Monday, November 30, 2009

Last Ones Out

The last full day of our 1987 stay in central Florida we were headed to EPCOT for the first part of the day, and then planned to finish our Disney time at the Magic Kingdom that night.  We parked our Chevy Suburban and our rented van in the EPCOT lot.  At the time, I was a Disney novice.  In later years I would have laughed and made fun of people for making the mistake I made.  EPCOT was closing at 9 PM, while we would be at the MK until around midnight. This would come back to haunt us!  We had a great time at EPCOT, then took the monorail over to spend our final hours with Mickey.

Everything was fine until we met for the last time at midnight to begin the journey back to our motel.  It seems that Jennifer Welch had become ill and was at the First Aid Station getting some attention (In case you are wondering, First Aid is located between Casey's Corner and the entrance to Adventureland.  We try to be a full service blog!). In hindsight, we were lucky it was just Jennifer- many of the youth had decided not to eat because they were running short on cash.  In any case, by the time Jennifer was released, it was nearly 1 AM.  The monorail to EPCOT and our vehicles was no longer running.  It appeared we were stuck at the MK.  After much asking, we were finally told we could catch a bus from the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) that could drop us at EPCOT.  This bus stopped everywhere, including a whole lot of places we had never seen before.  In fact, as Marilyn and I became true Disney Freaks over the years, there were some places we stopped that night that we never managed to find again!  The bus finally dropped us at the EPCOT bus stop area.  If you know that park, then you may know how far away for our cars we still were.  We still had to cross to the entrance and then make our way across the ENTIRE parking lot to our vehicles.  The good news was they were going to be easy to spot- we were the only ones left!  It was around 2 AM when some guys driving trams and picking up trash gave some of our group a ride to the van.  All in all it was quite a night.  It gave that group a shared history that helped bond us together.  It's not very often you can be the last ones out at Walt Disney World!  I took a couple of pics of our lonely vehicles, but I no longer know where they are.  They would be classics!

The next day we planned to do Sea World and then drive halfway home.  It would not be that simple...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Destination: Orlando


In early 1987, while trying to figure out what kind of trip we could do to continue to build excitement and enthusiasm for our Springfield Friends Meeting youth ministry, I came across a travel company called Destination: Orlando.  They were offering package deals that included Walt Disney World, Sea World and accommodations in Orlando.  Marilyn and I had spent part of our honeymoon at Disney and thought it would be a great place to take a youth group.  After much soul searching we decided this was the trip we needed.  It was a good choice.  (Pictured above, L-R:  Traci, Denise, Carl, Jim and Amy at Sea World.)

The group that travelled to Orlando that June was an interesting bunch.  Marilyn and I, Butch and Barbara Moran and Brenda Whitaker were the adults.  Denise May, at that time the youth worker at Asheboro Friends Meeting, joined us as "trip pastor."  Erin Moran, Ben Moran, Natalie Whitaker and Justin Whitaker all joined us even though they were not of youth group age yet.  I am very foggy on which youth actually made the trip.  I remember Amy Simmons, Traci Whitaker, Jon Moran, Jim Farlow, Mike Mercadante, Jennifer Welch and Deara Sue Hart.  It seems like there were others, but I am not sure who (I hope to get some help from readers on this one)!  In any case, we headed to sunny Florida and a great adventure. 

We stayed at a Travel Lodge on Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando.  There are two things I remember about the motel.  First, every morning around 6 AM a crew would begin cutting grass and trimming bushes. Since we stayed at the parks until midnight each day, we were not happy about the early noise.  It kept everyone a little grumpy, and Barbara (who never slept well away from home) VERY grumpy!  Secondly (and this revelation came much later), we were not in a very good part of O-town.  Once we moved to Kissimmee we discovered that the OBT was a haven for strip clubs and prostitutes. We not only stayed there in '87, but we returned to same area three years later!  In the end, were not at the motel enough for it to matter.  We headed to the parks first thing after breakfast and devotions and didn't come back until very late.  EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom were the only Disney parks at the time, and we saw it all. We had a blast!  On the last night at Disney we saw more than we bargained for, more than most tourists will ever experience.  But that's tomorrow's story...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Visions


The spring of 1987 was an interesting time for the youth ministry of Springfield Friends Meeting.  Things were coming together well, and a solid student leadership core was emerging.  The middle school kids were becoming more and more involved and our Sunday afternoon Youth Fellowship meetings were growing. But we still needed a vision for the future of our ministry. It was time to start planning the next steps- I just needed God to let me in on exactly what the next steps were...

After much prayer and discussion, it was decided that we would take a group to Walt Disney World in the summer of 1987.  The Friends United Meeting Triennial Sessions were being held in nearby Greensboro in June of '87, and for the first time a first rate youth program would be happening at the event.  I would be leading music, so it was only natural to take a group.  I would also be Camp Pastor for a week at Quaker Lake Camp.  The summer was coming together nicely.  But there was so much more God had planned for us!

I had a dream one night that became my vision for youth ministry at Springfield.  In it, we were the home of Christ-centered youth activity for the entire High Point/Archdale area.  We had exciting summer programs and trips, and we would offer a ministry that would draw in students from all over the community.  The Disney trip would be the first step in the casting of this vision.  God was leading us on an exciting journey.

Over the next week I will tell you stories from that Disney trip, from Triennials and from camp.  I will share how God used all of those events to set the stage for what was to come at Springfield.  I will share how a group of esteemed Quaker youth workers almost lost their jobs over a belly dancer.  I will tell you the true, yet unbelievable story of the great Hickey Search.  And most importantly, I will tell you how God's vision for the youth ministry of Springfield was about to change a community.  Come along for the ride!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Christmas Movie List


Now that Thanksgiving is over (and all of those "Black Friday" commercials have mercifully passed) I can get into the spirit of the Christmas season!  I am a serious Christmas lover in every way.  I love the music, I love the shopping, I love Santa, and of course, I love Jesus!  We always break out the Christmas DVD's and videos on Thanksgiving Day, and so today I thought I would share with you my Top 10 "must-see" Christmas movies and specials. And yes, I realize in my Top 10 I have listed 12- but it's MY list!  So here we go:

10)  Four Christmases- This is a new addition.  Will, Marilyn, my Mom and I saw it at the theater last year at this time and loved it.  There is nothing so funny as other people's families at the holidays...

9)  Christmas With the Kranks-  One of the those rare movies that I liked better than the book it was based on, John Grisham's Skipping Christmas.  Tim Allen is the king of Christmas movies.  Free Frosty, Free Frosty!!!

