Friday, August 31, 2007


I like to think of myself as a long term pastor. I was in rural PA for 7 ½ years. I was pastor at 1st Presbyterian, Oneida, NY for 12 years. We moved to Oneida in 1989 and left in 2001. I was a member of Utica Presbytery before John arrived and after he left. In some ways Oneida feels more like home, except when we lived near my parents, than any other place we’ve lived and I’ve served as a pastor. When we moved to Oneida our son was in 3rd grade and my daughter in 1st. Both our children graduated from Oneida High School. Both still look on Oneida as home. For the first time in our lives we bought a house, which frankly isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

This will be a bit of a struggle about how much to reveal about my relationship with the church in Oneida. I’m going to say the good things first.

For the first time in my life I was a head of staff. Oneida 1st had about 400 members on the roll when I arrived. I had taken courses in management and enjoyed being head of staff. We had a secretary, two sextons, a Christian Educator, and sometimes a Music Director and sometimes an Organist and a Choir Director. I tried to be a collegial head of staff. Unfortunately a couple of times I had to fire employees. I hated that, but it was part of the job. Joyce Irwin, our Music Director and later also the Christian Educator was the best organist, choir director I have ever had the pleasure to work with. And she developed innovative programs in C.E.

I continued teaching Kerygma classes, including Beginnings, a class on Genesis, Discovering the Bible, an introductory Bible class, Interpretation, a deeper class on how to interpret the Bible, and Hallelujah, a class on Handel’s Messiah. I urge any pastor to consider the Kerygma classes. I also wrote my own class on Mark a class built on the Kerygma model, classes on The Book of Confessions using Jack Rogers’ wonderful book, Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions, and a series of small group Bible studies. All in all I had a blast teaching. And, as most teachers do, I think I learned much more than the students.

At first I had a great deal of support for change, but I didn’t rush into things. My two installed predecessors had lasted 2 ½ years and 10 month respectively and both had resigned but really had been forced out. So I took the process of change very, very slowly. We did experiment with different types of worship on Pentecost each year and incorporated some of the changes into regular worship.

In the long run we started using the Logos Program for youth, a midweek program that included recreation, education, worship education, (mainly a musical experience like choirs), and dinner. It was fun. The high school youth started a rock band that played in worship occasionally and was well accepted by the congregation. This unfortunately led to conflict with the Women’s Association.

And yes I did weddings, funerals and baptisms.

One of the best things about Oneida was the Council of Churches. Most of the congregations in town participated including the Pentecostals and the Roman Catholics. We had some wonderful programs on differences and similarities of worship and even a program on baptism. I did joint weddings and baptisms mostly with the Roman Catholics. We started a voluntary hospital chaplaincy program which I headed for around 5-7 years. We even worked out a program to help people who needed assistance by writing vouchers to a local gas station/convenience store. The Methodists kept the records.

One of the big controversies in Oneida was about the Oneida Indian nation. They bought some land, negotiated with the governor and opened a casino. Then they sued the county government, claiming a lot of land as part of their reservation, including the whole city of Oneida. For some reason this didn’t go over too well with the home owners whose houses were on the land the tribe claimed. We pastors worked for peace and reconciliation, particularly when violence was threatened. This got some of us, including me, in trouble with some of our congregational members who didn’t want any reconciliation.

I took on some responsibilities with the Synod serving first as a member of the Personnel Committee and then as chair of the committee. I was chair of the committee through a rancorous downsizing of staff. It was a heartrending experience.

The biggest spiritual issues in the my time in Oneida, before the last two years, was that my wife became ill and spent 6 weeks in the hospital and later my daughter became ill and besides her time in the hospital, was ill for almost a year.

As John pointed out when we first started this dialogue I was an Evangelical in what, from my point of view, was a progressive presbytery. The good news was that, for the most part I was respected and heard. The presbytery rarely voted my way on important issues but that didn’t stop me from being respected and accepted. And I had one very close friend who was my spiritual advisor and I his. We probably knew more about each other than our wives did.

BUT! There was a curious dynamic of conflict in the congregation. I expected this and tried to encourage new styles of dealing with conflict, for the most part unsuccessfully. We got new hymnals but kept the old ones and I tried to use hymns from both, but some people didn’t accept the new hymnal at all. They wouldn’t sing the hymns if they were from the new hymnal. We tried a new method of serving the Lord’s Supper, coming forward to receive the sacrament. Some loved the new method. Some wanted only the old method, being served in the pews. We had a successful negotiation about this, having a congregational wide survey which helped people to not only state their emotional/spiritual reasons for wanting to receive communion in a particular way but also to make theological statements on the issue.

