Thursday, March 31, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 27: The Exploration

September/October 1974. I packed my lunch and headed out on my job-finding, San Francisco-exploring adventure. The 24th Street BART station was only about 5 blocks from our house. I picked up a San Francisco Chronicle on the way. But I figured I’d better get familiar with the transportation system, so I’ll just ride it while looking in the want-ads for likely jobs.


This was cool. The Daly City line went downtown and continued on through a tube under the Bay to Oakland and ended in Richmond. You could even change trains in those days at no extra charge and go all the way down to Fremont in the South Bay. As long as you didn’t exit the turn-styles you could ride all day. But after 3 days of that it occurred to me that I should get serious about the job search. We were asked each evening at dinner to report on our results, and I had none.

So I began getting off at the Market Street/Embarcadero exit and hitting some of the office buildings, a couple of employment agencies, and some leads I found in the newspaper. Then I discovered the other forms of transportation offered by the ‘city by the Bay’. There were the streetcars that ran up Market Street, and the Geary Street Line that you could take all the way out to Golden Gate Park and the Sunset District. Best of all were these cute little cable cars that you could ride all the way to the wharf, Ghirardelli Square and the Cannery for a quarter.


There are so many sights and experiences in San Francisco: Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower,


snake-like Lombard Street, the Tenderloin, Castro Street, Nob Hill, California Street, Chinatown, North Beach, Broadway, the Golden Gate, etc., etc.



The Hyatt Regency at the bottom of Market Street was brand new and had this incredible lobby with three open bar/restaurants and a large crystal-clear water fall right in the middle. I found I could end my day of job searching there for Happy Hour and a glass of chardonnay for $2 (the original Two-buck Chuck) and still hop on the BART, making it back to the House in time for dinner.


On some Saturdays after House assignments were completed, and on Monday family nights I explored like the ultimate tourist, taking pictures of everything. When I could borrow one of the House cars I would drive out to the Sunset District and find a spot to just sit and watch the sun go down, then listen to the waves crashing below me. Occasionally, when I had saved enough from my $85 a month stipend, I would go to what became my favorite Greek restaurant on Broadway (across from Carol Doda’s place) for dinner and to watch this amazing belly dancer. I always managed to have a couple of dollars to stuff in her belt. Jimmy, the owner, got to know me as a regular over time and would invariably get up and dance to the Zorba tune and have all of us up circling the restaurant at the end.

I was falling in love with San Francisco, and learned one bit of trivia—no one who is actually from there ever calls it ‘Frisco’. But I still did not have a job.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Journey of Awakening-26: Adrift in San Francisco

August 1974—Arrived at San Francisco International with only a phone number and address for the San Francisco Religious House. All of the Prior families were still in Chicago and assignments were still being sorted out, so I had no clue with whom I would be living. And no one was expecting me. Jeff Gilster, an intern at the House, happened to pick up the phone, happened to have a vehicle available, and offered to come get me.

The House was located in the Mission District, at 955 So. Van Ness. It was a 5-story white Victorian style wedged between a couple of similar wood frames, one a dark green and the other blue and grey. One of the wonderful aspects of the houses in San Francisco was the colorful ways people distinguished their homes, so that some streets reminded you of a painter’s palette.


Families were still in transition and room assignments were to be made when the new priors arrived. So Jeff showed me my temporary quarters, on the top floor, an attic room with about 8 bunk beds, which had been occupied by the male singles and students for the past couple of years. Apparently the San Francisco House had become sort of a boarding house for locals under the previous group of priors. It would take us a few weeks to clear out the “deadwood” after the new families made their appearance.

Finally, families began to arrive from the summer assembly in Chicago. One of these was the Goodgers, Bill and Pat, with their youngsters, Tim and Anne, and Solo, their beautiful golden retriever. They had been in the House the previous year and were from the Bay Area. Bill was a prominent veterinarian who had the distinction of taking care of Bing Crosby’s pets. Pat was a nurse working at a local hospital in the Mission. Tim and Anne reminded me of my two kids and I was delighted whenever I got assigned to child care. The Goodgers sort of took me under their wings, inviting me to share family night dinner on occasion, and helped to get me through my first year without my family.

