When we graduated from Y.D.S 50 years ago, our country seemed to be on the threshold of a new era. Jack Kennedy had just been elected president bringing fresh vision, energy and hope. Major cities across the country were in crisis with racial conflict, and international tension was present at many spots across the globe. Yet, positive change seemed possible. Peggy, my wife now of 53 years, and I moved to Ohio with Bruce and Joanne Klunder. Bruce began a campus ministry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I began parish ministry with a small congregation in Barberton just outside Akron.
I began with two goals: to nurture the growth of the congregation through vital worship and small groups and to challenge at least some members who were open to developing a larger vision of service and prophetic witness in the community beyond our own congregation. There was a small black neighborhood largely isolated from the rest of Barberton, and I wanted to explore possibilities for building relationships there. I was also well aware of the growing tension in Cleveland generated by the movement toward school desegregation and the complex problems associated with poverty in the heart of the city. Bruce quickly became engaged with these issues. The deep challenge the nation was facing came into sharp focus for us when only a little over three years after leaving Y.D.S. Bruce was killed while demonstrating against the construction of a public school in Cleveland that was destined to become segregated with limited resources for quality education.
The trauma of this event has been etched in our memory and in some measure has influenced the choices I have made regarding career through the rest of my ministry. Shortly after Bruce’s death, we accepted a call to a small suburban church in Cleveland. Here we worked on creating opportunities for communication and joint programs across urban-suburban and racial lines. In our own community we worked to encourage open integrated housing, an effort that met with a good deal of hostility and resistance and only limited success.
By this time I was feeling burnt-out and confused about my own future direction, with doubts about my call to ministry. A year long program in urban ministry had just been established at Case Western Reserve. I enrolled and found there support and some insight for dealing with the challenges we were facing. Later I earned a Masters degree in Public Management from the same university.
After this respite in academia, struggling to find my way we moved to Erie, Pennsylvania where I accepted a job in a Community Action Program responsible for overseeing job training, youth employment, Day Care, and Head Start programs. I worked there for five years. Yet, while I felt this work important I was uneasy. Was this what I wanted to be doing? Was this why I went to seminary? Was this what I was called to be doing? In the midst of this questioning, I learned of an opening for Executive Director in a newly restructured local ecumenical organization in Erie that brought together a local council of churches and a regional denominationally based social justice ministry. I inquired, was interviewed, and finally called to serve in the new agency, the Inter Church Ministries of Northwestern Pennsylvania. This marked the beginning of 26 years of service in local ecumenism, first in northwestern Pennsylvania and later for most of these years in Greater Philadelphia.
This work was multi-faceted including theological dialogue, small modest social services operated through small clusters of congregations, and advocacy on public policy issues related to poverty, racial justice, and peace.
As I look back over these years, I have wondered about what I have accomplished? Not much has changed, and I have felt, at times, a deep sense of failure. But what has kept me going is the inspiration I have received from the faithful people I have been privileged to work with, as I have seen their striving to approximate in some frail, limited measure the kingdom, the society for which Jesus lived and died and indeed lives on in the empowerment of the spirit.
In this I have found God’s enduring patience and grace and the strength to keep on keeping on.