We also had a successfully resolved conflict about change in the chapel. We formed a task force of people who disagreed about how to use and set up the chapel and they came up with an elegant solution that was different than any suggested by any of the sides earlier and satisfied all sides. Unfortunately all problems were not so easily solved.

I started a DMin program at Pittsburgh Seminary in 1997. I loved it. I had spent too much time on administration and not enough on theology. The program gave me the balance.

In the spring of 2000 things came to a head. I had started training small group leaders to encourage spiritual renewal as part of my DMin project and talked with the Session about spiritual renewal. In the meantime I made the mistake of paying attention to the new members of the congregation who wanted change and not paying attention to the needs of older members. Finally, after we called in people from the Committee on Ministry the Session asked for my resignation. But with a twist.

My daughter had another year in high school. The Session allowed me a year to find a new call so my daughter could finish high school in Oneida. I had to drop my DMin project and program. The conflict and solution was hidden from the congregation. We decided to stay so my daughter could graduate. It was a great decision for her. It was a terrible decision for me. I spent a year working in a congregation where the Session had made it clear that I was no longer wanted and it hurt terribly. Fortunately I still had lunch with my friend and got a lot of support from the Interim Presbytery Exec. It was something but it wasn’t enough.

After several interviews all over the country, I ultimately accepted a call to a congregation in New Jersey. I resigned as pastor of Oneida 1st, a decision I’m still not sure was the right one. Sometimes I think the conflict should have been brought to the congregation. And unfortunately I carried with me a lot of anger and pain from Oneida.

Suffice it to say that it was a bad parting. We sold our house and we moved to a church in Titusville, NJ.

I will talk about that next time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


For all you Presbyterian Camp people, yes that is a picture at Ghost Ranch. An explanation in a few paragraphs.

I started out in ministry learning very quickly that seminary didn’t give much practical training for ministry, at least in the 1970’s. I knew Biblical languages and all kinds of theology but those didn’t prepare me for what I was to do. My first real test in ministry came with my first funeral. I got a call from a funeral home asking me to do a funeral for a non church member. It was a young man who was in the act of stealing gasoline and had been overcome by the fumes and died. What do you say at a criminal’s funeral who died in the act? I preached on grace.

Most of my work was with youth and taking communion to shut-ins. Youth are a great deal of fun and a real challenge. When they aren’t bored to tears they ask the questions adults are afraid to ask. And when they trust you they will tell you things that their parents wish the pastor didn’t know.

I started a new summer program in 1980. We had Bible studies at houses with pools. We also had dinner. Needless to say, food and swimming attracted lots of youth. The second summer the youth studied the Psalms for the summer. One of the youths had a close relationship with an elderly couple in the congregation. The wife was in the hospital with Alzheimer’s and pneumonia. We read and talked about one of those Psalms that say if you are good and faithful the Lord will reward you with health and riches. The girl got all upset; pointing out that here was a faithful Christian who wasn’t healthy or rich. She questioned the message of the Psalm. It was a very good discussion. The curious thing happened during prayer time. The girl said she wanted us to pray for her elderly friend. I asked what we should pray for and she said we should pray that the woman would have a quick and painless death. We did so. The woman died that night. I’ll leave the questions and debate about the theology and efficacy of prayer to you.

We also took two work trips, both times to Ghost Ranch. There is nothing quite like digging ditches, fixing trails and getting tumbleweed out of the sewer pond to help youth discover the meaning of mission. I’ve always thought that work trips build the faith of youth and adults because of the connection between the work and evening prayer and Bible study.

I did some adult education as well. I spent a year teaching Kerygma: the Bible in Depth. The class members learned something. I learned a lot. Teaching became a spiritual experience for me and on top of that I learned enough about the Bible to develop a preaching style.

The biggest spiritual event during my years in Anaheim was the birth of my son. Any Christian parent knows that you need a deeper faith when your child first does projectile vomiting. It scared the heck out of me! Having children means praying out of a position of helplessness. There are those little lives in your hands and you are responsible for both their physical wellbeing and their spiritual wellbeing. It’s an awesome responsibility.

The other important thing I learned in Anaheim was that there are different styles of church management. The senior pastor went to seminary in the 1950’s. The management style back then was the senior pastor is in charge and the assistant/associate pastor did what he/she was told. I learned a collegial style at seminary. Needless to say, we clashed. Which lead to me seeking a new call in 1982.

We moved to rural central PA, a massive difference from urban Anaheim. I had a lot of farmers in my two congregations. You could buy your veggies right at the farm. You could even raise a pig and have a party to slaughter and start cooking the pig! We didn’t raise pigs, but Debby canned and froze veggies and fruit with the best of them.

