from Skagway/Dyea to Lake Bennett was done in 1973 with Jim Fellers of Ketchikan and Don/Alma Hartman of Sitka. We took a few youth with us, trying to determine if the experience should become an official activity of the SE Camping Program. It should be noted that Jim Fellers and the Hartman’s did it a second time.
However, I determined that I didn’t want to do it again, either personally or in an official capacity. But this is getting ahead of the story.
We traveled to Skagway by ferry. I don’t recall how we got to Dyea at the trailhead. We got there before it was highly organized by the National system of supervision. We did the trail in four days, as I recall. There were cabins available on the first night, but it was very crowded. The trail is 33 miles long and designated as an U.S. National Historic Landmark. All went well until we got to the top of the summit where we faced strong winds and heavy rain. The ground was too wet to set up camp, but as walked in the rain, I noticed that one of the girls from Sitka dropped one of her gloves and she had no motivation to retrieve it. I realized that we were in dire straits. I did not know the word “hypothermia”, but a sixth sense kicked in and we force marched everyone at least a mile or two to higher ground where water was not standing. We set up tents and asked everyone to get into their sleeping bags to warm up. Jim Fellers and I fixed dinner and waiting on everyone. End result: we were warmer than anyone. Bottom line – we didn’t lose anyone. A very scary experience. Not one I wanted to repeat. Don/Alma Hartman and Jim Fellers did it again and had perfect weather at the summit. I was not motivated to go back in order to see the beautiful mountains at the top.
One of the unique features of the journey is seeing the refuse left by the gold miners who went over the pass in 1898. There were leather harnesses along the trail and remnants of equipment used to aid the miners on their “trip to the top”. Each miner had to have 2,000 pounds of goods when they entered Canada, so some had to make lots of trips before gaining permission to enter Canada.
At the end of the trail, in those days, there was a dinner at a railroad depot at Lake Bennett. The food was very good, especially the pie. We came back to Skagway on the train.
There is an abandoned church at Lake Bennett. History books disagree on whether or not it was ever used. Based on my exhaustive research, it was built during the gold rush and used for a brief period of time. It looks like it was not completed because so much lumber has been removed for other purposes. But my research convinced me that it was built and used. It would have related to the Presbyterian Church, I think.
RESURRECTION PASS TRAIL from Hope to Cooper Landing
The Resurrection Pass Trail is 38 miles long. I did this trip with Leo C. Cramer and Walter Hays plus some laypersons in the time period of 1966-1968. Again, we were “checking it out”. We did it before it was well marked and we did get lost on the first day. One high light was seeing a melting snowbank that was the beginning of two rivers: Juneau and Resurrection. When we got to Juneau Lake, having been on the trail for 3-4 days, it was time for a bath. Walter Hays was determined to take photographs after I was in the water. It didn’t take very long for me to convince him that if he didn’t put the camera away, he would no longer have a camera that worked. All sightings of bears were far, far away.
Both of these experiences were highlights for me, but not ones that I wished to repeat. It was a test of endurance in both cases. Part of the problem was the weight of our backpacks. In both cases, we were pioneers, long before the trails were well marked and/or monitored.
National Prayer Breakfast 2015
The national press covered the reaction of right-wing Christians to President Obama’s remarks about the Crusades. I have studied the issue enough to know that many Islamic believers regard the atrocities as having happened “yesterday”. Many Christians do not understand this. One act of the Crusaders was to kill everyone in a village that just happened to be a Christian village. So they were killed for being Arabs, not for being of the Islamic faith. The memory lingers.
Now a newspaper clipping in the Skagit Valley Herald (Feb. 14, 2015) informs me of the sharp contrast in the two speakers on the program: NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip (I had never heard of him) and President Barack Obama.
Bear in mind that Waltrip and Obama made their remarks in front of the Dalai Lama.
Quoting Waltrip: “If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you don’t have a relationship, if he’s not the master of your life, if you’ve never gotten on your knees and asked him to forgive you of your sins, if you are just a pretty good guy or a pretty good gal, you’re going to go to hell.”
