Thursday, 17 October 2013

Some incidents that shaped my ministry (3): Easton, Pennsylvania, 1971.

This is the third of four posts in which I look at some incidents in my early life and how they shaped my ministry.  I'm writing about these incidents in an order that's the reverse of how they actually happened.  The first post was about an incident which happened when I was 30.  The second post was about an incident which happened when I was 24.  This third post is about an incident which happened when I was 18.

It was late in 1971.  I was a freshman at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.  I was living away from home for the first time in my life.

In addition to my academic studies, I was exploring who I was and what I believed about life, the universe, and everything.  Part of my exploration was about my religious identity.  What did I really believe about my Christian faith, and why?

In all honesty, I didn't find that the Christian groups on campus were helping much in that quest. 
  • There was one group which related to the official chaplaincy on campus.  In many ways, it still reflected the "God is Dead" radical theology scene of the early 1960s. 
  • Another group was of a more "evangelical" or "fundamentalist" nature.  They approached everyone on campus as a potential convert and made sure we all heard of the "Four Spiritual Laws", etc., and made sure we knew that they felt that those who didn't follow their path were destined to be fuel for an eternal BBQ.
I didn't see either group as terribly satisfying in terms of my own faith or spirituality.

As a result, I was wondering whether this whole God thing was worth bothering with.  Perhaps, I'd just put my faith on hold for a while, during my years at Lafayette, as many of my fellow-students were also deciding.  But before actually taking this step of "putting my faith on hold for a while", I decided to attend worship one more time. 

That Sunday, I went to the Catholic Mass that was celebrated on campus.  I'd attended Mass numerous times before, including times as a guitarist for folk masses celebrated by local Catholic churches when I was a high school student, so I had an idea what Mass would be like.

I remember little about the Mass.  The homily was mercifully short.  The music was familiar.  The liturgy was notably similar to that of the United Methodist congregation I attended at home.  And that was about it.

What I do remember is the conviction I had after Mass:  "This God thing is definitely worth bothering with!"  The whole notion of "putting my faith on hold for a while" was itself put on hold ... indefinitely.

When my "evangelical" friends ask me about my "conversion experience", I tell them about this incident.  (Usually, they're even more concerned about the state of my soul after I tell them than they were before, but that's their problem, not mine.)

In a sense, this incident set me on my career as an ecumenist.  The fact that I remained a Christian during my time of undergraduate religious uncertainty is due in large part to ministry I received from a community of Christians of which I was not a member.  It would be dishonest of me not to be ecumenical.  (Years later, I was at a meeting of people involved in ecumenical ministries of one form or another.  As part of the opening activity of the meeting, we were asked about how we got into the ecumenical scene.  The majority of the group could refer to an experience similar to this one.)  Given this experience, it would be dishonest of me not to be ecumenical.

In the fourth and final post, I go back to when I was 13, and had a traumatic experience as a result of a fire-and-brimstone sermon at an Easter sunrise service.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.