“How my mind has changed – and is changing:” from Yale Divinity School, 1958, to Maine and California, 2011 – Philip Frick McKean, Class of 1961, B.D.

A creative suggestion by the Class of ’61 YDS reunion planners –  in particular Chuck Harper and Dave Wiley –  proposed that  members of our class “would have some important reflections to share, if invited”. That insight has turned out to be splendidly accurate, and as I’ve been reading these memoirs I’m at once challenged, amused and deepened by the contributions of fellow classmates about your journeys. Thank you.       

First, I’ll revisit important memories of educational influences at YDS,  then focus on three defining dimensions of change that seem important to describe my “changing/ changed  mind” from those days at Yale:  (1) anthropology, (2) “new  families” and my education, and (3) philanthropy.  (If you want to skip the Yale years, you have my permission to jump over to page 4!)

1958 – 59: Starting out at YDS

I have splendid memories of the education I received at Yale – it was the hardest intellectual work I’d ever encountered, though I’d had some demanding professors and coaches at Williams College where I’d majored in History — and skiing.  At Yale I began the pleasure of immediately exchanging ideas with thoughtful classmates like Gary Weatherford, Jack Danforth, Hank Doll and Bill Huntley, to name a few. I worked hard in classes such as Brevard Child’s profound Old Testament Interpretation. He asked (assigned?) me to write a paper on the concept of “the Remnant” in Isaiah, and expected me to do the research as if I could understand and translate Hebrew!  Whew! But he introduced the importance of seeing ideas in their cultural context – so that Genesis was to be read in the context of other mid-eastern creation stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh.  His ideas on the appreciation of the cultural context would deepen into a broader anthropological approach in my later thinking.

I was touched daily by  brilliant, profound, and witty lectures and conversations  with H. Richard Niebuhr, Roland Bainton, Robert Calhoun, Hans Frie, Paul Homer, Paul Weiss, Bill Coffin, John Oliver Nelson, Bill Muehl, James Gustafson, Ed Dirks,  George Lindbeck and the others who graced the halls, refectory, and wider university community. Davie Napier was my Advisor and Kenneth Scott Latourette included me in one of his “discussion and prayer groups” – certainly I much benefitted from their wise, friendly, supportive personalities during my first year YDS journey.

During the first year my field work was at the Lordship Community Church (UCC) near Stratford, Ct. My future wife, Deborah was a student at Mount Holyoke College then, and occasionally joined me there – I organized a Youth Ministry program and occasionally led worship – and at YDS and for trips to New York for music, opera, and museums.

Yale led me quickly to appreciate the range and diversity of the “Christian experience” and to consider deeply about how the message and impact of Jesus was interpreted in historic and contemporary times.

1959- 1960: Edinburgh and Europe

I thought that my vocation might be as a candidate for a ministry as a university chaplain, but was not clear about why I was – or IF – I was a Christian.  Some YDS friends had studied in Europe and it seemed a good idea to me to get knowledge of the Reformation roots of what might be – or become – “my faith” by going to the source. So during the spring of 1959 I decided to take my second year at New College in Edinburgh under the watchful eye of the Church of Scotland.

To pay for this intellectual odyssey in Europe I worked in construction on the Mass. Turnpike in the Berkshires. That was another kind of education! I remember reading Kant’s  “Essays in Practical Reason” during lunch breaks which led to interesting conversations with the  Turnpike crew members  –  but it allowed me to have funds for tuition, room and board, and to sail on the maiden voyage of the SS Rotterdam with hundreds of students from NY to Southampton.  Bill Huntley and I had a lot of fun on that ship and then in London for a few days. I took the train north in September and moved into a student digs on  “The Mound” above Princess Street near the Castle and John Knox’s church, St Giles.  My roommates were from Johannesburg and Berlin. Other international and Scots students welcomed me to the common rooms and refectory. This began an immersion course in neo-orthodox theology with Tom Torrance and other Scottish lecturers. I particularly remember Alec Cheney in Reformation Church History, James Stewart in Homiletics, and Christian Ethics with John Macintosh and New Testament with Robin Barbour.