Let’s use the word “poppycock” today. The Dalai Lama has more spirituality in his little toe than do some individuals who hold Waltrip’s current viewpoint and you can quote me on that. Is Gandhi in hell? Not a chance.
President Obama, on the other hand, said (and I quote) “Beware, because faith can be twisted and distorted, used as a wedge or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it….
“Lest we get on our high horse (he could have said low horse) and think, this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, People committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
“We have to speak up against those who would misuse his name to justify oppression, or violence or hatred with that fierce certainty.”
AMEN and AMEN
Makes me wish that I did believe in the traditional hell. I have some candidates and some of them are self-professed “super” Christians. For those who don’t know, one of my favorite quotes is: “There is a hell and it is empty”. So there would be room for lots of souls.
Garrett Biblical Institute
Garrett Biblical Institute is now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. When I graduated I received a B.Div. (Bachelor of Divinity), but years later (for a small sum of money) this was elevated to a M. Div. (Master of Divinity). Seemed only fair for three more years of academic work.
At some point in my time there, I ran for President of the student body. There were three candidates. One was attacking the administration heavily, I was supportive of the administration and a third candidate was African-American or Black. In the course of the campaign, it was obvious I would not win, so I withdrew and threw my support to the Black candidate. He won! I don’t remember all of the issues involved, but the President had been rather hard on some students who left their wives at home in the parish all week and were very friendly with some of the single women on campus. The President had shined some light on that practice by having a talk with the husbands. I was on the side of the wives at home.
When Barbara came to Garrett, she got the support of the President in receiving a scholarship from her home church in Birmingham, Michigan. That church gave scholarship help to persons going into full-time Christian service and her pastor refused to authorize such help for her. The President, Dr. Dwight A. Loder (who later became a bishop) write a letter to the pastor and Barbara got her scholarship. When she left school to marry me and go to Alaska, the pastor asked for a refund. Dr. Loder wrote another letter and life went on. After all, she was a commissioned missionary. That counted for something.
One of the fun things at Garrett was playing basketball in the tower. I remember playing with the Cone brothers. James Cone went on to become a prominent theologian. When he applied for the doctoral program, a possible racist on the faculty (from the south) refused to vote positively on his application. His name was Dr. Henry Kolbe. Dr. William Hordern, a Lutheran on the faculty, announced that if James Cone was not allowed into the program, he would resign from the faculty and state his reason. Dr. Cone was admitted and the rest is history. He was on the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York for many years until his death at age 79 on April 29 in 2018.
Dr. Kolbe was the ethics teacher and for some reason he loved to say that it could tell if a term paper was written at the last minute and he would give such a paper a very bad grade. I don’t know that I deliberately tested that opinion, but I wrote one paper on Ministerial Ethics at the last minute (I was a very good typist then) and I got an A minus on the paper. Part of me wanted to tell him and part of me wisely kept my mouth shut. I ended with a B. Much better than a F.
Dr. Hordern was a very nervous lecturer and he also lectured with a pointer in his hand. One time I hid the pointer and he literally could not begin his lecture until it appeared. Fortunately, he also had a good sense of humor and I didn’t flunk that course. In fact I got a B. He became President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Canada.
Dr. Samuel Laeuchli was a teacher of history and he insisted on memorization. I hit the point where I resisted that stance and as a result I got my first “D” in my academic career in History of Early and Medieval History. That was at the beginning of my second year. When my last quarter of work came, I was in a course that didn’t require any homework (Clinical Training at Cook County Hospital for 8 credits), so each evening I would say goodnight to Barbara at 10 p.m., return to my dorm and play pinochle until 1 or 2 a.m. Probably one of my more helpful learnings in seminary – how to pay pinochle. It is skill (?) that is still with me today. When Bishop Everett Palmer frowned on our playing at Pastor’s School in Alaska, we played on.
Comprehensive exams was an ordeal for all students. Each student spent one hour with 3 professors who could ask any questions they wished to ask. After the hour they would either approve the student for graduation or success remedial work in areas of weakness. I took this oral exam on Friday, October 13, 1961. When I got up that morning, being very nervous, I flirted with a student at breakfast named Barbara Dadd. I was smitten.
