Saturday, November 13, 2010

Journey of Awakening–12: The Academic Dream

One of my seminary professors was a graduate of a small college in Lincoln, Nebraska. Cotner University was founded by some ministers and laymen of my denomination, The Disciples of Christ, to prepare young men and women as preachers and educators in small town churches scattered throughout the state of Nebraska. It had fallen on hard times and gone out of existence during the Great Depression, but a small group of college trustees had saved a portion of the school’s endowment in hopes of resurrecting the institution. Cotner was started up after World War II as a school of religion and became affiliated with the University of Nebraska.

Dr. Frank Gardner, who was a colorful “disciple” of Henry Nelson Wieman and Alfred North Whitehead and the infamous process theology school at the University of Chicago, and who had played football at Cotner in the late twenties, put me in touch with Dr. Raleigh Peterson, Dean of Cotner. It was the summer of 1963 and there was an opening for a temporary and part-time instructor of religion. I was interested in pursuing a graduate degree in classical Greek with a prominent professor of classics at the U. of Nebraska, so I applied for the job.

I was on the train from Des Moines to Lincoln for the interview when the news was spread from car to car that President Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas. It was a depressing mood as I was greeted by the Dean and a couple of local ministers from the Cotner Board, but I did get offered the position to begin in the summer of 1964. I was to begin by travelling throughout Nebraska on a “recruitment” trip for Cotner. Even though it was the unofficial school of religion for the university, courses were not required and not part of any major, so students had to be particularly motivated to want to enroll in Cotner’s elective courses.

As it turned out I had to delay my start date by a month or so, due to having major surgery on a cyst requiring 6 weeks of recuperation in my in-laws basement in Minneapolis. Finally, with our two little ones in tow, all of our belongings packed into a U-Haul truck, we caravanned from Des Moines to Lincoln, assisted by our friends, Ted and Georgiann Warren, who drove all the way to help with our move. We had rented an upstairs apartment in the big old red brick house that served as the state headquarters of our denomination. Luckily, our rent was only $90 a month, since my salary at Cotner was to be only about $300. This meant I would have to find weekend preaching jobs to take up the slack. On top of carrying at least 2 classes at the U. in Greek and Latin literature.

The month of August was full of travelling the state, speaking at churches and attending endless pot luck suppers, and calling on students who were coming to Lincoln for fall classes at Nebraska.

I was now ready to take on the academic world as both student and teacher.

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