As a counterpoint to all the “Scottish theology” I bought a then-new book from James Thin’s bookshop in Edinburgh, The Phenomenon of Man by the Jesuit paleontologist, Teilhard d’Chardin. I was amazed to find his sense of seeing broad human and pre-human history connected to the Christian tradition in a whole new evolutionary perspective. I loved it.  Of course I read – and sought to understand a bit – Barth, Bonhoffer, Luther, Calvin, Augustine, various Church Fathers, Knox and Hus, and New Testament Exegesis. I got the message – SOMETHING had happened during “heilsgeschite” that was centrally important, and that Jesus had me and all other folk in mind when he taught and made life – and death – decisions. Was I yet a Christian?  I remember hearing from one Scot that it was less important that I have faith in God, than that God had faith in me.  I think highly of that idea to this day!

During the late winter I went to Iona with other Scots seminary students and was introduced to that “holy, wind-swept site” of the founding of Celtic Christianity in 6th C. Britain, and began to appreciate the liturgical and international efforts of the Iona Community to reinvigorate Christian worship and work.

The spring term in Edinburgh was truncated in those days because the Kirk of Scotland’s General Assembly took over the campus of New College. So I got permission from a few professors to write papers in absentia and set off for the continent with two goals in mind – to ski in the Alps, and to study at the feet of Karl Barth. Both pleased me!

Frankly, the memory of sparkling snow on the Jacobshorn one April morning above Davos still outshines the brilliance of Barth’s lectures, but no doubt it was my too-rudimentary German that was the problem, not his keen mind. He was working through topics in Christian ethics which was later were published in Kirchliche Dogmatik. But fortunately for me Barth was also leading an English speaking graduate seminar – in a pub – and that was worthwhile for giving me a deep appreciation of Barth “the man”. I learned of and respected his powerful NO to the forces of Nazi ideology, as well as his quick and humorous wit. I began to grasp the importance of his resistance to a claim of ultimate power for human constructs – economics, politics, cultures or society, as he insisted on knowing God through the gift of God to humans in Jesus, the Christ. Barth played many variations on this theme – that God is to be God – and that we pathetically self-centered and ethnocentric humans were always too eager to replace him with our own idols. When during that time I read his sermons to prisoners in the Basel jails, it coincided with the witness of MLK, Jr. and many other figures in prophetic and church history. Thus I was strengthened in the belief that to be critical of the status quo must be central in the Christian tradition.

After Basel I met Bill Huntley and his brother to attend the Passionspiel in Oberammergau, Germany. I wrote about it’s history and combination of touristic and pietistic elements for my home town paper,  The Berkshire Eagle  – my first “scholarly publication”.  I finished that year of travel and study in Salzburg,  where I taught English to refugees from the Iron Curtain, especially Hungary, and listened regularly to music by Barth’s beloved Mozart  (Barth once wrote that Mozart was of more significance to him than even the great Martin Luther or Calvin, because of interest in “play”.)

In late August I returned to New England to resume studies at Yale, but before that I enjoyed a reunion with Deborah, who had been a splendid correspondent with me while finishing her degree at Mount Holyoke College.  I proposed to her during the fall, and we began planning for a summer wedding – which seemed at least as exciting as my final year of classes in New Haven! But I’d been invited to serve as a Freshman Advisor in a dorm, Wright Hall on the Old Campus above the statue of Nathan Hale, and that was soon a job I came to value, providing a chance to work with some exceptional freshmen.

Classes re-engaged me: with Neibuhr, (I still value his typologies in “Christ and Culture”) Paul Minear’s insights into the New Testament, George Lindbeck’s careful reading of Augustine and Luther and Hans Frei’s  course in Christology stand out as masterful learning experiences.  H. Richard invited me to write a long paper on a topic we discussed at length  –  a balance to the Protestant  “Work Ethic” – “Towards an understanding of play and recreation in Christian ethics, and I worked spiritedly on that – even returning to those themes in later writing and teaching.