I had spent the summer in Alaska and some of my hour was taken up with questions about my experience. They asked some question completely out of my academic work, but I was able to answer the questions from my experience as a Sunday School teacher at my home church in Ludlow, Illinois. Especially questions related to Wesleyan theology. One of the professor noted that my Christology was a bit weak. If he only knew! I didn’t learn universalist theology at Garrett, but I was leaning in that direction. Actually my Christology is very strong – Jesus Christ saved everyone! I started articulating that belief system in the 1980’s, helped by some dialogue with some United Church of Canada pastors at Vancouver School of Theology summer school. If you really want to understand my belief system, read “If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. I don’t need to write a book – they have done it for me.
To this day, I enjoy reading about what happened to the Christian faith in the first 500 years when the faith was changed in a way that Jesus would not have recognized or desired, in my opinion. Books titled: “When did Jesus become Christ?” are recommended by me. Check out the first five centuries. I was born at the right time. No one kills me for what I believe. They may stop coming to listen to me. They may stop paying my salary. But they do not kill me. Thank you, God.
We were married on June 16, 1962, in the Garrett Chapel by Dr. John Irwin, who taught preaching. In the 1980’s a church family wanted a grandfather to officiate at their daughter’s wedding. I did the counseling and then sat in the back, as grandpa did his thing. I really liked the liturgy he used and asked for a copy. I was shocked and excited to see that the liturgy had been written by Dr. John Irwin. I have no clue if these words were used at our wedding, as I remember nothing about liturgy from that day. Dr. Irwin also established a tradition that I followed for several years. When I paid him for his services, he immediately gave his fee to my bride. If I had known he was going to do that, I could have impressed my bride with my generosity. A lost opportunity.
One New Testament professor was Dr. Ed Blair. Flash forward to the end of my career in Stanwood and I was his pastor for eight years. He was kind. He retired in 1971. The late 1960’s were not kind to him, as he was open to dialogue and some of the students were into something else. Woe to any professor who said the wrong “word” in a lecture. Some of the conservatives at Stanwood could not accept my preaching, but I talked about Jesus enough to satisfy Dr. Blair. I officiated at Vivien’s memorial service, but I had retired by the time Dr. Blair died. He was a wonderful person who was cherished by the Stanwood congregation. In addition, they got the benefit of his wisdom for many years. Just for the record, he was the writer and editor of the Abingdon Bible Handbook.
Dr. Wise, the pastoral counseling professor at Garrett, was challenged by a student once and it was interested to see him handle the situation, shall we say “wisely”? We also sang with gusto the song: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” whenever he preached.
I took LOTS of preaching courses: seven to be exact.
One class took us to New York and Washington D.C.: Travel Seminar in Public Affairs. Met Eleanor Roosevelt. One of my few “A’s”. In fact, I got 4 “A’s”. In addition to the Travel Seminar, Sermon Workshop, Preaching & Contemporary Literature and Educational Ministry to Children. Completing this review, I got 26 B’s and 7 C’s and 1 D. Sometimes I claim that I wish I had majored in history in college, but I got 2 C’s and a D in history in Seminary. I still like historical novels. History with sugar coating?
I am shocked at how little I know about history. There are those in our midst who do not know about the holocaust during World War II and some seem to relish “denying it”, which gives us a clue about human depravity. God’s grace is more generous than my own, for which the human race can be grateful.
In 2019 my wife and I visited Nova Scotia in Canada and we learned about The Great Halifax Explosion in 1917. It was the largest man-made explosion prior to the Atomic Bombs in Japan. I had never heard of it. Now I have. Travel does tend to expand my knowledge and curiosity. My preaching opportunities are more limited, but this information will be worked into a sermon on “The Will of God” that I am preparing for the Guemes Island Congregational Church here in Washington. Last Sunday (11-10-19) I shared the story of Anna Howard Shaw with the Federal Way UMC. She was ordained as a Methodist pastor in 1880 and along with many other women, such as Susan B. Anthony, helped pass the 19th Amendment to allow women the right to vote in the United States of America. I share this to demonstrate that I am still learning things, fifty-seven years after graduating from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.