8)  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-  The classic original!  It's a great story with great music and Yukon Cornelius and The Bumble- what else could you ask for!

7)  Home Alone 2: Lost in New York- I like this sequel even better than the original (which we watched yesterday).  Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the "Sticky Bandits" are my favorite part of both movies.

6)  How the Grinch Stole Christmas-  The animated version with Boris Karloff narrating is amazing, but we also like Jim Carrey's live action Grinch as well.

5)  Elf-  We actually got a head start and watched this one last weekend!  Marilyn just walks around the house saying "Buddy the Elf- what's your favorite color?"  There is also a great message about believing when those around you do not...

5a)  The Santa Claus-  I actually liked all three of these, but the first one is still my favorite.  You gotta' love the elves!

4)  ScroogedBill Murray is great, Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present just cracks me up, and the story is timeless. A very underrated movie.

3)  Christmas Vacation-  I feel a certain connection with Clark W. Griswald.  We both manage to screw up most everything, but we mean well!  And the lights-  ohhh the lights!

2)  The Toy That Saved Christmas- The first and best of the Veggietale Christmas stories.  The Veggie's learn the true meaning of Christmas from Buzzsaw Louie.  And after a sledding accident Bob the Tomato gets to utter these great lines: "Mousetrap.  I wanted to play Mousetrap.  You roll your dice, you move your mice- nobody gets hurt!"

2a)  A Charlie Brown Christmas-  More people have heard the Christmas story as told in the Gospel of Luke from Linus than from any other single media source in history.  Think about that...

1)  A Muppet Christmas Carol-  Easily number one for all of my family.  The music is awesome, the story is terrific, and it has Muppets.  What else do you want?  We own the VHS, the DVD, and the CD of the music.  "After all there's only one more sleep 'till Christmas..."

So there's my list.  I know many of you would include A Christmas Story but I don't share your love of that one.  What else would you add?  Let me hear from you.  Enjoy your favorites, but don't let the reason for the season slip away from you.  Listen to Linus- the little dude with the blanket knows what he is talking about!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow!


Psalm 100 (The Message)

A Thanksgiving Psalm


On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.

Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn't make him.
We're his people, his well-tended sheep.

Enter with the password: "Thank you!"
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.

For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.

Today, I encourage you to act on the words of the old hymn:  "Count your many blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God has done..."

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Start Spreading the News...

A few random thoughts about some of New York trips we took during the Springfield years:



We were always in New York from the Saturday before Thanksgiving until the day before the holiday.  I saw them set up for the Macy's parade lots of times, but never stayed for the actual event.  "Regrets, I have a few..."


Marilyn Jones, Doyle Craven, Terry Venable and James Barfield hang out at the Methodist Center at the United Nations.  Some of our best friends and favorite people were part of those trips.



One of the great changes in the trip over the years was when Doyle found the Milford Plaza Hotel, the "Lullaby of Broadway."  In those first years the great Italian restaurant Mama Leone's was located in the hotel, and we had some great times there.  One of the classic moments featured Randy Cockerham requesting the Kraft parmesan cheese (when there was fresh grated cheese on the table) and the song That's Amore! (from an Italian opera singer).  Among the Springfield folk pictured above are Keri Vinson, Jamie Robinson, Danny McCorqudale, Shelley Godwin, Marilyn Jones and Heather Beggs.  Our old friends Tim Harding and Jeff Byrd are also pictured.




One year we were invited to be part of the studio audience for The Faith Daniels Show.  Her guests that day were the cast of Saved By the Bell.  Adults were not allowed in the studio; we had to watch from a "green room" backstage.  Led by Susan Allen, some of our NC group wore homemade "Screech" t-shirts; Charles Freedle got to ask the question "How old are ya'll, anyway?"  Terry Venable stole a week old Saturday Night Live script from the room we were in, and Elizabeth Tillman and Katie Shepherd got their picture made with Dustin "Screech" Diamond.  The picture is courtesy of Katie's Facebook.

To everyone who was ever in New York with us- thanks for the memories!  We wish everyone many blessings and a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Day More

Tomorrow we'll discover what our God in Heaven has in store...one more dawn...one more day...one day more!

During my years at Springfield Friends Meeting we often spent the days before Thanksgiving in New York City as part of a larger group from Friends United Meeting.  We were there in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993, and my best guess is that about 40 different youth from Springfield were able to visit the Big Apple as part of these trips.  We always went to a Broadway play, and in  '89  Doyle Craven got us tickets to one of the biggest shows ever, Les Miserables.  In the years that would follow, I would see Les Miz 11 times on Broadway at the Imperial Theater (at left).  It is without peer as a musical and an inspiration.

Victor Hugo's story of sin, redemption and revolution is complex, so I will not attempt to sum it up here.  I will tell you that it is the story of Jean Valjean, a thief who is given a chance at a new life by a priest who Valjean has just robbed.  The priest offers grace and forgiveness, telling Valjean that he has "bought his soul for God."  Valjean then goes on to live his life in service to God and others.  The entire time he is in violation of his parole and living under a false identity.  An officer of the law, Javert, pursues him over the years.  Javert sees only the law (Can you say Pharisee?) and in the end cannot live with the idea of forgiveness.  That story is woven into the lives of wealthy students standing up for the rights of the poor and oppressed in Paris in the early 1800's.  These students end up giving their lives for what they believe in. 

The first time I saw the show I had no clue as to what I was in for, but I was sitting between Marilyn and Heather Beggs.  Heather knew the music and the story, and knew that at some point a terrible tragedy would befall one of the female characters, Eponine.  In preparation, Heather started crying early and often.  She was sobbing so loudly at one point she had to leave the theater.  We made fun of Heather for a long time about her tears, but the truth is Les Miz made me shed tears every time I saw it.  Listening to the soundtrack still gives me goosebumps. 

I have done a number of sermons over the years using this story, because it is a tale of faith and redemption.  Javert believes we are saved by the law; Valjean understands the law is nothing without grace. The words of the finale describe in vivid detail the human struggle and the search for God.  I share them here:

Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise
We will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord
We will walk behind the plow-share, we will put away the sword
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward...
Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing, say do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes...

Isn't that who we hope to be- a people who are climbing to the light?  Are we willing to push beyond the barricades and see others as God sees them?  Who will "stand strong" and praise God for His faithfulness?  Stop and give thanks this holiday season for the love of God expressed in the gift of Jesus.  In the video posted below (featuring Colm Wilkinson, the first Valjean I ever saw) a reunion cast shares the first act finale, One Day More.  You hear the conflict and the passion of all the major characters, and it all comes down to this: God is in control, so go with God!  And remember the truth that once was spoken- to love another person is to see the face of God...

