From starting at YDS with a goal to following in my mother’s footsteps and going into teaching – thought I would become a seminary professor – decided after seeing all the really brilliant colleagues at YDS that the road to a Ph.D. might be a more daunting task than I wanted to take on, and the experience with a fantastic pastor family during the three years of field work pointed me more toward the local church and ministries there.
The experiences of Germany, Hitler’s Death Camps for the Jews, the “Confessing Church”, ministry in a Refugee Camp Congregation (refugees from the former German provinces the other side of present day Poland, deeded to Russia and Poland after WW II), and the Berlin Congregation (the Johanneskirche in Berlin-Schlachtensee) continue to be very important influences. The Berlin experience led me into travels back and forth across the wall and on into the DDR (the German Democratic Republic – Communist East Germany), connecting pastors, groups, and friends, and bringing “Greetings” from America to various congregations in the DDR.
One of the outcomes was taking on translation from German into English of a number of sermons and lectures, other writings of a colleague, Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, who as a student pastor at the Free University was one of the first to take a group after the war to Israel and Palestine. Marquardt became a major founder of Jewish-Christian Dialogues and a strong advocate for re-casting the Jewish foundations of Jesus and the church, criticizing also the anti-Semitism built into the history and teachings of the Christian Church in Germany. The book finally found a publisher and is available as “Theological Audacities,” a Princeton Theological Monograph Series publication. It was a labor of love, for Marquardt and others of the “Unterwegs Kreis” in Berlin (both East and West).
From Berlin and the German experiences – the church’s and Christian “silence” for the most part as the Jewish neighbors were taken away in cattle cars and shipped off to their death camp destinations, it was an easy “Yes!” to the invitation to join the Mississippi “Freedom Summer” of 1964 to be a NCC “minister counselor” to a group of voter registration volunteers in McComb, MS., and from there to a pastorate in Austin, MN, an urban ministry in Wichita, KS, another assignment in Berlin, and pastorates of 11 years in Fort Wayne, IN and one of 16 years in Oak Park at Austin Blvd. Christian Church – on the border to the West Side of Chicago.
There, we were active in inter-faith ventures, offering worship and study space to a small Muslim community of faith, opening the religious organization to participation by the two Jewish congregations (Conservative and Reformed) and the Unitarian congregation (Unity Temple, built by Frank Lloyd Wright – Oak Park has the most Wright homes, and is home to the Home and Studio, bringing many visitors to the community!) We were active in bringing and supporting refugees, as part of the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministry – now renamed Refugee One and continuuing), and I often was a “character” in the Multi-cultural Center programs for the public schools – either “Uncle Manfred” from Germany or “Cousin Boris” from Russia. Oh well, the would-be Thespian continued without shame to play various parts!
All three of the congregations we served in the US have either already marked their “end of life,”or, in the case of the Oak Park congregation, ending with Christmas Sunday, this year. We moved from Oak Park on Easter Sunday, 2002, joined the Presbyterian Church of Chatham (NJ) Township, and currently serve as Pastoral Assistant to a great colleague senior ministry. Also, I am Moderator of the Nairobi Partnership Committee, have been now two times to Nairobi, helped put together hosting program for Presbyterian partners visiting from Kenya, and plan to take another group in July of 2012.
We continue to try to cross borders and break through and down walls!