I had come to San Francisco with images of recruiting in churches for our courses and working with local church leadership. The House had been working intensively with 3 or 4 congregations in the Local Church Experiment. Three of these were: Mission Presbyterian, a few blocks from the House, pastored by Charles Schindler; Hamilton United Methodist in the infamous Haight-Ashbury, led by Bill Miller, a mild-mannered, welcoming guy who had a congregation of old-time San Francisco Methodists, with a mixture of old-time Hippies, Yuppies, and Muppies, and whose wife was the chief of staff for then Mayor George Moscone; and Nob Hill United Methodist on, well, Nob Hill, whose pastor, Bob Stewart and his family became good friends.

I wanted to make myself useful while awaiting my ‘real’ assignment, so I borrowed one of the beat-up House vehicles and began calling on ministers in the Bay Area. This lasted a couple of weeks. The last prior family to arrive was Bob and Cynthia Vance, who were Area Priors, responsible for the 6 Houses in the western U.S. They immediately brought the House members together and announced that the Order was now going to be going in a new direction. The local church experiment would be left to go on its own steam. Our efforts were now to be aimed at working directly with communities.

Huh? I had just got myself trained to teach our courses and geared up for recruiting and training local church leaders. I was a radical church renewer. This wasn’t exactly what I had signed up for. I’d have to change my resume and re-program myself yet again. A further shock took a little longer to sink in. My role as a clergyman was no longer needed. Bob Vance announced the assignments as to who was going to be ‘in-house’ and who was to go find jobs to contribute to the self-support of the House. I found myself on the go-find-a-job list. I hadn’t looked for a real job since college. I had done lots of things: drill-press operator, camp dishwasher/assistant cook, order packer/shipper, door-to-door salesman, recreation director. But look for a job? At my age? With my education? Not many companies were looking for ex-pastor church renewal types. And San Francisco? I had never ventured outside the Midwest. How do you find a job in San Francisco?

O.K. Only one thing to do—go find out about San Francisco. This could take some time and ingenuity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Journey of Awakening-25: The Ecstasy and the Agony

August 1974

I left my family in Minneapolis and boarded a plane with my one suitcase and two boxes, heading for San Francisco. Leslea was 12; Rob was 10. They did not understand why I was going. The marriage was over, although neither Sue nor I would come right out and say it.

It had been a rewarding year for me--being on the road recruiting ministers and lay people to attend our training courses and conducting workshops in churches all over the state of Iowa. It had been a horrendous year for Sue and our two kids. Sue had resisted bringing our family into the Order from the beginning. She finally gave in to keep our family together. I had successfully burned my bridges to going back to the local church. But I still had this vocational calling that I couldn’t shuck off. Acting out a vocation is, however, more complicated and more ego-driven than I realized. I was not prepared emotionally or spiritually for leadership and yet had been entrusted with it. Or rather, had it thrust upon me.

At the end of our intern year Sue and I packed up what was left of our belongings (the basement where we had stored everything had flooded) and headed for Minneapolis, our home town. I deposited Sue and the kids at her parents’ home. I stayed with my Aunt Thelma. Our family was unraveling. Members of the Order leadership in Chicago contacted me and urged me to try to keep my family together. Finally, they relented and assigned me to the San Francisco House. I was literally out of options.

I said goodbye to Sue, Leslea and Rob and got on that plane, heading for the unknown.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 24: Starting Over

clip_image002[5]1840 Hogan in left middle—St. Louis Arch the black area lower right

clip_image004[4]Our house the smaller building to the left of the parish church

Fall 1973. Life in St. Louis began with a flurry of activity at 1840 Hogan. Our family belongings stored in the basement of this 2-story former convent, we obediently began our year of internship in the Order: Ecumenical. The prior-ship of the St. Louis Religious House was assigned by the leadership team in Chicago: Dan and Lin Tuecke and their 2 sons, Troy and Eric, Fred and Jann McGuire and 2 of their 3 sons and one daughter, Patrick and Barry, and Adam Thomson, a single Brit. The remainder of those in the House were, like us, interns from the St. Louis Regions: Walt Epley, a farmer from Iowa, and his family, the Hawleys (Bob a Methodist Minister) with their 3 kids, John Rodda, a paraplegic, and his wife Jill, and two or three assorted single women with a child each.

