Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Search: Crisis Experiences

As we searched for a spiritual home among various Friends Meetings and other denominations in our new location in New Jersey, we quickly recognized a sense of “home” in a small unprogrammed Friends Meeting with an active Sunday School. Here I met someone who became a strong spiritual guide for me, Lewis Benson. I had read Catholic Quakerism in an “extension” course under T. Canby Jones and been impressed by the seriousness with which the early Friends were handled. Lewis did not wish to repeat the early Friends, especially George Fox, but rather to share their message as it speaks to the world today through our experience. In some ways he led me full circle back to my earliest guides of the early Friends, the prophets, and Christ in a way that liberated my reaction against the limiting language and experience of midwestern “Christian” orthodoxy.

The community of this meeting helped our family through a very difficult time when the small group of educators I had joined at Holmdel, NJ, was disbanded and a traditional authoritarian school structure was imposed. As I searched for a new position, emotional and spiritual support from the Meeting upheld our family. When I accepted a full time administrative position in a school district over an hour away from our home, it was with regret that we had to leave South Jersey. The position I applied for was Science Department Chair with some teaching, but when the State of New Jersey refused to accept the credentials of the older, both in terms of age and service, Department Chair who had been promoted to “Supervisor” with full time administrative duties, he had to return as Department Chair and I was appointed as Supervisor of Science and Math, as well as Physical Education. With my PhD courses and experience I held a “Supervisor” certificate from NJ while he did not have the certificate. I was fortunate that the previous Department Head was very gracious in the change and we quickly formed a friendship. However, it was unfortunate that within a few months he died of a sudden massive heart attack that some say was brought on by disappointment and “heartbreak” by the “demotion.”

Even with the physical move, it was several years before we slowly felt the distance from the Meeting grow in a spiritual sense. It was a year after we had moved that Lewis Benson and I were placed before the New York Yearly Meeting as recorded Ministers of Manasquan Monthly Meeting. The ties to this Meeting were so strong that in our new location we began to attend a Methodist Church and quickly became involved in the life of the Denville, NJ, church. One of the attractive features of the church was the statement on the cover of the weekly bulletin which stated “Ministers: Every member of the congregation.” The pastor chose not to use his authority but shared his spiritual guidance and challenged others to use their gifts. He persuaded us to accept “Associate Membership” in the church and in the welcoming ceremony spoke of our having been “baptized in the Spirit” and participating in spiritual communion. He accepted the “non-physical” aspects of these sacraments as equivalent with other members’ participation in the physical rites. Again I recognized the diversity of helpful and authentic guidance.

On various occasions I had talked with my father about the impact of Friends’ witness with other groups and within the Religious Society of Friends itself. He had come to the conclusion that the pastoral system had brought the beginning of the end of Friends as a unique witness, and as a pastor he was contributing to the demise of the Religious Society. However, he continued to provide tremendous guidance to many individuals, including myself, and remained faithful to the members of the Meeting that he was serving, to early Friends, and most of all to Christ and the message of Love.

Within a year of our leaving Manasquan, my father died at the age of 58. Characteristically, he had put off seeing the doctor with respect to the pains he was feeling in his chest on Friday until he had carried out his duties over the weekend. Even after admission to the hospital on Monday, he carried on his duties as chair of the town’s ministerium having some of the group meet in his hospital room on the regularly scheduled day. However, when the ministers returned from their lunch break, they discovered that Logan Smith’s heart had been stopped by a massive coronary attack. I was faced with the loss of my most consistent and reliable spiritual guide but also was forced to examine my own spiritual leadership and sharing with others.

As a result of the death of the Science Department Chair and my father within the span of a few months and some concerns that I was having internally with my job, Judy and I had a difficult struggle with emotional, intellectual and spiritual questions. Although I was receiving excellent evaluations and accomplishing what seemed a great deal at the school, there was a lack of enthusiasm and sense of “real” involvement. I missed the interaction with students and the sense of learning and searching which characterized my previous experiences both in an intellectual and spiritual sense.

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