Now I was the pastor. Suddenly I had a whole lot more sympathy for my old boss. Now I got the complaints and the weird phone calls about the flowers for Sunday. I really didn’t care about the flowers at all but one deacon called me every week about the flowers. If I wasn’t home she wanted a decision from Debby. Debby was not amused.

I learned that prayer can be a very earthy thing. We prayed for rain. We prayed for the flood waters to go down. Most of all I prayed for and with people in hospitals.

Being a pastor of a couple of small churches meant you knew everyone well. Most of the funerals were for people I knew well. They hurt. I had to learn how to love people and minister too them while my own heart was breaking.

I preached every Sunday now, which took a lot of preparation time. I was very glad when computers came in so that I could edit on the computer! I learned that being pastor of two congregations meant that you could write one sermon but the message had to be different at each church because there were different needs. Worship took on deeper meaning. I discovered that it is difficult for me to be in a worshipful mood while leading worship. The Lord’s Supper became very important to me because as the elders served the congregation I could sit and pray and meditate on the sacrament.

I still led youth groups, including a class for junior highers on sexuality. What surprised me to no end was that parents made their children go to the class! Youth group attendance doubled during that particular segment. And the youth didn’t go into giggle mode but asked intelligent questions. It was a good program. I was very fortunate to have adults who worked hard to talk about the joyful gift of sexuality and how to use that gift carefully as a Christian.

I also learned that rural poverty could be as bad as or worse than urban poverty. One of my congregations was in a community that sat on the flood plain of the river. Almost all the church members had moved out of the community. I was very proud of them when they went door to door in the community, not just looking for new church members but trying to find out the needs of the people in town. We did a lot of work with the poor. I learned about the joys of having rats in your house because the people next door wouldn’t take out their garbage. I learned about the problems of absentee landlords who don’t keep the properties up to code. To my dismay I discovered that some of these absentee landlords were members of my congregation. I became the pastor for the community, called on to meet the needs of people who never went to church.

And Debby became pregnant again. This pregnancy was different. During the third month Debby started bleeding and had to stay in bed for two weeks. Besides giving me both the responsibilities of ministry and care for a 2 year old at the same time it made me think about children and abortion. I was driving down the road one day listening to a tape by Phil Keaggy and his song, The Little Ones came up. Here are some of the lyrics:

Who will speak up for the little ones,

Helpless and half abandoned?

They have a right to choose

Life they don’t want to lose.

I’ve got to speak up, wont you?

I had to pull off the road because I was crying and couldn’t see. I had been opposed to abortion before this on Biblical grounds but now it became real to me in a new way. I prayed everyday for our baby to live, knowing she might die. Others were making decisions that would cause the death of their babies. I came to the conclusion that there abortion is rarely a proper moral choice but mainly on emotional grounds. Our daughter was born with a few physical problems which were easily overcome by surgery. Unfortunately she inherited traits from me like stubbornness that appeared soon after she was born and continue to this day. On the other hand, both of are children were and are delights.

Rural churches can be a lot of fun but they also make a pastor spend a lot of time in the car. The closest hospital was 20 miles away, but a lot of people didn’t go there. They went to Harrisburg, Hershey or Danville, all over an hour’s drive away. Some days I just got in the car and spent the whole day visiting people in the various hospitals.

The other major issue that confronted me was doing counseling for people. I started working with people who were being physically abused, people going through divorces and people on drugs. There was no counseling center close by and there was a great stigma attached to seeing a therapist. Even talking with the pastor was frowned upon. And people found out, sometimes simply by seeing who’s car was parked near my house. Gossip moves in a rural community faster than the speed of light.

After about 5 years I decided it was time to move on. I took some church management courses and circulated my dossier. In November of 1989 we moved to Oneida, NY. While there I met this crazy pastor from up on the Tug Hill Plateau, John Shuck. More on Oneida next time.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


What’s the most fun you can have in Southern California? Going to Fuller Seminary! Okay, hiking in the mountains and body surfing come in as close seconds. The traffic is terrible and there is nothing quite like being able to see the air you breathe. Fuller is about five miles from the front of the San Gabriel Mountains and they disappear everyday at about 10:30 AM into the smog. Fortunately they come back out by 5:00 PM.

My years at Fuller were some of the best years of my life. I loved the learning, I loved the friendships, and I loved the classes. Well, maybe polity class wasn’t all that great but most of the rest were.

