Shifting Sands of Faith Demand Action

Along with the awakening social conscience, and burgeoning dissatisfaction with the institutional church, there was also at a very subliminal level, doubt eating at the structure of beliefs at the base of my theology. In 1962 I had been invited to lead worship for a national gathering of church educators, to be held over several days in St. Louis. The opportunity carried with it a degree of prestige which usually required careful preparation and planning. Pleased with the notoriety, I could somehow not become “engaged” with the idea. I left for the event, driving my father’s much better car; he had been hospitalized for what we believed was a minor heart problem. My mission in driving was to visit several students at colleges along the way, and to meet with Admissions Directors at those colleges. This was part of a personal campaign to acquaint young folks with the possibilities of college beyond New England. Along the way I visited Hiram, Earlham, Wabash, perhaps others I do not remember now. At the same time I was hoping that some “message” might come to me that would provide a theme for my leadership at the St. Louis Conference. Nothing came; I was blank, and began to face the fact that I had no confidence that I had anything “Christian” to say to fellow Christian church leaders.

While visiting at Purdue, a phone call came from Sylvia, with news of death. It was not my father, already in the hospital, but mother, who had a sudden fatal heart attack! So, of course, I phoned Conference leaders that I would not be in St. Louis, and immediately headed home for a more than twenty-four hour uninterrupted, cold February drive back to Wakefield. In a matter of days, my father also died, while in the hospital. I think he simply did not want to return to an empty house, and so he relinquished a tentative hold on life. As I remember those two deaths, so close in time, it is clear as an indication of the closeness they knew in life. They were thoroughly “good” people, with lives exhibiting the very best meanings of “goodness”.

Another look at this episode is to say that it rescued me from going to the St. Louis Conference, perhaps failing terribly, and then having to face the hard reality of doubts which challenged my Christian faith. Immersed in that moment, I could not see what I see now, that I was undergoing a major shift in the faith base of my life.

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