The plane just landed in St. Louis, and I switched on my phone. The first thing I saw was an announcement by Hans Holynagel that he was returning to the national staff of the UCC as Digital Content Specialist. Hans had worked for the national setting of the church in various capacities from 1984 to 2011.
Hans and I first met in our 20’s. We were both cradle UCCers, though Hans was more appreciative and proud of it. (I was some years into ministry before I attained “a love of the UCC,” one of the metrics for the ordination I had received years before). Our paths ran across each other in a classroom at Columbia University: We were both in joint Columbia Union Seminary degree programs.
And Hans seemed to be going back home again, just as I on the runway at St. Louis’s Lambert Airfield was doubting the possibility of such a move or the possibility of even trying.
I am back in St. Louis trying to be a good uncle to Zooey and Charlie (as my brother points out “you’re the only one on my side of the family my kids can get to know well”). I am here also to attend my 40th High School Reunion.
I got talked into the latter by a friend who now is not coming! I wasn’t very interested in attending the reunion. All these years later, I certainly bear classmates no antipathy; it could be interesting to see how people turned out. Instead, my lack of interest in participating flows simply from my feeling so little connection with the young man I was in High School. I don’t need any roots experience: I know how I got from there to here.
My college years were a transformative jump-start. I still count my college professors — most of whom in the Philosophy and Religion Department were clergy — among the most important and influential people in my life. And the years since, often reinforced by my faith and the church, have built on that reorientation.
I realized a couple of years back at the General Synod in Cleveland, the church has turned out to be a constant in the many changes that have occurred in my life. Of course, there were antecedents of who I have turned out to be in that young man back in 1975 to 1979, but mostly he feels like a different person leading another life. As I say that ministry taught me to pray, the church made me who I am. I am sure I would not want to “go back home” if I could…
Will I learn something by revisiting my high school past even in this perfunctory way? I hope so, but I have already grown in my appreciation for the influence the church has had in my life… for the difference it has made in me and for how I see the world. I am a different person because of the church.
Of course, as a minister perhaps I am a different case. And isn’t it to be expected that church casts long shadows in my life? In some specific ways, my situation is unique and different from many or even most lay folks, even those well-involved with the church.
But do you ever think about how the church has made and is making a difference in your life? How different you would be without the church? How important it has been and how it has influenced you? And enriched, even blessed your life?
See you in church,