I don’t think I ever really considered going to a different seminary. Part of the reason was that I had been away from my family for 5 years and I wanted to spend time near Mom and Dad again. Part of the reason was that I wanted to go to an evangelical seminary and Fuller was the best. Looking back I think Fuller opened me to consider new and different ideas. If I had gone to a mainline seminary like Princeton I would have put a wall around me to protect me from all the heresy. Going to Fuller allowed me to relax and learn.

Fuller in the 1970’s was an interesting place to be. Some of the scholars who helped start the seminary were still there and some of the new great faculty was coming on board. The biggest problem at Fuller between 1975 and 1979 was the size of the student body compared to the number of faculty. Fuller grew so quickly that the some of the class sizes were immense. They even had MDiV students teaching Greek! I did some tutoring, mainly teaching people English grammar. You can’t learn Greek without knowing English grammar. I took a New Testament Theology class with Glen Barker that had 160 students in it. But I got to study under Roberta Hestenes, Paul Jewett, George Ladd, Fred Bush, Lewis Smedes, Bill Pannell, William LaSor and even Dan Fuller. And yes, I took a bunch of classes from Jack Rogers.

I was like a pig who found where the farmer kept the slops. I got to study what I always wanted to study. Even Hebrew was fun. The best thing about studying at Fuller was that the professors didn’t let you just learn evangelical theology. You had to study every perspective. So I read various liberation theologies, process theology, Pentecostal theology, even Quaker theology along with current and past evangelical theologies. I was required to read Luther, Calvin, Augustine, some of the Anti Nicene, Nicene and Post Nicene theologians, and lots of Church History. The one thing missing was any real emphasis on Eastern Orthodox theology. There were so many students from so many traditions you could have a theological argument about just about anything at any hour of the day or night.

And since there was the School of World Missions, now called the School of Intercultural Studies, you met a lot of people from all over the world. One of my intercultural learning experiences came one day as I walked into chapel with a friend from Africa. In parts of Africa men who are friends naturally walk down the street holding hands. You all may have noticed that this is not a tradition in America. My friend from Africa took my hand as we walked into chapel and I had this panic reaction. I kept telling myself this was a natural thing in Africa. My emotions told me that everyone around us thought we were gay. We weren’t, after all, in Africa.

I got married at the end of my first year at Fuller. I drove back east to New York, got married, went on a week of honeymoon and then we packed up all of Debby’s stuff and drove back to California. We moved into Fuller housing and Debby went to work to support us. It was a good thing my parents lived near by because some weekends we went to Mom and Dad’s to eat because Debby didn’t get paid until Monday. We managed to stretch three years at Fuller into four because we couldn’t afford to pay for all the classes for a three year schedule.

Ever notice that if you have a roof over your head, food to eat and books to read that life can be wonderful? We didn’t have a TV, rarely went to the movies, couldn’t afford to go out to dinner but had a blast. We hung out with friends, had each other over for dinner, talked theology, (which put Debby to sleep), played Frisbee and generally had a good time.

But the best for me was the learning. I learned how to read the Bible not just as a book with stories but as a book with authority. I learned to read the Bible as a scholar. I learned to lead small group Bible studies. I read theology, a practice I’ve kept up my whole life.

I considered going on and getting a PhD. I didn’t and I made the right choice. I am a pastor.

I spent one year working in my home congregation developing an Adult Education program. I spent a summer working with youth at another church and the next year working with college students.

And then I spent a summer working as an intern in a large congregation. It just so happened that the pastor had been the pastor of my home church in New Jersey had moved to Southern California. He had arrived the fall before and both the associates left almost immediately. Two weeks after I started he and his family went on vacation and I was the only quasi pastor there. It was a 1,500 member church. I survived. It made a big difference in the way I thought of myself as a pastor.

In the fall of 1979 I received a call and became the assistant pastor of education and visitation at First Presbyterian Church, Anaheim, CA.

Friday, August 24, 2007


This is a picture of me and my family taken in the winter of 1970-71, after 1 quarter at college. I tried to find the picture of me with longer hair and a beard but can’t. That’s me with the long hair.

I went off to college one confused student. On the one hand I still believed God wanted me to be a pastor. On the other hand I was busy being a hippy. Looking back I think I was partly running away from the idea of being a pastor. So I turned to sex, drugs and rock and roll. On the other hand I became a religion major.

I learned very early in my freshman year that drinking a whole lot was a bad idea. It doesn’t feel too bad when you are drunk, even throwing up. The hangover the next day is a killer.

And I fell in love. I mean really deeply head over heels going down for the third time in love. I still had retained the training of my youth: if you have sex you get married. It was great and I was happy.

