Monday, October 25, 2010

Journey of Awakening–10: Still Asleep in Seminary

I began my seminary career at Drake Divinity School in the fall of 1959 and graduated with a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) degree in June of 1963. Ted Warren and the rest of the class I started with graduated in 1962. I told my friends it was because I am a slow learner. I don’t recall all the factors, but we did have two children born during those years: Leslea in ’61 and Robbin in ’63.

Milan Les&RobbSue had to quit her teaching job after one year to care for them. My job at Cottage Grove Presbyterian was theoretically part-time, but because it was almost a campus church with a sizable congregation I probably put in more time and was more easily distracted from studies, I carried a lighter class load in my last 2 years.

Of course there were the “extra-curricular” activities as well. Drake’s intra-mural sports program caught my interest. I organized, managed, played, and coached our touch football, basketball, and fast-pitch softball teams for three seasons. All of the fraternities, dorms, the Pharmacy and Law School had teams. The “Preachers” especially delighted in beating the Lawyers whenever possible. My love of basketball was my downfall. I arranged to get us uniforms with D.U.D.S. imprinted across the front (blue on white—Drake’s colors). We always had to point out that the letters stood for “Drake University Divinity School.”

DUDS Drake Div2Our best season was when we took the team on the road, playing the Drake Freshmen team, a couple of small college teams, even travelling to my old home church in Minneapolis to play the church team I had played on in college. We billed the trip as PR for the seminary, but really just wanted to play basketball. We lost by a couple of baskets as I recall.

DrakeStudentFacultyFB Game

Drake Student Faculty Football Game

I did however do well enough in my studies to get a full tuition scholarship in my last year. Majoring in Biblical Languages and Literature, and excelling in Hebrew and New Testament Greek, I was able to compensate for less interest in classes in preaching, education, church history, and administration. So I finally got my degree, a bachelor’s degree in those days. Years later Drake corrected this “injustice” and issued retroactive Master of Divinity degrees to all of us.

MH Seminary Grad

I was ordained to the Christian ministry in June of ’63 at First Christian Church, Minneapolis.

MH Ordination

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Journey of Awakening – 9: Integration, Family, School, Church & Society

The three years after our wedding were full of family, church, and seminary, not necessarily in that order. Sue and I rented the upstairs of a house from an elderly couple, Phil and Mary Smith. I was a smoker but it didn’t bother Phil who was a chain smoker. The whole house reeked. I am not sure how Sue and Mary survived in that environment. At the time I was not even aware.

Sue Teacher Smouse Sue got a teaching job at Smouse Opportunity School for children with physical disabilities. I continued to travel to Allerton on weekends, to preach and do pastoral duties. Sue ordinarily went with me, unless she had to prepare lesson plans for the next week, or during the second semester of the ’60-’61 school year, when she was pregnant and sick with our daughter, Leslea, born in September of ’61. At the end of the semester I was offered a job as Assistant Pastor at Cottage Grove Ave. Presbyterian Church, at an incredible $3,000 annual salary, plus a 2 bedroom apartment in a house owned by the church (and right next door). The church was within a few blocks of the Drake campus.

Cottage Grove Pres We were ecstatic, although it did require a slight shift in my theological journey. These Presbyterians actually baptized babies. My Disciples of Christ heritage was a strictly adult Baptism tradition. Fortunately, my senior pastor, Ed Ingersoll, a short, pipe-smoking gentleman, was understanding, as long as I didn’t get into arguments with parishioners or try to “dunk” the catechism class graduates I was responsible for teaching.

CG Pres Conf Class 

There were other paradigm shifts happening during the early ‘60s as well. Des Moines was the capitol of Iowa and a university town, but African Americans, or “colored people,” as they were called then, were restricted by some rigid real estate codes from living in certain parts of the city. The civil rights struggle was coming to our city in the form of a movement to have the City Council adopt an “open housing” ordinance to prevent these “redlining” practices. Sue and I helped establish a family-to-family system of whites and blacks inviting one another to their homes to get acquainted, since most whites did not know any blacks personally. We also had lots of “Hootenanys” in our living room.