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Hall of Fame: Jennifer Wood

The Youth Group Hall of Fame may exist only in my mind, but it is loaded with students from Springfield Friends Meeting.  I have mentioned many of them in previous posts, and they will receive official "induction" in the future.  Today I would like to tell you about our second official HOF member, Jennifer Wood.  She is pictured above in the Youth Room around 1991.

Jennifer (also known as Woodhead!) was a 7th grader when I arrived at Springfield.  She was a skinny, shy little girl who lived across town and thus went to a different school than most of the rest of our group (she was joined in that by Jennifer Welch and Wendy Mattocks).  I worried about her in those early days, thinking she might not ever really feel a part of the ministry.  All of that changed one Sunday afternoon that first year.  I don't remember the details of why she did it, but for some reason Jennifer began to beat Jamie Robinson over the head with a Bible.  Yes- a Bible!  We picked on her about it for months, and she quickly felt like she had secured her place in our youth family. Some even called her "the bible beater!"  In the years that would follow she was one of our most committed, faithful and helpful students.  She seldom missed a meeting, a service project or an event, and she was part of some memorable trips as well (Disney with Wendy and Kelly Allen above). She grew in her faith and in her leadership role in our ministry. And very few youth over the years have made me laugh more than Jennifer.   Marilyn and I loved her like a daughter, and she holds a very special place in our hearts.  She also holds an esteemed place in the Hall of Fame. 

Because of Jesus, 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

IALAC


The first ever (and only, I think!) Go For It! weekend took place in the Spring of 1987 at Ridgecrest Retreat Center near Asheville, NC.  This event, sponsored by North Carolina Yearly Meeting, brought together a number of youth pastors and youth for leadership training.  David Tebbs, Ray Luther, Terry Venable, Randy Quate and myself were among the leaders of the event, and there were around 40 youth (see picture above, with everyone doing the IALAC bull horns!) present as well.  Ken Hill, Todd Farlow, Jamie Robinson, Traci Whitaker, Robin Simmons and Amy Simmons would represent Springfield.  It would be a most memorable weekend.

Springfield had a bus in those days- sort of.  It was an old "short bus" that we used to pick up elementary kids from schools on Wednesday afternoons.  We weren't sure it could make the trip to the mountains (although later we almost DIED from heat in the same bus at Myrtle Beach!) so we arranged to ride up with Terry and the group from High Point Friends.  The trip was great, and over the next few years we would become close with Keith Anderson, Phil McDonald, Greg Venable, Holly Hayworth and others. We arrived at Ridgecrest and were surprised to find that it resembled a prison camp more that a Christian retreat center.  There were gated walls and guards and....well, you get the picture.  We ordered pizza one of the nights and they could not get past the guard to deliver it- we had to go to the gate!  It was so different from Quaker Lake...

The retreat itself was amazing.  We learned a lot about ourselves and about serving Jesus through serving others.  One of the highlights came when I taught everyone the I Am Lovable and Capable song that I had learned from Dave Stone years before.  The song consists of singing those words over and over with motions, followed by using your body to form the letters IALAC, YMCA style!  Then you just keep getting faster and faster!  We did that song over and over again as the retreat progressed, and I think we all felt lovable and capable.  The seven of us from Springfield grew closer and began to get a vision of what God had in mind for our group.

In reality, there is only one story from that weekend that matters.  I walked around to one of the rooms at Fort Ridgecrest and knocked on the door.  Jamie's voice asked me who it was, and when he found out panic set in.  I could hear other voices, and then basically I was told to go away.  They all showed up at my room a few moments later, and it was clear something had been going on.  But no one would talk.  I worried about all the usual youth issues, but decided I would find out eventually.  And I did.  Seven years later!  From April 1987 until sometime in 1994, those six students kept quiet about what I had interrupted that night.  Can you imagine?  Six youth, some of whom I would be with for hours and hours over that next few years, kept a secret for that long- out of loyalty to each other.  That is an amazing thing.  It was an indication of just how close our group would become in the years to follow.

What was the big secret?  I will only tell you this- they were playing a card game, and it wasn't Texas Hold 'Em.  I believe someone had already lost a pair of shoes when I knocked...  Looking back, it is truly amazing that they had enough respect for me to be worried that I would be upset about such a goofy incident.  The truth is, even before I knew what had happened, I knew those guys were special.  I would be proven correct over and over again in the years to come.  They were indeed lovable and capable.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Odds & Ends...But Mostly Odds!


The late George Carlin used to pose the question "If you had 36 odds and ends on a table, and 35 of them fell off, what do you have left- an odd or an end?"  In my early days at Springfield Friends Meeting whatever was left would have seemed like an odd to me!  Here are some random recollections from those first few months:
  • Springfield was dominated by families, many of whom had 100 years or more of history with the Meeting.  Many of those family trees had widespread roots, and it took forever to discover who was related to whom!  Some of those who were related didn't speak to each other.  I learned not to assume anything when it came to family ties...
  • There were people at Springfield who really didn't want to be there.  They were upset with leadership and direction in the church, and all they did was complain.  But they didn't leave (at first), because of their ties to "Historical Springfield..."
  • Which brings us to the Springfield Memorial Association.  This group, independent of the Meeting itself, had oversight of the cemetery, the grounds and the Museum of Old Domestic Life (pictured).  Yes, we had our very own museum. Many of the members of the SMA no longer attended the Meeting. The tension between this group, which too often saw Springfield itself as a museum, and the church, which thought it should be about reaching the community for Jesus, was often very strong.
  • It seemed that everything at Springfield had been given in memory or in honor of someone!  Little brass plaques where everywhere.  There were two Grandfather Clocks in the meetinghouse that could not be touched.  The adult Sunday School classes were all named after members who had passed away, and I didn't know a Charles F. Reddick from a Dora E. Richardson!  We lived in the Byron Haworth House.  When Max and Avis left they named the Fellowship Hall in their honor.  I live in fear that I will discover that my good friend and current Senior Pastor Ray Luther has been using the Carl Jones Toilet located near his office...
  • I learned quickly what it meant to be volunteered "John J. Blair style."  The John J's were a class of older men who been together for many years.  If you missed a meeting with them you would find yourself in charge of something terrible...volunteered John J. Blair style! 
  • It was expected that I be fully participating member of the Sara R. Haworth Circle, made up of the oldest ladies in the Meeting.  I was also their offical van driver.
  • I used to go down the hill and around the corner after school and play video games with Mike Mercadante.  He had a hockey game and a beach volleyball game that I was actually pretty good at.  My son Will can tell you that those were the LAST video games I was ever good at...
  • Despite being a pretty small youth group, we had students from three different school districts and as many as six different high schools.  And some of those schools didn't get along very well!
  • Jerry Morgan, who eventually became a good friend and a strong supporter of the youth ministry, announced to me after a couple of months that he didn't care much for me or what I was doing, because he failed to see how my work was of any help to Max.  He was not alone.  Many folks saw my job as taking part of the load off of Max.  Fortunately, Max was never one of those people...
  • I had just begun my work in October of 1986 when I discovered that twice a year for a couple of weeks it was almost impossible to live in High Point, NC.  The Southeastern Furniture Market took over the entire area, and it was almost impossible to do anything else during those times.
  • There was an event every Sunday morning before Sunday School called Opening Exercises.  This event brought together a small group of mostly older members for a quick devotional and to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  It was significant to me because it fell into a huge group of things that could be filed under the heading "We do it because we have always done it." 
Despite all of these odd things and many more, I quickly fell in love with the place, and more importantly, the people. It occurs to me now that perhaps it was because I am pretty odd myself!   As 1987 continued, God set a plan into action that would transform our little youth ministry one step at a time. We would not keep doing it like they had always done it!  I was helping to plan a leadership training weekend for youth at Ridgecrest Retreat Center near Asheville, and I would be taking six of our students along.  Amy, Todd, Robin, Jamie, Ken and Traci, I hope you are following along, because tomorrow, the truth can be told! 