I went to class too. I started taking religion classes. I read Augustine, Kierkegaard and Tillich. I started to take Bible classes. It was my first experience with the idea that the Bible didn’t drop down out of heaven and that some scholars believed that parts of the Bible weren’t true or at least didn’t happen exactly the way the text said it happened.

After going home for the summer to California I came back to the news that my girlfriend had a new boyfriend at home and was breaking up with me. I was devastated. I had my first extreme anxiety reaction and my first major depression. I spent most of the winter quarter playing cards and not going to class. Curiously I passed Sociology with a C without going to class or reading the book. I did read all my Religion texts. I had really bad experiences with drugs. I quit using and I quit drinking too.

I carried on my anti-war activities. I did draft counseling both at school and back home in California. We sat on the front steps of the draft board and offered advice on what the draft law really said. Neither the draft board nor the FBI were amused.

Sometime towards the end of my sophomore year I wandered into a meeting of the campus Christian fellowship. Something happened to me that night. I found out that two guys from my freshman dorm hall had been praying for me for over a year. And as I prayed at that meeting I felt the presence of God. Somehow it felt like these people that I barely knew were more my friends than my druggy friends. I felt a connection to God. But it didn’t change my theology.

I went home for the summer believing that Bultmann was right, that there had been no literal resurrection, that the disciples had had a resurrection experience. I tried to teach it to the youth group at my home church. It didn’t go over too well.

I went back to college for my junior year partly changed. I stopped running away from God and accepted that I was going to be a pastor. And I began to question the historical Jesus movement. Bultmann’s God didn’t help me at all. I needed a God who could actually change things in my life and in my heart. So I began to ask questions in religion classes. I was a pest.

Sometime in my junior or senior years I met a crazy Dutch Calvinist named Pete Steen. He introduced me to a whole different way about thinking of Jesus as Lord. He taught me that Jesus was to be Lord of all of life and I began to learn ways to think about that. When I talk about ethical issues it comes out of that tradition. Pete also taught me to question the philosophical assumptions of everyone. I found out that Reimarus was looking for a Jesus without miracles and that Bultmann started off with Existentialism and ended up with Heidegger. It wasn’t that I was convinced that the Bible was dictated by God. Rather I began to question the assumptions of the scholars. I lost faith in the idea that one could find a historical Jesus behind the Bible. And I began to trust the Bible more, both as a historical document and as a document that had authority.

I spent a year working for the university as a housing director. I spent some of my time teaching students about the presuppositions of the scholars they read in religion classes. The religion professors were not happy with me. After a year working for the university, (during which I met my wife), I headed off to Fuller Seminary, now a Calvinist Evangelical, still with long hair.

Grace and Peace


Monday, August 20, 2007



I dragged my feet for a while on this as I have written other things. Here is the end of the series: Apostasy, Heresy, Serious Error, Sin and Adiaphora.

Everyone sins and everyone is infected with the spiritual virus of sin.

The spiritual virus is original sin. Somehow we become sinners because we’re human. It wasn’t always this way. Adam and Eve weren’t born sinners. They chose sin, disobedience to God.

The Bible sees humanity as both a collective and a group of individuals. We westerners aren’t used to thinking of ourselves as mainly part of the collective so we have a problem with original sin. But Paul clearly sees us as a collective. He says that just as in Adam all die so in Christ all have new life. As individuals, however, we have to choose Christ to be released from the virus of sin.

Actually the problem is more difficult than we think. Our Calvinist ancestors in Holland said that we are totally depraved. That doesn’t mean that we set out each day to sin as much as we can or that everything we do is sin. It means there is no part of any human being that is without sin. Some like to think our reason is untainted by sin. This simply isn’t true. Just look at the contortions we go through to say that what we think is reasonable when it isn’t at all reasonable to our loved ones.

So before someone becomes a Christian that person has no choice. That person lives in sin. Without faith in Christ and the salvation he offers there is no release from sin. We inherit sin and death. If we have faith in Christ he releases us from the power of sin that utterly corrupts us.

The real problem for Christians is that when we become Christians we don’t automatically stop sinning. There is a distinction between justification, (being declared guiltless because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us), and sanctification, (becoming holy in our daily lives). Justification sets us free from the power of sin but not the powers of temptation or habit.

So, we sin. Everyday we Christians get up in the morning with the best of intentions. We want to spend the day living as God’s people, living holy lives. Yet everyday we fail somehow. By the end of the day we find ourselves confessing our sin to God, asking for forgiveness and hoping tomorrow will be different.