Religious House life was probably not unlike that in any convent or monastery, except we were all family units, including young children. Couples and singles had their own separate living spaces. The boys were in a dorm and some of older girls roomed together. The very youngest kids stayed with their parents.

Pre-schoolers were placed in a neighborhood church-run pre-school and fortunately, there was a good Catholic school in the area where we could enroll all the rest of our kids. The inner-city schools in St. Louis were pretty tough for white kids, especially in our neighborhood. After-school and on weekends we had adults assigned to care for the “emerging generation” (E.G., a term we insensitive adults came to regret using in later years). These “children’s structures” as they were also known, were assigned to any adult who might be available, and often became a burden for them and a worse experience for the kids. Some of those assigned were more creative than others and we did try to give our kids enriching experiences, outings to cultural events, to the St. Louis Zoo, to the top of the recently constructed Arch. But it was definitely a mixed bag and made for many of our youth being neglected and even abused in their most formative years, which we as parents did not learn until years later.

Since we were to be a self-supporting House, some of us had to go out and find jobs to support the rest of us who were carrying out the full-time teaching and recruiting mission of the Order. Often this meant the women were sent out to find jobs, or those who had substantial earning power. Because I was clergy and a big part of our task was calling on local church pastors and denominational executives, I was assigned “in-house.” Sue was sent out and found a job at a downtown Zales jewelry store.

The Order: Ecumenical’s operating image was of the family in mission to the world. This meant that all time was assigned as was all space. Where you lived and your role in the mission was assigned. Your belongings were at the disposal of the mission. The mission was everything. But this was not a chamber of horrors. Some of the principles that guided us were that decision-making was based on consensus and the individual’s right to decide was upheld, at least in principle; the family was important and required to take time for its own nurture, at least one night a week. Monday was always “family night,” and the expectation was that you would have dinner together and plan some family activity, a night out if you could afford it or just being together. We did make attempts to guard the family unit, but too often the mission, or the current understanding of it, took precedence.

Time was separated into functional units. The week was divided into Week I/Week II: Week I, Monday through Thursday, Week II Friday through Sunday. Week I was the main work week, when each person was doing his/her assigned job; Week II was usually reserved for the entire House working as a unit, either a weekend teaching program or a major cleaning/repair task at the House. We even experimented with a Day I/Day II image, with Day I the main individual tasks and Day II for family/House/team functions. The day almost always began with the Daily Office, a 20 minute worship service led by House members. All children, youth and adults were expected to be present. The year was divided into quarters, with summer quarter for 2 months of research in Chicago, where all Houses were represented, and one month reserved for family time and moving to new assignments.

Meals were generally in the common dining room, with the kids eating together in a separate room. Lunches were made and sent off with the working adults and students. Breakfasts included some led conversation and a topic of interest to all House members. Thursday evening was a special study night at dinner. Sunday evening meal was always a “House Church” common meal communion and celebrations of family events, and then reading of reports from all the Religious Houses around the world, which numbered in the hundreds at one point. There was always singing at meals, one of the activities that held us together as a movement and not just an organized group. We wrote many of the lyrics and adapted them to popular tunes.

Occasionally and at least once each quarter, we planned a major House celebration and/or outing. One of the most memorable of these was a full-blown production of Cabaret, with all of the songs adapted with words written by House members. At these celebrations we would party into the wee hours and then be up for 5 a.m. Daily Office. We worked hard and long hours when we worked, and celebrated just as hard when we celebrated.