Because of Jesus,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Moon Shine


Today at 2:26AM our dog, Conner, decided he needed to go outside.  He rarely does that in the middle of the night so I thought it must be important. I got up with him and took him for a short walk.  As we walked, I looked around and noticed how black the sky seemed with no moon to light it up. From there, my thoughts wandered to a news story I had seen just before bed that showed a bazillion people in line to see the new Twilight movie, New Moon.  This fascination with the moon changed my blog for today- and not just so I can tie in with the latest national phenomenon!

Many of you who are reading this blog have been more than kind with your words about my efforts here.  Whether in comments, signing the guestbook, e-mails or notes to Marilyn on Facebook, your words have been encouraging and supportive, and I cannot thank you enough.  This "thank you," however, comes with some words of caution.  These stories and recollections are being shared here NOT to remind people of things I accomplished or lives I may have touched. This blog exists so that these stories can continue to honor the Amazing Grace that Jesus brings to our lives. My life has been special- but there is nothing special about me.  I have sinned, I have lied, I have hurt people I love and I have disappointed people who counted on me. The same is true for most of us. We are a fallen people who are rescued by the grace of God whose name is Jesus.  If I have made a difference in lives or in this world, it is because at times I have been willing to be a Moon.  I once heard Louie Giglio point out that just like our moon, I can produce no light on my own.  Left to my own devices I can do precious little good.  I have made an impact on the lives of others at those times when I have been ready to realize I can never "shine" on my own.  The sun (Son) shines- the moon is merely a reflection of that light.  When I have allowed Jesus to shine through me- when I have been a reflection of His love and grace- we have been able to accomplish wonderful things in His name.  It's that simple.

So please, keep the comments coming.  I am glad so many of you share my fond memories of our history together.  But just remember as you do so that it is not about me- it's all about Jesus!  We are all called to SHINE- we just need to trust the power source.  Get out there today and moon somebody- well, you know what I mean!!!  Have a blessed weekend...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Super Surprise


In January of 1987, Marilyn and I had just moved into the house across the street from Springfield Friends Meeting.  The good people of the church had given us a "pounding"- they brought in food and supplies to help us get started in our new home (I never did find out who sent the jar of prunes...).  After almost four months on the job we were settling in and feeling pretty comfortable.  We had been working hard on the youth ministry, having already had a Marathon (lock-in), a Christmas party and a gathering with youth from High Point and New Garden Friends.  Despite all my planning the whole thing was still a little slow in gathering momentum.  If you spend any time in ministry you learn that God's surprises are always better than your plans, programs and events.  I was about to be reminded of that in a big way!


January 25th, 1987 was Super Bowl Sunday.  The New York Giants were playing the Denver Broncos.  (Those are facts.  The rest of the details you read here today are a little less certain.  I hope that if the participants in the events have better recollections than Marilyn and I that they will leave comments to help set the record straight!)    As I recall we were going to play basketball at a local gym (Allen Jay?) and then return to our new home for a Super Bowl party.  God had a different plan for us.  Mid-afternoon it started snowing.  Hard.  If you have never been in NC for a snow storm, you have to understand that schools and businesses begin closing when snow is predictedThis was a NC blizzard!  Our party was cancelled, but a few of the guys decided to hang out and watch the game with us.  I am foggy on who stayed, but Jamie Robinson (pictured, on left), Danny McCorquodale (also pictured, right), Ken Hill and Todd Farlow were among the crew- maybe.  After a while it became clear that the roads were becoming treacherous (we could tell by the cars in the ditch on Springfield Rd.) and we invited the guys to spend the night.  We really don't remember who stayed.  Jamie did, because he cooked breakfast the next morning.  Danny didn't, because I drove him home (I believe I went back and got him the next morning).  In any case, it turned into a slumber party.

The next day everything was covered in snow, and we played in it.  Garry Brown (GB) brought his Jeep over to the hill in the Springfield Cemetery and packed the snow for sledding.  Eventually a bunch of the other youth, including Beth Brown, Mike Mercadante and Jon Moran (maybe!),  came out to sled with us on Monday night.  We had a blast!  There was hot chocolate for everyone, and we laughed until we hurt.  I think a few of the guys spent one more night at the house- Marilyn does not remember it that way.  None of it seemed like a big deal at the time.  Looking back, we know that this was an early turning point in our ministry at Springfield.

