Church Pastorates

At Andover Newton, one of the early fall decisions, made in 1949, was to engage in my “field education” ministry at the Immanuel Congregational Church, in Beverly, where Bill Wimer was minister, while he continued his work with the Student Christian Movement. My hunch is that some folk at the seminary looked upon me then as a “fair-haired boy”. They headed me toward a “cherished” position at the largest of our denominational churches, in Boston, and then to another large suburban church. I declined both those positions and indicated instead that I wanted to work in Beverly, with Bill. That choice rather amazed some of the staff on the “hill” at Andover Newton. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Bill and Alice received Sylvia and me into their family with an affection which still continues.

The Immanuel Church was a working-class congregation of less than three hundred people, livened into new possibilities with Bill’s ministry. My work was in education with the Sunday School, and with a growing youth group, but Bill provided me experience in worship leadership and preaching which would never have come from the “large” churches. When Bill left to assume a ministry in Rhode Island, though I was still in seminary, in the fall of 1952, I was invited to assume the pastorate as Bill’s successor. Ordination came in that fall, and we settled into the part of Beverly, called Rial Side, where we were through 1957.

David joined our family in 1952, and Gary, in 1954. Their early years were in that Rial Side community. It was a part of Beverly almost isolated physically and socially from the rest of the city. There were lessons there which contributed to my understanding of class, and of barriers between “big” and “small”, in this case, churches. Many people had grown up in our part of Beverly, worked in the shoe machinery factory there, and married there. The congregation exhibited both the wonder of a small place where everyone knew everyone else, but also the negative aspects of in-growth. I took joy when our little church was able to elect an alderman and a school committee member, and was inordinately proud of how that affected the way I was greeted “downtown”. It was a good place to begin a family and ministry.

As I write these many years later, I remember a “course” I offered to the parishioners. In a strange way I see it as a formative step in my present eagerness to be a historian. I actually offered a series of lectures on church history! The presumptive audacity of thinking that I could do anything of the sort now appalls me! Most people were wiser than I; they stayed away! Among the few who came there was one man who expressed great interest, and evidenced a considerable knowledge of the subject. Later during my ministry in Beverly, he told me that he had previously been a student in a Greek Orthodox Seminary. Today I remember that he was impressed by what he felt was my ability to understand and articulate the importance of the “large sweep” of the history. Today I’ll claim that as “preparation” for what has now emerged as a major interest in my life.

During those years in Beverly, Sylvia began to suffer more seriously from the asthma which had been with her since childhood. After hospitalizations due to sudden severe attacks, we were able to find medical help, which included psychiatric care, through participation in an experimental program in a Boston hospital.

The move to the Free Christian Church, Andover, provided a brief ministry for me, and for Sylvia a teaching position at Abbott Academy, a girl’s “prep” school, where she taught Bible courses. Those were two very good years, except for the continuing struggle with Sylvia’s health. The boys found friends and fine opportunities in public kindergarten and private woodworking courses. I continued work I had begun while in Beverly, active in the statewide youth program of the denomination. That led to a shortened ministry in Andover, when, in 1959, I accepted a position as a staff member of the Massachusetts Congregational Conference, with a responsibility for youth ministry.

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