But this was not a life for the faint-hearted. It took its toll on many families, and ours was not to be exempt.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 23: Preparing for Leaving the Good Life

Summer 1972—Chicago. The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), aka the Ecumenical Institute (EI) held its month-long research assembly. I was there with a thousand others. Sue attended half of it. Leslea and Robb were at the summer camp provided and staffed by the Institute. The ICA/EI had recently received the gift of an 8-story office building in Uptown Chicago from the Kemper Insurance Company. The 200 Institute staff members moved out of the old Church of the Brethren seminary campus on the west side into “Kemper” as it continued to be known for many years. These few hundred and their families were forming into a family “secular-religious” order in the sense of carrying the mission of the religious into the secular world and seeing the spiritual in the mundane social order.

I had been involved for 5 years as a committed volunteer with the Institute, first as regional coordinator for the Kansas City Region which encompassed Nebraska, Kansas and half of Missouri; then as a local church educator/reformer in my new assignment at St. John UCC in St. Charles, Missouri. This included coordinating local training courses and raising support for establishing a “Religious House” in St. Louis, one of 24 that were being formed in major U.S. cities, to house ICA staff who were being dispersed from the central headquarters in Chicago, along with interns recruited from the local regions.

A call came late in August or early September from a Dan Tuecke, who identified himself as the prior of the new St. Louis Religious House, just arrived from Tulsa with his wife, Lin and 2 other couples from Chicago. Surprised, I responded with “Really. Where is the House located?”

“Well, we don’t actually have a house yet. We’re working on it. Could you put us up at your house for a few days until we get settled? And could you find places for our other two families?”

“Uh, O sure—I think we can manage.”

I hadn’t actually checked with Sue yet, but she was all right with it. “It is just for a few days, right?” I don’t remember how many actual days it was, but eventually a facility was found. It was an old abandoned convent that had most recently been inhabited by a handful of Jesuit brothers. The Diocese of St. Louis rented it to the ICA for $1 a year, if the new occupants would promise to do some repairs and maintain the property. The location was in the infamous Pruitt Igoe neighborhood of St. Louis; near one of those high rise low income housing projects that are now being removed (Cabrini Green in Chicago is the latest one to fall).

We began the year in earnest, recruiting lay people and pastors to attend the weekend RS-1 seminars and midweek Parish Leadership Colloquies for clergy and church leaders. I tried without success to convince my senior pastor that he needed to attend, but did get the nod to recruit from our church members for the weekend courses. We held a couple of courses that were well attended and successful in the sense that the St. John members who attended were appreciative and some had profound spiritual experiences.

Then came the weekend that changed the course of my family’s life, and I wasn’t even in attendance.

One St. John couple left at the end of the first evening. This was not unusual for an occasional person to find that it was to be a little more challenging to their belief system than they were ready for. But the next morning I received a call from Pastor Burkhalter that I was being called in by the church council for a meeting. I was shocked to learn that the husband of the couple who left the course was accusing me of causing his wife severe mental distress and “if she has another nervous breakdown it will be your fault.” He was demanding that they fire me. I didn’t get a chance to ask him who was responsible for her previous breakdowns.

The irony of this is compounded by the fact that I had already submitted my resignation in order for our family to join the ICA staff as interns for a year. We were already making plans to move our belongings into the basement of the St. Louis House at the end of the summer of 1973. But I was given no chance to appeal the council’s decision. In fact, I was sitting in an adjoining room when they were discussing whether to just accept my resignation and let me take my vacation time until the end of the summer, or to fire me on the spot. I overheard one of the elders say “Let’s just get rid of the problem.” So I was fired after I had already resigned. The pastor didn’t try to defend me, nor did any of the other council members. I don’t even recall Burkhalter offering to give me any counsel. But as I wrote earlier, he was not one to allow any “boat-rocking.” I was in shock.

The only comfort I received, aside from my family, was from a group of about 25 young families, many who had been through the RS-1 course, who came to me wanting to mount a protest and defense on my behalf. I thanked them for their support, but asked that they just continue to support the church, gently leading the congregation to be more of a servant to the community. I knew that these young people would one day be in leadership positions in that congregation.

My course was set, so I thought. I was now going to spend full-time waking up my fellow-clergy to the way life really is and to the real truth of the Gospel, and to shake the church out of its lethargy.