Why?  God used this time to bond us in ways we could have never invented on our own. It showed the youth how much we really liked them and wanted to be around them.  After all, we weren't really snowed in!  I drove Danny home that night, and went out to get stuff the next morning so Jamie could cook breakfast. They understood that this was something we wanted to do!   The shared history and stories of that event created stronger relationships faster than any program I could have conceived.  Even the youth who weren't involved heard the stories, witnessed the bond and wanted that in their lives as well.  Some of our younger students- Jim Farlow, Jennifer Welch and Wendy Mattocks, among others- began to become more connected.  I would spend over 7 years at Springfield, and every year I would plan a "Kick-Off" event to start the new school year.  But no event I ever planned would ever kick us off like God did with his Super Surprise that first January.  By the way- the Giants won!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Foundations

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I settled into my new ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting in October of 1986 with high hopes that God had something amazing in store for us there.  Despite the excitement, and the inspiration of the Rees family, I was looking at a somewhat harsh reality.  First, there was the reality of my new job description.  I was so excited to get re-involved in a youth ministry that I hadn't really taken time to think about all of the other aspects of this job.  Basically, to sum up, I was responsible for everything that Max wasn't responsible for!  This included overseeing the Family Life Committee and the Christian Education Committee, which meant adult, youth and children's Sunday School, as well as Vacation Bible School and the Wednesday Afternoon Fellowship for kindergarten through 5th grade.  I would also be the preacher on those extremely rare occasions when Max was on vacation, and I would do some hospital visiting when needed.  All of this was just fine with me except for one thing- I had never done any of it before!  This was going to be a challenge, because those things were now my job...my PASSION was youth ministry, connecting teenagers to Jesus and to each other.

The youth ministry (students in grades 6-12) at the time had something of a depressed feel to it. My predecessor, Wallace Sills, had been there a number of years and was beloved by many of the students he had left behind.  Some of the families and students had actually gone with him.  He had been gone a few months by the time I arrived, and so nothing much had been going on for youth, and the energy levels were very low.  There was a core group I was excited about and that I knew I needed to win over quickly if I was to have any chance of getting off to a running start.  As with any group of students, there were key players, and I identified a few of them quickly (The picture above is one of my all-time favorites; there was a unique chemistry between those three!).  Todd Farlow (pictured, right), Amy Simmons (pictured, middle), Robin Simmons and Traci Whitaker were all sophomores and had all been very active with Wallace. I could feel a bit of resistance from them upon my arrival. This is quite natural, and I began to build relationships with them immediately, which helped in bringing back many of the others who were in "wait and see" mode.  The other person I immediately connected with was on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Ken Hill (pictured, left) was a senior who had never really connected with Wallace; truth be known, Ken didn't like him.  Ken was our only senior that year, a football player and wrestler, and he showed up my first Sunday for youth group and stayed with us all year.  Ken provided leadership we desperately needed, and as time went by became a close friend to Marilyn and me.  Throw in Jamie Robinson, Danny McCorquodale and a very young Jon Moran, Jennifer Wood and a few others and we had the makings of an exceptional youth ministry.  It would take some time.  It would take lots of prayer.  And in the end, it would take a blizzard...and not one from Dairy Queen!  But that's tomorrow's story...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Influences: Max Rees

It was a true blessing in my career to work with some incredible Senior Pastors (and some real duds!).  The character and devotion to Christ of your leader has a huge impact on all aspects of a church, including the student ministry.  When Marilyn and I arrived at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1986, Max Rees  had already been there over 2o years.  The Meeting was coming out of a very difficult time, and many people had chosen sides between the departed Wallace Sills and Max.  Attendance was down, and so was enthusiasm.  But Max did not waiver in his faith in God or in the people of Springfield.  And his wife Avis was just as strong.  Both of them were of great encouragement to Marilyn and me, and we worked as a team to help bring Springfield back.

That is not to say that they were perfect.  They had been there a very long time and had many preconceived notions of how everything should be done. They were in bed by "Quaker Midnight" (10pm) and up before the sun.  Avis never threw anything away, so we had Sunday School materials dating back to the Ice Age!  She also made me wear a bunny suit one Easter (pictured above).  Max often disappeared in the afternoons to go feed his cows.  These were minor flaws.  The fact is, they gave their lives each and every day to serve the people of Springfield, and in doing so set a standard for me to live up to.  Through blessed times and struggles their faith did not waiver, and their love for God, for each other, for their family and for their "flock" never changed.  They were indeed the "First Family" of Springfield.

The late Rich Mullins wrote a song about his family in 1989 called First Family, from his album Never Picture Perfect.  In the early 90's I rewrote part of it to fit the Rees family, planning to sing it when Max retired.  He was still going strong when I left in 1994, so I never performed it.  But I would like to share the words now.  They don't all fit perfectly- and some of it is how I imagine things to have been- but they express how I see Max and Avis...

Those folks they were always the first family to arrive
with 9 people jammed into a car that seated 5
With one bathroom to bathe and shave in eight of 'em stood in line
There was no hot water for laundry, but they all did just fine

Talk about your miracles, talk about your faith
Max, he could make things grow out of Indiana clay
and Avis could make a gourmet meal out of homemade bread and beans
They worked to give faith hands and feet, and somehow gave it wings

I can still hear Max fussing, he's working late on on the farm
the cows are out of the fence again and the tractor just won't start
and Avis is doing laundry, I can see it waving on the line
They just counted on Jesus through the pain and strain of hard times

Talk about your miracles, talk about your faith
Max, he could make things grow out of Carolina clay
and Avis could make a gourmet meal out of pecan pie and beans
They worked to give faith hands and feet, and somehow gave it wings

Somehow they raised 7 children, and you know that some things went wrong
but the pain didn't leave them crippled, and the scars just made them strong
Never picture perfect, just a preacher man and his wife
who somehow knew the value of hard work, good love and real life

Talk about your miracles, talk about your faith...

Thank you, Max and Avis, for giving the faith of so many so much encouragement for so many years.  You and your family will forever hold a special place in my heart.  And thanks, Rich.  I know the angels are singing your songs these days...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday Dinner

My knowledge of Springfield Friends Meeting was pretty limited when I accepted the position of Youth and Christian Education Director there.  I had been in a few meetings with the pastor, Max Rees;  I had met a few of the members through my work at Quaker Lake.  And I knew the Terrells.  It was hard not to- there were so many of them!  Dr. Eugene and Dr. Eldora Haworth Terrell had six children, and I knew them all fairly well.  Sara Beth had worked at QLC; Tom was older than me, but I still knew him from Yearly Meeting events; Bill had worked at camp and been at Guilford College when I was there; Richard was my age, and we had been Young Friends clerks together during our senior year in high school; Tim was a couple of years younger, but in many ways the brother I knew best; and Jane was one of my family of girls (see POPS) when she was a QLC camper.  Their maternal grandmother, Sara R. Haworth (Mammy to her friends) was a classic matriarch, ruling the family, and at times, the community. They were an important family, and they were instrumental in bringing me to Springfield.  I assumed as I began my ministry at Springfield that this was the family that would dominate my time there.  I was so wrong- they wouldn't even be the largest family!