1961 – 64: Cambridge to Jakarta

After graduating joyfully from YDS in June, I was married on July 1 to Deborah Adams in Bristol, R.I. at the First Congregational Church, with our YDS friends Bill Huntley and Andrew Sorensen in the wedding. We moved to Cambridge, where I was interim UCC University Minister at the Student Christian Movement in New England, and worked to encourage campus ministries across the region during a lively year. I’d of course been influenced by the ministry of Bill Coffin, both at Williams College, where as student leader of the Williams College Chapel we spent many times together, including some ski trips. Later I was often in his office or home, participating sometimes or observing at others his many efforts at Yale and nationally in the civil rights movement and the early days of concern for  peace. Many of us who knew Bill had a strong role model in his interpretation of the “social gospel” traditions. At SCM conferences Deborah and I continued to meet university Christians from around the globe, and I remember conversations about their work and challenges in emerging nations like Indonesia.

This helped us be ready to accept an invitation to serve with the SCM of Indonesia through a new ecumenical program called Frontier Internship in Mission, sponsored by the WSCF and the Presbyterian Church. In June 1962 our education about a country we knew little of began, and off we went to Cornell for intensive Indonesian language training. We were fortunate to have well-trained Indonesian and American teachers there and made friends with a host of people heading for work in Indonesia, from Foreign Service officers and scholars to CIA staff and missionaries.

We also had a week at the end of the summer at Stony Point, NY to meet  our fellow “FI’s” – Dave Wiley was another who headed to areas deemed “frontiers” for young Christians.  I realized that a larger vision than I’d ever been exposed to as a white, Protestant, New Englander was going to be required! I was ordained in the Berkshire Association of the Mass. Conference of the United Church of Christ in September, 1962, and spoke about seeking that larger vision for the church in my sermon.

Our “frontier” in Jakarta was to encounter the University World, New Nationalism, and Non-Christian Religions. For two years we were fellow-laborers with the “Pengurus Pusat”, the national coordinating council of the Gerakan Mahasiswa Kristen Indonesia (GMKI = SCM of Indonesia, an affiliate of the Indonesian Council of Churches.)

It was in Indonesia that I read more Asian history and archaeology, along with the history of religions, seeking to comprehend the plural ethnic and faith mix that was and is modern Indonesia – an Islamic majority with strong minorities of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus. We travelled across Java and Bali, into Sulawesi and Sumatra as the far-flung branches of the SCM met for training, worship and fellowship.

Deborah and I were deeply touched by the friendships and dedicated efforts of Indonesian students to balance their faith with family and national loyalties.

Those Indonesians helped me change my mind in profound ways. I learned that they were going to be in charge of their own nation, and their own churches. They would seek to retain their ethnic heritages while participating in the technological and international streams of culture that were sweeping across Asia. Those students would have to deal with followers of Islam and Shiva, Marx and Mao, and continue to seek education in the Netherlands, Russia, the USA and Japan that was relevant to their future in Indonesia.  They taught us about the
end of colonialism” in Asia, and readied me to speak out about the American occupation of Vietnam and gave me motivation to seek its end – over too many years.

1964 – 71: Ministry in Providence and Anthropology at Brown and Bali

We returned from Indonesia to Providence, R.I. where my mind turned to being a pastor and teacher at Central Congregational Church. Later I became a chaplain and graduate student at Brown University, and we had two children there, Tom and Susannah. The large congregation at Central Church included many cultural leaders of the community along with diverse students and faculty.  Before long I was in the midst of the early “Peace Movement”, leading candle-lit vigils at the statehouse and having acrimonious responses to my spoken and written point of view from opponents. I was the first convener of the R.I. Committee for Peace in Vietnam in late 1964, and felt I needed a better grounding in the history of Southeast Asia, so I began to audit classes in the History of Religions at Brown with a young Dutch scholar, Kees Bolle.  He helped me to put my Indonesian experiences in context, and urged that I write and lecture about them. Although Kees soon left Brown, another scholar of Indonesia came, and I was able to enroll in the Anthropology Dept. with a fellowship to study with Bob Jay, who had worked in Java with Clifford Geertz. I finished an M.A. with research on the Outward Bound movement, and after reading a lot of archaeology, linguistics, biological and Asian anthropology I passed qualifying exams for the Ph.D. and also received a NIMH grant to return to Indonesia to study change and continuity in Bali. Our family was there for a year, and I was expected by the terms of my visa to be connected to Udayana University where I was invited to be a Lecturer in Anthropology. We knew a number of missionaries from the Dutch and US  churches at work in Indonesia by this time, and while we sometimes enjoyed their company,  I found I was not eager to encourage the Balinese to stop being followers of Hindu –Balinese ceremonies and communities. Was I a Christian in these opinions and thoughts?  I was certainly emphasizing the human side of the “very God, very man” equation used classically to describe Jesus Christ.