I’m not going to provide a detailed list of sins. It would take too much space and I probably would leave something out anyway. The clear message of how to live a holy life comes from Jesus, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I know, it isn’t an exact quote but the point is there. If we love God with our complete beings and love neighbors in the way we love ourselves, (or better, for those of us with self image problems), in the way God loves us, we won’t sin.

So the Christian life follows a pattern of moving away from God into sin and then moving back towards God as we confess, repent and ask for forgiveness.

Sanctification is the process by which we give up some of our sin. It takes work but we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, stop sinning a particular sin. With the hard work of prayer and thinking before I speak I can stop swearing. Of course that is only one small category of sin. I might stop swearing out loud but I would still need to work on the things I think about others. And in each of us the list goes on and on.

I am convinced that the best way to work at sanctification is in small groups. The problem is to do so we have to trust others. We need the people in our small groups to keep their big mouths shut. We need the humble acknowledgement from all that all of us in the group are sinners, looking for help. We need the prayers, specific prayers of the others in our group, asking God to help us change. We need the group to be bold and ask us how we did in the past week working on that particular sin. Finally we need the certain knowledge that the group will not hate us or kick us out because we fail.

That is a real and important task of the Church. Unfortunately we don’t do it, for the most part. We want to talk just with God about our sins. We want to be lone ranger Christians. And that is not God’s intention for us. Being a member of the Church, a Church filled with sinners, should be terribly freeing. When we gather with our particular congregations we should know as we walk in the door that everyone in the room is a sinner, including the leaders of the congregation and the pastor. No one is exempt. Tthe great good news is that the congregation is a group of forgiven sinners. And when we are at our best we help each other, with humility, to overcome our sins.


Don’t you love the way the leaders of the Church toss around words that most members don’t understand? Adiaphora is one of those words. Adiaphora means things indifferent. Despite our assurance that God cares about everything in our lives there are some things that don’t really matter. God doesn’t care what color we paint the sanctuary. God does care if we use lead based paint because it might harm someone, but God doesn’t care about the color. God doesn’t care about the order of worship. Get the essentials in and God is completely satisfied as long as we come to worship with an attitude of praise and humility.

The list of things that just aren’t important is pretty long. God doesn’t care if the pastor wears a robe in worship or not. God doesn’t care if men wear ties to worship or if women wear pants. God likes rock anthems and classical anthems. I suspect that God would prefer that we not spend so much money on church buildings but God doesn’t care what the building looks like. After all for centuries Christians met in living rooms, on hillsides and even in tombs, (the catacombs under Rome). God doesn’t care how long or short your hair is although God doesn’t want you to spend a whole lot of money on your looks.

Curiously we humans seem to care more about adiaphora than we do about sin, heresy, serious error or apostasy. The biggest church fights I have ever seen were about what color to paint the back stairwell and what hymnal to use. And don’t even get me started on traditional worship and contemporary worship. We seem to major in the minors. God cares about gossip, the enduring sin in the Church that everyone seems to accept as acceptable. God doesn’t care if the pastor uses perfect grammar or not.

So I have a suggestion for all who read this. Take a look at your life and the life of your congregation. Go ahead, make a list of the things that you know God wants you to change, a list of your sins. Read the Bible and see what God wants and doesn’t want. And then make a list of the things that simply aren’t important. Try, very carefully, to suggest to your fellow Church members in the midst of an argument that God doesn’t care if there are pews or chairs in the chapel.

Try to distinguish between sin and adiaphora. Then maybe we can get down to the real business of the Church.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


It was the summer of 1968. Big things were happening. The Doors and Hendrix were playing, to my delight, along with the Loving Spoonful and James Brown. The Beatles had come out with their Sergeant Pepper album the year before. It was a musical wonderland.

I had a girl friend. I met her in church! But she wasn’t the important thing happening in the summer. That summer I not only went to Boy Scout camp, I also went on a backpacking trip out of a Presbyterian Church camp. It changed my life.

There was another backpacker in the group from inner city Newark, NJ. You have to understand Newark and the suburbs like Madison where I grew up. In 1965 there were riots in Newark. All the talk in Madison among the white folk was that they were going to do if those Negros from Newark tried to expand the riot to Madison. Little did we know that the riot started because someone was setting off firecrackers and someone else thought it was gunfire and the National Guard was called in. The National Guard had no experience at urban peacemaking so they shot when they felt they were in danger. They thought they were in danger a lot and a lot of people got killed for no reason.

So we all were afraid of Newark and people from Newark, particularly black people from Newark. But here was this black guy from inner city Newark, a great guy. I didn’t think about riots or anything. He was just another person on the hike. And when you go backpacking you get to know the people around you really well. We became friends.