My first official Sunday at Springfield Marilyn and I were invited to lunch at the home of Max and Avis Rees, and so after Meeting for Worship we walked across the street to the parsonage to join them.  It was quite an eye-opening meal.  Several of their adult children were there, as they were most every Sunday, we learned.  There were young children everywhere.  One of their daughters, Becky, was a non-stop talker who was wearing a sweatshirt that read "Marry me and fly free!"  Turned out she was a stewardess....uh, flight attendant!  Her sister Cathy and her husband Garry I remembered from my one year at Lenoir-Rhyne college, where Garry (GB) had been a basketball star.  As the table was set and the preparations for dinner finished, GB and Becky exchanged barbs and insults at a rapid rate, leaving everyone laughing.  An amazing meal was served (including our introduction to Avis' homemade bread!), and the conversation stayed lively.  This was a family grounded in faith, but unafraid to speak their minds.  We learned that there were seven siblings, five of whom still resided in the High Point area.  We learned that there were lots and lots of grandchildren, and that before long my youth group would be dominated by the grandchildren of my Senior Pastor (this was a little intimidating).  And we learned that this was a family full of joy and laughter and love.  We immediately felt at home.

How important would the Rees family be to us during our almost eight years at Springfield?  Barbara and her husband Butch would travel on many youth events with us, and became our best friends.  Their kids, Jon, Ben (pictured) and Erin (pictured)became a big part of our lives, and Butch's family tree would provide another seven kids to our ministry.  Margaret, at the time a single mom, shared her children Mike, Mary and David with our youth program, and you will hear stories about all of them as time goes by.  Bob, the oldest, and his wife Judy had Laurie, Allison (pictured)and Will, and we loved them all.  Judy also took a few trips with us and lived to tell the tale!  Cathy and GB (since divorced) had a daughter named Beth who quickly became one of my favorite people- Zack came later.  And then there was Becky.  As her sweatshirt indicated she was single at the time, with two incredible girls, Stacy (pictured) and Jill.  Over the years Becky became our very good friend, and her girls both became youth group Hall of Famers. She married an amazing guy, Ron, who could fly free on his own (he's a pilot), and they had two more great kids, Max and Laura.  Even one of the out-of-town families, daughter Rachel and her husband Robin, got involved with us some.  Robin and their daughter Kristin joined us on a Disney trip.

Marilyn and I have been gone from Springfield for 15 years now (most of those children in the picture above have their own children now) and yet we still consider it our church home.  Speaking there a few years ago on Birthday Sunday I referred to it as our "one particular harbor- a shelter from the storm."  The Rees family is a huge part of why we feel that way.  We still feel like part of their family.  And the anchors to all of this faith and love were always Max and Avis.  You can read more about them tomorrow.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A New Adventure


Our honeymoon was awesome. We loved the cruise, the food, the beaches and Disney World.  We also loved the sleeping, because we had been so incredibly stressed about the future in the days leading up to the wedding.  We returned from our honeymoon ready to get started on our new adventure at Springfield Friends Meeting, but first, there was still a lot of stuff to do.  My first official day would be October 1st, so we had to move quickly (In a very cool coincidence, my old Quaker Lake buddy and groomsman Terry Venable would start as the Youth Pastor at High Point Friends Meeting on the same day.  Go God!).  Marilyn's stuff was one place; my stuff was still in Massachusetts.  There was also the small matter of my resignation.  I didn't want to tell NEYM I was leaving until I was absolutely sure, and because of the type of job it was, I really saw no need in working out a notice.  I called the proper people (a few of whom knew what was going on) and let them know for sure- I was the new Youth and Christian Education Director at Springfield Friends Meeting.  And they should hire Chris Jorgensen- NOW!

I mentioned moving into the rental house in Greensboro, about a 30 minute drive from Springfield.  We were going to live there until early 1987 while the house that Springfield was providing for us was repaired. Renovated.  Rebuilt.  Saved...   When Marilyn first saw the house at 600 E. Springfield Road she swore whe would never live there!  It was small, beat up, not air conditioned, oil heated and very old.  All of the windows were painted shut.  When you stood at the front door you saw directly into the bathroom.  The previous tenant, a custodian and lawn care guy, had made some interesting decorating choices.  The bedrooms had been wallpapered with pictures of naked women.  The pictures were gone by the time we saw the house, but the staples were still in the walls.  The outside walls needed to be covered in siding. It sat on a very dangerous curve.  If you had told us that day that we would live in that house for over seven years, we would have paid for your counseling!

I made one last trip to Massachusetts to get my car and my stuff.  My friend Mark Hyde joined me, and we drove a truck and pulled my car back to NC.  This was an adventure as well.  We discovered that since we were towing my Renault, we were not allowed on the New Jersey Turnpike.  This meant we had to drive back roads through the entire state.  In one little town we got our big truck into a traffic circle- we didn't have traffic circles in NC- and could not get out.  We went around and around, not able to get into the lane we needed, until finally Mark just stopped traffic so we could move on!  Friends like that are hard to find...

We settled into our new (albeit temporary) housing and began life together.  Marilyn was still working for a law firm in Greensboro, and I was setting up my office, meeting people, and getting ready for opening day at Springfield.  The pastor, Max Rees, and his wife Avis were so helpful in getting us started.  They would soon be our across-the-street neighbors.  Avis invited Marilyn and I to join them for Sunday lunch very early on, and we accepted.  I am here to tell you, Sunday lunch with the Rees family can change your life...in a most blessed way!  And since I am here to tell you, tomorrow I will!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

