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.