1971- 2011     Major Themes in My Life

1.   Anthropology and…

From Indonesia we returned to Amherst, MA where I had an appointment in the brand new Hampshire College to teach in the School of Social Science.  It was a heady environment for me and our family. The “Five Colleges” were in formation and the style and content of Hampshire was being defined. I began to do a lot of team teaching, and sought to connect anthropology and Asian studies to the other sciences and arts. Students like Ken Burns were asking for my advice and participation in their intellectual journeys, as I was using anthropological films in many classes and taught a large, often lively dialogical course for years with the biologist, Ray Coppinger, that we called “Bio-Social Human Adaptation.”  In addition I became an informal chaplain art Hampshire, and did a good many marriages and sadly, funerals.  YDS study allowed me to undertake a class in Biblical interpretation through the eyes of current scholars as well as anthropologists and archaeologists. Eventually I became a Dean at Hampshire, and later Headmaster of Concord (MA) Academy, and of course spent more time administrating and less in teaching.  While I went from professional efforts in education into health care administration in the following three decades, I’ve not yet lost the exciting vision to be found in anthropology. I’m quite an “evangelist” for the discovery of ourselves through cross-cultural experiences and appreciating the deep history of all living humans through the study of  anthropology.

In recent years I’ve taught anthropology for the Coastal Senior College, an off-shoot of the University of Maine for life-long learning (No Exams, No Credit, No Complaining!).   Classes such as Paleolithic Cave Paintings, Balinese Culture, and Asian Cultures Meet Global Modernization have led to much good research, lively discussions with mature students, and a wider community of friends.

2.    Family Adventures: Ways a gay son, an international daughter and a Deacon have helped/ are helping me to Change My Mind.

I was expecting a replication of the family I knew, and the families that I knew in my heritage and neighborhoods, as I started a family with Deborah.  That expected road turned a dramatic corner when Tom told us, during his junior year at Yale as architecture major, that he was gay. He hoped we would want to meet and know his new partner.  My reaction was pretty emotional – I was not so much disappointed or angry, as deeply sad. It was in the early days of the “gay disease” and we mourned the imagined death of our son from AIDS.  Many, tragically, did die eventually, including his partner, Eddie Hampton, another Yale graduate – who with Tom had adopted our grandson, Jon who’s now 22.  Tom found strength from many organizations, including AA and a UU church and many friends on the way to rediscover joy in his life, and is now a much loved father, partner of our new son-in-law, Marq Taylor and a successful business leader for J. P. Morgan Chase, and a contributor to his community of Santa Barbara, CA.

This experience in having a “new family” led to our deep involvement in efforts to pass laws for Marriage Equality in Maine and nationwide.  We have advocated on behalf of the people who we hope will eventually benefit from this new “civil rights issue” in our communities and churches. We’ve certainly made new friends – and experienced some frayed relationships – in so doing.  I think H. Richard would be writing a good deal about the way we can – or should – “love our neighbors” in new ways to embrace these “new families”.

In the meantime our daughter Susannah had attended the MA school where Deborah, Tom and I had also studied, Northfield Mount Hermon School. There she had excelled in Russian classes and academic life, along with running on cross country, track and Nordic ski teams. After a trip to the USSR she decided to study at Stanford University, largely because of their strength in things Russian.  Since she and Tom had been with us as youngsters in Bali we really couldn’t be too surprised that this was the beginning of her “international journey”.  After a tour in New York and Sydney as an investment banker, she married “a Brit”, (and graduate of Oxford, the inspiration for Yale’s “college system). She and Paul Nicklin settled in London and within a few years Paul was on his way to becoming what he is today – a Training Captain for British Airways. Susannah continued until recently working in London in financial advisory roles and joining boards to strengthen non-profit entrepreneurs.  She and Paul have been an amazingly energetic and skillful tag-team in raising our grandchildren, Chloe (12) and Samuel (9) in Marlow, near the Thames Valley. Of course the children speak the Queen’s English, and are quite international citizens who feel at home in the U.K., Europe and the U.S.   (Samuel is happy to cheer for both Liverpool and the Red Sox.) We see in our own family that clearly we are all part of “one small world”.

