After nearly forty years of the Pastoral Ministry in the Presbyterian Church, I decided to hang up my robe and retire in 1991.
When I began my ministry, it was as an assistant minister at a large Presbyterian church in Buffalo, New York. Churches were booming in the l 950's and new member classes were jammed. It was a good time to start. Chosen for a year's study in Switzerland at the University of Geneva, I returned to the Niagara frontier to serve another congregation as senior pastor. I was filled with the Ecumenical Dream-One Holy, Apostolic Church with many branches, each with individual variations and differences, but still one Church. I have never lost that vision.
In 1958 I married a Rochester girl, Jane Morrow. Four years later we found ourselves with our first born (daughter Laura) bound for the Soviet Union where I was sent to establish the Moscow Chaplaincy reaching out to the Protestant foreign colony. The Cuban Missile Crisis had just ended and none of us had been incinerated by American nuclear warheads. Even so, we had no place to live except hotels. No place to worship except embassies that would take us in. I spent over a year going to the Soviet Foreign Ministry entreating them to give us a residence and chapel so that we would have our own identity. Finally we were granted not one but two apartments which I then converted to a house church. A week after dedication
John F. Kennedy was assassinated. An Assumptionist priest and I conducted a memorial service at the American Embassy with the full Soviet Presidium as well as the foreign colony in attendance. We stayed on for another year and opus two (son Thomas) was born in Finland.
In 1966 I received a call to the First Presbyterian Church of New Rochelle, New York. The issue was clear: bring life to that congregation. Things began to happen through pastoral care, congregational growth, and outreach into that dynamic community. Taught a course in Protestant Theology at the College of New Rochelle. Through the college I came to know two wonderful communities of faith: the Ursuline Sisters and the Christian Brothers from Iona College. Such spiritual strength enabled us to forge additional support from local rabbis and Westchester congregations culminating in the founding of a summer day camp for thousands of children from the New York Metropolitan area representing all walks of life. Scores of school busses brought the kids to a dock and a Staten Island Ferry boat (gift from the city) transported the youngsters to a beautiful island off New Rochelle (old Fort Slocum). Seven years of incredible joy and hope in a time when our nation was tom by conflict. Then there was a stint on the school board followed by another early inter-faith effort to establish a Hospice network in Westchester County. During this time opus three (son Timothy) was born. I completed my ministry in New Rochelle with the merger of the Old First Church and the North Avenue Church-two diverse parishes brought under one roof. Through it all there was Jane: pastor's wife, helpmate, mother, diplomat, strategist, entertainer, hostess. Two other pastorates in New Jersey rounded out nearly forty years. I retired back to my home town of Pelham providing opportunity to be with family and people we have known for years. Among Amherst friends are Jim and Betty Brophy and Ward Bums ('50) and wife Cynthia. I occasionally sec Gerry Reilly on the train-he on to Greenwich, I to Pelham.
Jane holds an executive position in Manhattan, while I preach occasionally. Looking back on it all, I wonder how we did it? I think I know the answer. In 1982 I had a large wedding in New London, Connecticut. A hot Saturday in July. We stayed at a nearby motel. Jane by the side of the pool as I went jogging down Route One. With sweat pouring down, I felt a flash across the chest. Out of breath, I made it back. The next week confirmed blocked arteries. The cardiologists at St. Luke's wanted me to go immediately to Emory University Hospital, Atlanta to be treated by Dr. Andreas Gruntzig from Zurich Switzerland, the inventor of Angioplasty.
Emory Hospital: the amphitheater filled with cardiologists and surgeons from around the world as well as observers from St. Luke's looking on. I climbed onto the table. I heard Dr. Gruntzig murmuring to his assistants and then came unbelievable pain. Doctor said, "I am sorry. I just severed your right artery."
"You whaa ...?""I said I just severed your right artery." I knew that I was in deep trouble. Infact, I was dying. Like fast. Ina hurry. 911 People shouting-being raced down the hall to the OR. A nurse mounted me. Gown ripped off. Some guy stuck a needle in my neck. I was going down fast. Painted up. Still awake. More shouting. Three days later I woke up. A month went by and back to work.
The Fiftieth. Everyone of us can testify from the depths of the heart that if we made it at all, it was by the skin of our teeth and by the amazing Grace of One who knows us better than we know ourselves. Who stays with us through to the end and beyond. Thanks be to God!