August 30, 1986

It's difficult to believe that Marilyn and I have been married for over 23 years.  It was a wise man who first said "time flies when you're having fun!" We were married at Marilyn's home church, Poplar Springs Baptist, just outside of Elkin, NC.  Our wedding was a special day, as we were surrounded by extended family, the best friends anyone ever had (see picture above!) and two ministers for which we had great love and respect.  The actual wedding day was the end of a great week of events.  It was also a week filled with stress, trying to sort out where we might live when the honeymoon was over, and what I was going to do about resigning my position in New England and when we might actually start at Springfield.  It was emotionally exhausting, and by the end somewhat of a blur.  But there were some things that I will never forget...
  • My  Mom's sisters- Kathleen, Marie and Sue- threw us a pool party at a country club in Greensboro a few days before the big day.  We had worried all along about how hot it would be in NC in late August, so imagine our surprise when the temperature didn't get out of the low 70's for our outdoor pool party.  It was a great night, but not a whole lot of swimming going on...
  • Pastor Mike Lane, one of the two officiating ministers, had been Marilyn's pastor at Poplar Springs.  His wife, Judy, had shared a little concern about the entire process.  At one point, several weeks before the wedding, she asked me the following question:  "Quakers are just like Mormons, right?"  It was not the last time I would be mistaken for a Mormon...
  • One of Marilyn's co-workers had a house for rent in Greensboro that she said we could have without a lease until the house at Springfield (read more about that house tomorrow) was ready for us.  God was working amidst the confusion...
  • The rehearsal featured Alan Brown (see The Asheboro Flash) threatening to dangle his feet in the baptismal pool at the church while he sang.  We were planning a period of open worship during the service, which was quite confusing to the non-Quakers involved.  Marilyn's Dad, Posey Steele, gave us all a good laugh when answering the question "Who gives this woman in marriage?"  His response?  "MY mother and I..."
  • The rehearsal dinner at the Jonesville Holiday Inn was a blast, highlighted by great champagne toasts and the now infamous David Bills spoon on the nose trick...
  • The groomsmen (see picture below) and I played football outside our little motel the morning of the big day...or was it wiffle ball?  It's all a blur...
  • I had been so worried about my tux jacket, shirt and shoes fitting that I failed to notice that my pants were actually too short.  I noticed while getting dressed at the church...
  • The period of open worship, meant to be about 10 minutes, lasted about 3- I was ready to get on to the vows and jumped the gun...
  • Hank Semmler, Steve and Carl's father and an English teacher, read our Quaker Wedding Certificate.  Every time he had to read the words "Marilyn Marie Steele" he would almost say "Marilyn Monroe Steele."  There were giggles...
  • One of Marilyn's male friends showed up in a white tux...just in case I got cold feet, I suppose...
  • We rode a few hundred yards to the reception in a horse drawn carriage.  It was an awesome entrance...
  • There was a ton of food at the reception, but I don't think Marilyn and I got any of it!  It was great to see so many friends, but after about an hour my face hurt from smiling...
It was indeed an amazing day.  The thing I will remember most, however, is that somehow, despite all odds, I was marrying my best friend, who also happened to be the most beautiful bride I had ever seen.  We were going to cruise to the Bahamas on the Big Red Boat (thanks, Beth!), spend a few days at Walt Disney World (starting our still ongoing obsession with the place), and then figure out where life would go from there.  Wherever it went, we were going together, and we were going with Jesus.  Let the adventure begin!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lessons Learned


The late Dan Fogelberg had an obscure song on his Netherlands album called Lessons Learned (FYI- this is my 80th day of blogging and my fourth Fogelberg reference.  I must be on pace to set some sort of record!). I always loved the album and the song, especially the chorus:

Lessons learned are like bridges burned,
 you only need to cross them but once
Is the knowledge gained worth the price of the pain?
Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?

Looking back, my nine months in New England were all about learning lessons.  I learned that theological labels can be be very misleading.  Working at New Garden Friends had made me somewhat of a liberal outcast in NC Yearly Meeting in the early '80's.  My faith in Jesus Christ made me a raging evangelical in New England.  Having been seen as part of both extremes, I saw how much damage could come from labeling, and I would try to avoid doing it to others.  I learned that I didn't know anywhere near as much as I thought I did.  My knowledge of youth ministry was superior to most, but I had so much to learn about the church and about Quakerism and about people.  Learning how much you have to learn is a valuable lesson indeed.  I learned that I was not as independent as I thought I was.  I needed friends and family around me.  At the same time, I learned that without friends to lean on, I could always depend on God.  My faith had deepened a good bit in a short amount of time.  Professionally, I now understood that working in the Yearly Meeting office- any Yearly Meeting office- was not for me!  I needed a church family and a group of students whose lives I could be involved in on a regular basis.  I had been called to ministry, not to administration, and I needed to return to a local church- and now I was.


The most important thing I learned, however, is that God uses us in failure as often as He does in success.  Leaving after only nine months without having made any major impact made me feel like I had failed God.  Hindsight enables me to see that I was there to be a John the Baptist type- God brought me to NEYM to prepare the way for Chris Jorgensen (in picture with Tim Harding, modeling the latest in Lady Liberty wear!).  Chris did indeed get the job after I left, and served for a number of years making a huge difference in the lives of youth all over New England.  So the answer to Fogelberg's question is yes.  The knowledge gained IS worth the price of the pain, especially when Jesus is doing the teaching!

I headed out of Massachusetts a week before my wedding, still not having resigned, but ready to take the position at Springfield Friends Meeting.  Marilyn and I had lots of decisions to make- but first, it was time for a wedding!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Kicked In the Butt By Jesus"

Jocelyn Sessions, who was part of the youth group in Kissimmee and will someday be featured in a few dozen stories on this blog, used to tell me that she thought "Kicked In the Butt By Jesus" would be a great sermon title.  I never worked up the courage to use the title, but I certainly know the feeling...

In late July of 1986 I flew from Boston to Greensboro to finalize some wedding plans and to interview at Springfield Friends Meeting.  I still had no idea if I would seriously consider the position, but I assumed it couldn't hurt to interview.  I already knew the Pastor, Max Rees, and some of the people of the Meeting, so it was a very comfortable interview for me.  I also knew at least one other candidate, and I was certain he would get the job.  One thing I knew for sure- Springfield was hurting from the manner of Wallace's departure, and the youth of the Meeting were feeling dumped on.  It was not going to be an easy job.  I flew back to Boston less certain than ever of what the future held for Marilyn and I- and still praying for my burning bush or my singing angels!

Marilyn and I are both uncertain of the exact timing and order of events over the last few weeks before our wedding, but the following things definitely happened!  I survived my one and only session of New England Young Friends Yearly Meeting. The highlight was a "coffeehouse" with youth and adults where I knocked them dead with Blue Pick-Up Truck.  I remember precious little beyond that.  Either right before,during, or right after Yearly Meeting I received a call from Springfield offering me the job.  I was still uncertain about deserting the kids of New England, and about the current state of Springfield.  I told them I needed time.  My wedding date was just around the corner, and now I was uncertain where Marilyn and I would live.  I was panicked, and God didn't seem to be providing any answers.  Of course, God was speaking- I was just hard of hearing!