Our seminary had one black Methodist student, Fred Smith. We could socialize on campus, but I remember being jarred when I learned why he did not respond to any invitations to come to any of our homes, letting us know that there were certain places he did not feel safe being seen.

I had attended the first Martin Luther King visit and speech to Des Moines at the civic auditorium in 1960 and had the opportunity to meet him and ask some questions after his speech. I’ve always said that was the inspiration for my involvement in the ‘60s civil rights and anti-war movements. We did, in fact, get the open housing ordinance passed over the next couple of years, not without struggle and late-night phone calls threatening me and my family, and a few of our church members turning their gaze away when I was around. But on the whole, Dr. Ingersoll and the congregation were quietly supportive of their young radical Assistant Pastor.

Seminary life went on as though not much was going on in the world. Except that we did have some students from the real world. I had mentioned Fred Smith, our one black student, who was a young pastor and family man who let us know what it was like being black in Iowa. Joe Fourre, a “colored” Methodist minister exchange student from South Africa (colored was a legal classification there) introduced us to the struggle against Apartheid. When he had finished his year at Drake and was headed home to his wife and 3 young children, he told us: “Some of us may have to give our lives to end this unjust system.” I’ve often wondered about him and his family. And the one female student in our seminary reminded us of the glass ceiling for women who wanted equal status and pay.

The 1960s were just beginning and we were living our lives unaware of what was unfolding.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Journey of Awakening – 8: Is This Any Way to Begin a Career?

Enrolled in Drake University Divinity School in Des Moines, Iowa, fall 1959. Packed up all of my belongings in my ’53 Chevy, including a stack of books of sermons my pastor had given me, from which I liberally borrowed ideas, illustrations, and quotes to begin my preaching career. Drake had this system of assigning students as pastors of rural and small town churches, congregations that couldn’t afford full-time ministers. This worked out well as on-the-job-training.

Allerton Xn 59-1

I was sent to a weekend church in Allerton, a town of 300 population 10 miles from the Missouri line. There were 5 protestant churches in town. Allerton Christian Church had been a thriving congregation until 10 years prior to my coming, when a controversy split the congregation and all but 35 adults had left. I spent my first year in seminary travelling on weekends the 80 miles from Des Moines, staying with a nice widow lady, Monte Eberlein, who delighted in telling everyone at church and in town how it had “been a long time since she had a man’s shoes parked under her bed.”

Allerton Ms Eberline-1

Ted Warren, my home town friend who was also single but courting his future wife, Georgiann, and I found an apartment and lived together for 9 months of the first year, when he was married and moved up to the parsonage of his weekend church. It was a very frugal year. I made $35 a week plus an occasional tank of gas given by one of the church members who owned a gas station in town. I actually had to find some part-time jobs to supplement my meager income, while carrying a full class load. This was also the year of driving back and forth to Minneapolis to try to convince my future bride, Sue, who would break up with me on a moment’s notice. On one breakup/makeup trip I arrived in the middle of the night and stood under her window throwing pebbles until all the lights went on and she finally came down. Her parents were very patient with the whole process, and relieved when it was resolved.

Milan & Sue Wedding3

Finally, on about the 3rd try she agreed to set a date and we were married on June 25, 1960, with all of my old buddies standing with me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Journey of Awakening – 7: The Seasons of Love and Learning

“Who is that mysterious beauty with the enigmatic smile and the classic features?”

“That’s Sue Wilson! She’s been away at a fancy college in Illinois.”

She showed up at the Teens & Twenties college age singles group. I was finishing my sophomore year at the U. of Minnesota. She was a year ahead of me, also enrolled at the University. I don’t remember when we started dating or how I got the courage to ask her out. I think it was an ice-skating date. She went to Colorado each summer to work at a guest ranch. Later I found out that she had this fellow staffer summer romance for a couple of summers. He phoned me and my daughter a couple of years after Sue died, wanting me to know how “close they had been.” He was Jewish. He wanted to marry her. She was Christian and couldn’t quite make the leap. So she got me. But not without a struggle. I had the whole school year to impress her. He only had a couple of months in the summer. By the end of my junior year and as Sue was graduating with a degree in early childhood education, we were going steady.

