Preparing for Ministry

My two years of Business Administration courses at Northeastern University were not the best preparation for ministry, so I was able to transfer to Amherst College, seeking a Liberal Arts degree. The GI Bill made that financially possible, and my Minister, an Amherst grad, was helpful in securing my admission. One of those influential officers of the Masonic Order also gave an assist at the Amherst admissions office. I was indeed profiting from the privilege of friends in what I would later name as “the white male club”!

With numerous war veterans descending on Amherst, the college student body experienced some shaking of its traditions. I entered as a second-semester Freshman, but along with other veterans, was older than most of the upperclassmen. Those upperclassmen soon learned that we were not going to submit to the traditional hazing imposed on first year students. We made that clear mostly by just ignoring the demands, and adjustments to the new life was quick. So I settled into the college life, but was soon to know that at Amherst I was a square peg in a round hole!

A strong fraternity atmosphere pervaded the campus, underlined by a class structure about which I knew nothing, and could not even name at the time. In a course on Educational Philosophy, I was convinced that fraternities were both anti-intellectual and anti-democratic. That led to my rejection of fraternity recruitment efforts, and to a labeled existence, as a “peg” in that traditional Amherst “hole”. Coming to the conclusion that secret organizations were fundamentally unhealthy, led also to my resigning my membership in the Masonic Lodge, which I had joined during the war. I was fearful that my insisting on what was called a “demit” from the Order might have hurt my Father, so I did that quietly. I did finally tell him of that; there was little discussion, but a quiet acceptance.

Close friendships at Amherst were difficult. David Cross and Harry Barnes, both active fraternity men, were also active in the Christian Association, and each of us was active in local and regional “C.A.” efforts. David and I went on to become classmates in seminary, and he was best-man at our wedding. Dave went into the parish ministry, then finally moved to California, where he is active in numerous community efforts, especially focused on the needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities. Harry joined the State Department, and served the nation as Ambassador in two or three European capitals, then India, and Chile. Both men have remained friends whom I cherish. My roommate at Amherst was Doug Heath, psychologist, now a Professor Emeritus at Haverford, and noted for his extraordinary study of human maturity. All have made contributions to my life which are of immeasurable importance.

Amherst provided an excellent education. Today I know that I also learned from outside the courses, as well as in the classroom. As a “pre-ministerial” student, I was active in the College Christian Association, and also in the College club of the local Congregational Church in Amherst. In the latter case I was in contact with a few students from the University of Massachusetts. It was then a much smaller place than now, and known among my Amherst friends as an “aggie” school. I felt more at home with the “aggies”, and tried to establish friendships there, but the distance between the two schools made it difficult. Today I am convinced that the psychological “distance” may have been more a deterrent for me than the actual physical distance. I was trying to find my place at Amherst, where there was a different psychological block for me. The “distance” I felt there is acutely remembered as I recall discussions after vacations away from college. I listened to classmates tell about vacation experiences in Europe. Those discussions included disagreements about which European Air Line was best (!), or perhaps the description of family celebrations, obviously expensive beyond my imagination. Experience was teaching me something about what I would later name as “class”.

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