Days before I was to go back to NC for a week before our nuptials, I was sitting stuck in traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Mass Pike to all you Yankees!) and wondering what I should do.  I was listening to a great classic rock station on my radio, and the Steve Miller Band song Jet Airliner began to play.  I was only half paying attention when I heard the words "touching down in New England town, feel the heat coming down..."  Hmmm.  It seemed like that ought to mean something to me, but I wasn't sure what.  I remember praying at that moment "God, if you have something to say, say it loud...I need to know what to do."  The next song- the very next song- was James Taylor singing Carolina In My MindBOOM! Kicked in the butt by Jesus!  Suddenly it was all so clear, as it should have been all along.  New England would not suffer without me, they would THRIVE with Chris Jorgensen!  Springfield was not a place I should avoid because of their troubles, it was a place that NEEDED me!  Marilyn could stay near her family; I could be back with mine; and all of our friends would be there to support us! God was sending me home!  The answer had been clear from the beginning- I just didn't listen.  It took James Taylor to set me straight.  I found my singing angels on FM radio!  Who knew?

Telling the good people of NEYM and worrying about moving and where we might live would all have to wait.  I had a wedding to attend...and you can read about that on Saturday.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Crossroads

Happy Veteran's Day to all of the women and men who serve or have served our country, and especially to their families, who often sacrifice even more...may God bless you all!

The Summer of '86 found me quite busy planning the August annual Young Friends Yearly Meeting sessions and the 1986-87 school year events and programs.  My occasional thoughts of leaving New England and heading back to North Carolina were tempered by reality.  If I went back, what job would I be able to find?  If I left after such a short tenure, wasn't I just feeding into the statistics that said youth ministers never stay?  I wanted nothing to do with adding to the "17 month" stat- the average length of stay in a ministry position for a youth worker in those days.  Most importantly, I believed God had sent me to NEYM for a reason, and I was not ready to give up on my mission yet unless God was ready for me to move on.

The other side of my brain would argue that I was stuck in a job I didn't really like doing ministry with people I didn't understand.  Planning for Yearly Meeting ran me headlong into more issues and roadblocks that simply blew my mind.  Every discussion seemed to be about political correctness and theological inclusiveness.  Jesus was left out of the mix at every turn.  The committee spent one whole planning session talking guidelines for behavior for the students who would attend.  The debate centered around the fact the boyfriends and girlfriends could not room together or have public displays of affection, but nothing prevented gay and lesbian couples from sharing a room.  The discussion was heated, with the suggestion actually made that we just drop ALL rooming guidelines.  It was surreal.  They didn't see any real need for speakers, or music, or worship at the sessions.  Just good "hang out" time, with some workshops on social justice issues.  More and more I found myself turning to Chris Jorgensen for answers, and more and more I wondered why she didn't get the job to begin with...

Marilyn and I were set to be married on August 30th, just a few weeks after Yearly Meeting.  She was being a trooper about the whole thing, but it was clear to me she had no real desire to live in Massachusetts.  But she would...for me, and for my ministry.  There seemed to be no clear option, and praying for guidance was all I could do.  Then one day in June, I checked my mail and discovered a letter from my old friend Wallace Sills (see Starting A Riot) in NC.  Wally informed me that he was leaving his position as Youth and Christian Education Director at Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, and that he hoped I would be interested in applying.  The application and interview process would take them up to the end of August...our wedding.  It was exciting news, but also complicating.  Would starting such a process give Marilyn false hope of getting to stay in NC?  As usual, I thought my chances of actually getting the position were not good. Plus, as I looked into the situation at Springfield I discovered that Wallace was leaving under bad circumstances and taking part of the congregation with him to Jamestown Friends. Simply exchanging one bad situation for another didn't seem like much of a plan.  And what of my commitment to the Young Friends of New England?  I didn't want to run out on them.  I wanted God to send me a sign- because I was too blind to see that the presence of Chris and the letter from Wallace as answers to prayer.   I wanted a burning bush, singing angels or a visit from a prophet.  I wanted God to speak.  Be careful what you ask for...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finest Kind


Benjamin Franklin Pierce (better known as Hawkeye), the main character on the TV classic M*A*S*H, would often talk about his home state of Maine.  When describing the people and places of the state, he would often utter the phrase "finest kind."  I was never quite sure what it meant, but I always assumed it was the Maine version of "awesome."  Turns out Maine simply is awesome.  I have said many times over the years that if my office had been in Maine and not Worcester, Mass, I might still be there!  Forgive my stereotyping, but the people of Maine offer the closest thing to "southern hospitality" I have ever met outside of the south.  The scenery is breathtaking- witness the Portland Lighthouse above.  The rocky beaches, the snow covered landscape and the great unspoiled north all are etched in my mind.  I just have to say it- finest kind!


Louis and Clarabelle Marsteller had worked for New England Yearly Meeting for many years before retiring in the early '80's.  They ran a little motel near the beach in Freeport, and very early on in my time in New England they invited me to come stay with them.  Louis, as much as anyone I met during my time with NEYM, understood the politics and theology of the Yearly Meeting, and understood how difficult it would be for me to fit in.  He and Clarabelle taught me, encouraged me, and invited me to come visit anytime.  Freeport quickly became my favorite place.  Many of you may recognize it as the home of L.L. Bean, the great outdoor gear catalog company.  I visited the store on several occasions, most memorably with Marilyn and my parents on July 4, 1986.  We also watched the Freeport 4th of July Parade together, wearing sweatshirts and shivering a bit!  Freeport was also close to Durham Friends Meeting, one of the few meetings in NEYM with a pastor.  Ralph Greene became a friend and a prayer partner as I struggled to find my ministry there.  I have already mentioned is a previous posting the name of Tom Ewell, who was my boss as I began my work and remained my friend throughout my short stay in the region.  Tom and his family lived in Portland, and I visited them on several occasions, including driving from Worcester to Portland in a blizzard...not bad for a southern boy!  But Maine was not the only thing I enjoyed about New England.


I watched the 1986 Super Bowl in Tom's home as the Chicago Bears destroy the New England Patriots.  Sports were one of the things that kept me sane over the nine months I sojourned in the great north.  The Patriots made the Super Bowl, the Celtics won the NBA title, and the Red Sox were headed to the World Series!  It was quite a year to be in Massachusetts.  I went to several Red Sox games at Fenway Park, including a game against the Angels in which I got to see Reggie Jackson hit a home run off of Tom Seaver.  Talk about your all-star moments!  I also saw Roger Clemens pitch twice in what was his breakout season. The Sox eventually lost in 7 games to the Mets.  Being a good Christian, I forgave Bill Buckner early on...of course I was back in NC by then!  New England sports fans like the Patriots. They love the Celtics.  But the Red Sox are a matter of life and death, and for so many years they suffered.  Bill Simmons said it all after they finally won the World Series in 2004- "Now I can die in peace."

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about New England.  Unfortunately, few of them had much to do with my job.  The wind of change was blowing.  By June, a letter was in the mail that would change everything...as soon as God had my full attention! 

Because of Jesus,