Milan & Sue58 Then the summer came and I was assigned to North Commons Park (from my old neighborhood) with Shirley Larson, a striking blond who was rebounding from a relationship. By the end of the summer I had broken it off with Sue and was spending all of my spare time with Shirley.

Park BD Shirley Larson Of course, a month or two after the summer Shirley went back to her former boyfriend. It took some convincing and crawling, but Sue did take me back and by Christmas we were engaged. Then over the course of the next year-and-a-half she broke up with me twice and relented twice. I said: “Not without a struggle.”

My senior year was made more challenging because my dad was drinking again, then got a job in Ogden, Utah, leaving my mother to sell our house, help me find a room, and join him in Ogden. It was winter. I couldn’t afford to keep my car going so I put it up on blocks at my Aunt Thelma’s place and got a used bicycle to ride to classes and work at the park. Occasionally, when I ran out of money and was hungry enough, I would make the ride to my Aunt Thelma’s in Parker’s Lake, a 15 mile ride one way. And if you think riding a bike for transportation is tough, try it in a Minnesota winter. There were days when I had to take the streetcars. Fortunately it still only cost a dime to ride.

Somehow I got through the school year, to find that my grade point average was not quite high enough to graduate with my class. So on to summer school in hopes of getting the degree by August, in time to enroll in seminary in the fall semester. My two summer classes were almost ended. I was getting a “C” in one and hovering between a “C” and a “B” in the other. Fortunately, that class was Dr. Holmer’s on Kierkegaard. I begged him: “What can I do to get a “B”? He let me write an extra paper and I was able to graduate by the proverbial skin of my teeth. Actually, it was partly Dr. Holmer’s fault. As my major advisor, he advised me to take an “inter-departmental” major, which meant every class I had taken would be included in my GPA. If I had majored in, say, Philosophy, those “D”s from my sophomore year would not have been included.

I really learned a lot at the U. of Minnesota. I just can’t remember exactly what.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Journey of Awakening – 6: Dreaming & Escaping

The Minneapolis Park Board had this great summer recreation program at what must have been a hundred parks throughout the city. Each park had one man and one woman assigned for the summer to run sports, games and crafts programs. Somehow during the summer after my sophomore year I caught the attention of Stan Nemec, the Director of Recreation for the City. He offered me the job of Men’s Rec. Director at Nicollet Field, which was year-round and part-time. This got me through my college years, along with the continued summer program. I organized and coached teams in football, hockey, and baseball for the Park Boys’ Leagues. The rest of the time at work I played pickup basketball games with the “guys from the hood,” a group of mostly African American boys who hung around the field. Evelyn Schellhammer, who was the Girls’ Director and a middle-aged lady with a sour attitude but a good heart, was constantly on my case for spending so much time playing. I told her I was the men’s’ recreation director and my job was to teach kids how to play together and how could I teach them if I didn’t “recreate” with them. She would shake her head and walk away mumbling. You might say I played my way through college. I also played on our church’s team in the men’s church basketball league, as well as making the final cut on the U. of Minnesota Freshman team.

There were also classes to attend on campus and studies to complete. Tests to take, papers to write. I spent lots of time at the Bridge CafĂ©, adjacent to the campus, which was, along with the basement of the Library where you could smoke, and my church where Ted Warren and I wrote most of our term papers in all-night sessions, my “study halls.”