When Deborah and I moved to Maine in 2001 she was already an Episcopalian, and I had begun to worship with her more than occasionally. That constituted quite a change in liturgy and emphasis for us both, as we’d both grown up in New England Congregational/UCC traditions, and I’d served two dozen UCC churches either as a pastor or interim minister over 40 years of ordination.  But Deborah had found spiritual nourishment in the Anglican tradition, and started the process of discernment with the Bishop of Maine, Chilton Knudson, towards becoming an ordained Vocational Deacon. She had much support from the Bishop, rectors, teachers, colleagues and local churches and chaplaincy teams through that journey, and it made for an exciting, rigorous six years. She also took time to minister to me – helping me to recover from a near-fatal staph pneumonia.

Deborah was ordained by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine at St Luke’s Cathedral in Portland by Bishop Knudson in June, 2007. Since then I’ve worshipped with her frequently at St John Baptist in Thomaston. Along with many others I have benefitted from her deep appreciation of the Episcopal traditions, so that has been “Part II” to the study of Church History begun with Roland Bainton and Uncle Ken Latourette. She initiated a wildly popular ministry at the retirement community founded by Pen Bay Health Care, where she offered spiritual discussion and prayer group for those in assisted living.

Now this year we’ve decided to be in Maine for the foreseeable summers, but are moving for the winter months to the “intentional community” of Pilgrim Place in Claremont, CA. We’ve learned of the influence there of long-time former residents, Davie and Joy Napier, and the presence of many others connected to YDS, like  Joan Forsberg, Joe and Heidi Hough, Ron and Janet Evans, so it’s an exciting time to enjoy the many strands of life woven into the mosaic of our experiences in ministry which began for us at Yale.

3. Philanthropy as a vocation and avocation.

I learned as a kid that a part of my “allowance” for home chores was to go to the groups I had joined – the local Boy Scouts and the First Church of Christ, Congregational, both on the town common in Pittsfield, MA.  (They got a nickel each week in the ‘40’s.)

My grandparents, Ruth and Philip Frick, were close to me, and helped me to know that participation in community groups was something to treasure, as she played in musical groups and he,  a Methodist minister, was active during retirement in Rotary Clubs. My father and mother, Hugh and Elizabeth McKean, were similarly committed to their community and modeled that effort as both a responsibility and pleasure.  I’ve found these to be accurate perceptions, and there were obviously many dimensions of this ”social gospel” approach taught and modeled at Yale Divinity School during my years there.

In the decades after work in education I’ve found a “vocation” and deep satisfaction in managing the philanthropic programs for several non-profits: CARE, The Peace Development Fund, Northfield Mont Mount Hermon School, Holyoke Medical Center, UMASS MEMORIAL Health Care, and until this year, Penobscot Bay Health Care.  In the past two decades I’ve led Foundations that have initiated new programs for Hospice, women’s and family health, neonatal and birthing care, cancer treatment and multiple therapies to serve patients in effective ways. Management of philanthropy programs, especially “Gift Planning” became my specialty, and I found it satisfying work which I’ll probably continue as long as I have strength and wit to do so.

Since there rarely seems to be “enough philanthropy” for the vision of community leaders, I’ve joined a number of Boards and served for the past decade as a pro bono voice: for a regional land trust, an educational start-up for maritime apprenticing, a new model for merging public high schools and community colleges in our region of Maine, a regional Y, a Habitat for Humanity, and several church outreach programs.

Oh yes,  Yale Divinity School  is high on my list of good causes that, I feel, requires from me a combination of responsible commitment and appreciation of the gifts received. Our alma mater proffers LUX et VERITAS – and I for one have felt some of that  shining light and emanating truth  for lo, these 50+ years.

Peace be with you, fellow alums – and future students and teachers at YDS!

Philip Frick McKean, Cushing, Maine, October 7, 2011