On the way back from camp we stopped at my grandparent’s house for dinner. My grandmother went into one of her regular rants about those coloreds on welfare who had babies so they could get more money. I spoke up and told my Grandmother that she was wrong, that I had just met this great guy from Newark. Now no one ever told my Grandmother she was wrong. It just wasn’t done, even by my Grandfather. I got in trouble and went for a walk, praying. I loved my Grandmother but she was clearly wrong.

Later that summer I watched the Democratic National Convention. At this point I was vaguely against the war. I didn’t care much for the Kennedys but I thought Eugene McCarthy was great. Then I saw the Democratic Convention manipulated by the powers. I watched the police riot. All of a sudden I didn’t understand America. I caught up on my history by reviewing the Civil Rights movement. For me all of these things became issues of faith. I got involved in the antiwar movement, to my Father’s horror. We argued about the war and he left the room crying because he remembered that after WWII Russian troops were forced onto trains at bayonet point to be sent back to Russia and from there to Siberia. It wasn’t a good conversation. (Later Dad changed his mind and said he would now pay for us to go to Canada if we had to.)

In the spring of 1969 I became an Eagle Scout. I went off to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, the farthest I had ever been away from home. Before that the farthest I’d been from home was Virginia when Dad and I were looking at colleges. And something happened at Philmont.

At Philmont you go backpacking for ten days. To the uninitiated this sounds terrible. To those of us who go camping it was a delight. About three or four days into the hike we had an afternoon off and a group of us decided to climb a nearby mesa. It was raining, but not hard. At the top of the mesa there was an abandoned ranch. The other guys went off. I sat down underneath a tree to think.

I probably fell asleep. But asleep or not I knew God had spoken to me and told me to be a minister. Personally I thought God was crazy. But I couldn’t get it out of my head and I kept thinking about how to go about being a minister. I had this weird idea in my head of getting a motorcycle and going around the country preaching. Fortunately I didn’t do that. By the way, I hated speaking in public.

If you have never been in Northern New Mexico it is worth the trip. The mountains are absolutely beautiful! The deer come down to the salt licks on the mountain meadows in the morning. The bears want your food. And also worth a look is Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian conference center. It is set at the base of a massive bluff. And when you sit on the front porch you can see a mountain 60 miles away. The air is so clear it looks like you could reach out and touch that mountain.

Anyway I got home and didn’t tell anyone about my experience on the mesa.

While I was away Mom and Dad had been out of town. My greeting when I got home was the news we were moving to California.

I broke up with my girlfriend, breaking her heart. I got more involved in the anti-war movement. I went to school and church. I went to a Session meeting at my church to ask if we could collect money after church for the American Friends Service Committee to help people who had had limbs blown off in the war. One of the elders complained that this would give aid and comfort to the enemy. The pastor spoke about loving your enemy. The Session voted to allow us to collect the money. And at the end of January, 1970, in the middle of my senior year in high school we moved to California.

Some of you like John may be too young to remember 1970. It was a mess. There were riots on college campuses. There were sit-ins and demonstrations against the war. And drugs were really, really big. So I had a problem at my new high school. Everyone knew that no one moved in the middle of their senior year in high school. The sports crowd didn’t hang around with me, (hey, there were 2,000 students in the high school!) And the druggies didn’t trust me. I was against the war and the anti war people didn’t trust me. The word on campus was that I was a narc.

I went to church. This congregation had something my old church didn’t have. It had a youth group. I went to the youth group and they accepted me. I guess they figured if you showed up at church with people who looked like parents you probably weren’t a police officer.

This youth group was special. We talked about things going on in our lives. We sang together, we prayed together, we went on CROP walks together; we went to the beach together. I’m sure they weren’t perfect but the accepted me. It was my first experience of what the Church is meant to be: a non-judgmental group of people who simply love you because of Jesus. I loved it.

Not that it changed my behavior. I was still against the war. I hadn’t had a drink yet in my whole life but I started smoking dope.

Oh, and I didn’t mention that I had been accepted and enrolled in a college in Ohio. With all the crazy things going on in colleges in California I figured Ohio was a nice safe place. Then Kent State happened. And in September I flew off to Ohio to go to college.

Grace and Peace



I talked about my childhood. Now I’m going to talk about my ancestors.

Mostly I think of myself as Scottish, but like most Americans I’m a mutt. My Dad’s paternal grandfather came to the U.S. from Northern Ireland. Ours was one of those families offered land in Ireland in the early 1600’s if they would go and keep an eye on the Irish Catholics. The English wanted to control the Irish and used Scots Presbyterians to do it. So the Troubles in Ireland began.

