Monday, December 6, 2010

Search: Major Change

In the spring of 1976, I struggled with the challenges brought on by the loss of my father and a sense that full time administration in a large school system with little to no contact with students was not what I was called to do. One evening in early May Judy asked if I had seen the ad in the New York Yearly Meeting Newsletter regarding the campus minister position at William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The ad listed Ed Hinshaw as the contact person for the search committee. Ed had been a colleague of my father’s in Kenya and I considered him a personal friend even though it had been almost fifteen years since we had had any personal contact. Without formal religious training beyond a couple of undergraduate courses with Hugh Barbour and Wilmer Cooper and a somewhat informal “extension” course with T. Canby Jones, I decided to apply. I was invited to visit and interview for the position. In a sense this was still under the guidance of my father and probably included a sense of wishing to follow more in is footsteps than my path had been up until then. This was further validated by one of the persons on the interview committee who stated when the question of my “training” was brought up “If you’ve been with Logan Smith for the number of years which you have, you must have as complete a Quaker education as anyone.”

My decision to accept the position was the stated opportunity to again join a small group of persons who were evidently serious students and proponents of not only education but of Friends. I believed that I would be able to serve as a Friends’ minister without formality in an educational setting with a shared sense of responsibility and the utilization of my gifts. The move involved decreasing our income by half and a major move from New Jersey to rural Iowa. However, it did allow Judy to complete her college degree that had been on hold while I pursued graduate school and subsequent school positions. She had taken major responsibility for the raising of our three children and providing a wonderful support for me through some difficult times.

However, within a year of my appointment, the campus ministry committee was disbanded by the firing of one member and the resignation from the college of another member. The resignation was in response to the removal of some sharing among the leadership group in the college. It again seemed that a consensus sharing was denied in favor of a more traditional authoritarian structure. I found myself turning to different sources for spiritual guidance. The writings of Rufus Jones, Howard Brinton and William Penn occupied a great deal of reading time. Keith Kirk, the pastor at College Avenue Friends, became a person to whom I turned to share in my search.

The struggles on an emotional and spiritual level continued to the point where I was diagnosed as “depressed” by the family physician. He said that it was almost a “given” with the changes in my life within a year: loss of father, major physical move, major career change, etc. During that period I also experienced a “mystical” event. One night in bed I felt a real sense of physical pressure on my body forcing me into a fetal position and then a releasing force to a relaxed position while an apparent “external” voice said “Lead them to the power.” I did not change my behavior or attitude as a result of these sensations, but rather felt that I was somehow being led to a change. I was coming to the realization that if I were to be true to the “Christ who has come to teach his people himself” and who “provides power to his people,” I had to continue my spiritual journey guided by a variety of sources which would enlighten my path. I began to expand my reading rather than follow any one person for very long and began to do some writing of my own in which I tried to formulate my own understanding of the spiritual journey. I also recognized the depth of the wisdom of early Friends in writing advices, journals and queries rather than doctrinal statements, “road maps” for others to follow, or creeds. I also began to recognize that I had to follow my own leadings and not try to live up to someone else’s expectations. This seemed to point toward secondary school teaching, especially in Friends schools.

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