I do have memories of going to classes. Freshman English with Dr. Irving Deere, who liked to touch the girls in his office during private “counseling” sessions. Thankfully, he wasn’t into touching the guys. We read Catcher in the Rye and took endless essay tests. Dr. McCorkadale lectured to a thousand of us in Psych. 101 and got a standing ovation on the last day of class. He and his minions introduced us to the famous, now infamous, Behavioral Psychology School (aka the “rats-in-the-maze” school of psychology) and multiple choice exams (aka “multiple-guess” exams, which we studied by going over copies of all past exams, hoping to catch some of the right questions on the current exam). Dr. Jones in World History 101 gave his lecture, “Jones’ Folly,” describing in great (and boring) detail how he had spent 20 years of his career attempting to decipher Minoan Linear B, a pre-Greek cuneiform script, and the day before the lecture, his colleague in the east had “cracked” it. Two years of French and all I can remember is reading The Three Musketeers and how to invite a damsel to your boudoir. Also, in two years of Classical Greek I discovered an interest in language and got straight “A”s.

The most influential teacher I had was Dr. Paul Holmer, who was one of the pre-eminent Soren Kierkegaard scholars, from whom I received an intimate view of the Melancholy Dane and his writings, especially Either/Or, the great work on Christian existentialism, and the Attack on Christendom, which, I am sure, at least in part, led to my demise as a local church pastor (that and encountering the Ecumenical Institute which will be in a later story).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Journey of Awakening – 5: Clueless in Minnesota

Enrolled at the University of Minnesota in the summer of ’55. Tuition only $75 per quarter and an equal amount for books. Living at home helped and my church, First Christian, aka Dr. Forrest Richeson, my pastor paid for tuition and gave me “extra help” when necessary, since I was, until his considerable influence, headed for the ministry. Freshman orientation week was a whirlwind of tours of the campus (at that time 40,000 students strong) and parties. Somehow our orientation host found me attractive which led to a hot evening of necking and petting at the closing party. Can’t remember her name. She was short and chunky and soft. I remember she wore a black skirt and black cashmere sweater. I don’t recall running into her on campus for the next four years. So, for an incoming freshman with only about 3 real dates behind him it was “rush week” and I don’t mean Frats.

Since I didn’t live on campus my social life centered around church and the college age group “Teens and Twenties,” comprised of grads from the high school CYF group and those singles who were not away at college, plus students from the Abbott Hospital School of Nursing which was a few blocks from the church. Several couples formed around the TNTs and five of us guys found wives there, although through the usual tumultuous, turbulent, messy relationship-building required of maturing young minds and hearts.

I continued to work through much of that first year at J. Olson Machine, while trying to maintain a full class schedule mid-week with partying on the weekends, until I was “let go” after a screw-up of a job costing the company tens of thousands. I managed to pick up a few part-time jobs as an order filler and mailer over the rest of the school year and summer and into the next year.

It was also during my freshman year that I started dating Bobbie McLennan (one of the nursing students). My friends Denny Neill and Fred Reed also latched onto theirs, or rather were latched onto. These relationships saved our first year out of high school from totally degenerating into a series of drunken lost weekends. However, we did manage a few unmemorable ones (possible because we don’t remember them). Mostly our lives revolved around our gang of friends. Ev Hall and Ron Morehouse, in the Navy for two years, re-joined us at the end of my sophomore year. Bobbie had dumped me at the end of my Freshman year, which resulted in a whole lot of falling grades in my second year, due to spending a good deal of time in “recovery” and moping around like a sick puppy. Ev started dating Bobbie, which didn’t help. There were other girls who were willing to fill in the gap, but I kept my distance after one or two dates and hid by hanging out in the group.

The summer after my first year at the U. I worked as assistant cook (dishwasher and floor-mopper) at our church camp, Tipi Wakan, which means Lodge of the Great Spirit with our pastor’s daughter and Connie McAdams, who was my summer romance (and who sobbed uncontrollably when I left her, leaving me embarrassed and puzzled that I had no clue how she was feeling). One of my TNT friends, Barb Harden, looked me in the eye after the summer break and said “Hi, Romeo, how many hearts did you break this summer.” I of course was clueless and did not really know how to respond, or rather did not want to acknowledge how afraid of close relationships I was. But that sentence of hers has stuck with me as one that comes up on occasion. Barb is now in my “meditative council” although we have had no contact since that year.