Anyway, my great-grandfather, John Campbell came to the U.S. in 1876 as an Irish whisky salesman. His future wife, (and his first cousin), had come earlier through New Orleans with her family and settled in Illinois. Her brother was a Presbyterian pastor. Great grandfather John was an elder at the Presbyterian Church in Montclair, NJ.

As for the rest of the family, we are a mess. We have ancestors from England on both sides of the family, including people who came on the Mayflower, fought in the Revolution, built ships in New England that were probably used as slave ships. All of my ancestors eventually left New England for other parts. They were, from what we can tell, devout.

My mother’s paternal ancestors moved from Connecticut, started a tiny town in North Central PA and built a Baptist church there. I used to be related to half the town. My maternal grandfather met a nice woman at college of German extraction, whose family had been around since before the Revolution, and married her. She died when my Mom was in high school. My other three grandparents lived into the sixties and in one case, the seventies.

I had these two maiden great aunts, my mother’s father’s sisters, who came to visit us regularly, and particularly when Mom had her babies. One of my great aunts, who saved everything, had a note from me, written to my mother when she was in the hospital after the birth of my youngest brother that said I was going to be a minister. I have no memory of that note.

While my Mom’s church and family was fairly conservative, (there was no alcohol served at my parent’s reception, to the horror of my Dad’s mom), the church we attended was kind of middle of the road. The pastor I really got to know had a PhD and was an expert in Bonhoeffer. During the Vietnam War his wife would go down to the demonstrations against the war at city hall, to the shock and dismay of the congregation.

So I grew up Presbyterian. I had no idea what that meant as a child. No one ever talked about predestination or any of the other great Presbyterian doctrines. Or if they did I wasn’t listening. It was just church, and we went.

I started Junior High in 1963. The Beatles were popular and I hated their music then. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand?” What dreck! I was into show tunes then. Still am. I developed a love for Rock and Soul a year later. While still going to church I wasn’t much of a Christian. I was much more interested in pretty girls, although I had no idea how to talk with them. And things didn’t change much in high school until the summer after my sophomore year. Then I went to church camp. And things began to change.

Grace and Peace


Saturday, August 18, 2007


John Shuck and I are moving from theology to personal faith stories. I decided to put mine here as well. There will also be posts for teen years and college, seminary and several for years in ministry.

Learn more than you ever wanted to know about me!


I grew up in a traditional family for the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Mom and Dad had both been only children and wanted to have lots of kids. They had five of us. Mom had preschoolers at home from 1951 to 1968!

Dad had grown up right near where we lived in North Central Jersey. Madison, New Jersey. His parents moved to about an hour away in the mountains and we went to see them once a month on Sundays. Mom grew up in a tiny town in central PA. We spent summer vacation there, playing in the creek and visiting the relatives in the graveyard and going to Ticklish Rock. (I took this picture of it and my thumb in 1963)

Dad was a chemical engineer. Mom was a stay at home mom. It was the 1950’s.
We grew up going to church. The Presbyterian Church, of course. Where else would someone named Campbell go? I don’t remember ever asking to stay home. It just wasn’t done. We went to Sunday School. I remember the big, white, New England style sanctuary and sitting in the balcony on Christmas Eve.

Prayer was a part of every meal and part of bed time.

It’s strange thinking back to the way things were. We didn’t have a lot, certainly not compared to today. There was plenty of food and we had enough clothes. The house was a bit small, three bedrooms with five kids and two adults but we moved to a bigger house when I was in Junior High. We had one car for years. My parents didn’t allow toy weapons so we pretended sticks were guns and threatened the engineer of the train as it went though town. My brother and I could just tell Mom we were going for a bike ride, make lunches and ride all day. I read a lot. The big thing to do in town for children was swimming at the YMCA. We went away to camp and I was in Boy Scouts.

And yes, I went to school. Curiously we went to school through the 1950’s and 60’s with little prejudice against those of other races, except the Italians. There were lots of Italians in town and very few African Americans so Italian Americans were considered a threat. Catholics too. I never could figure out why they got out of school early one day every week and why, every February they walked around with dirty foreheads one day. School was no big deal until I got to Junior High and learned that the upper class in town lived on the Hill and I was middle class.

Mom grew up Baptist so none of us got baptized until we joined the church. I remember Communicant’s Class. Being the obnoxious inquisitive kid that I was when the pastor asked if Jesus ever sinned I asked if he hadn’t sinned in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking the Father to let him out of being crucified. Of course the pastor told the parents about this one question from one of the students and my Mom, smart woman that she is, figured out it was me.
It was very strange. I got baptized with a couple other kids in a private service. It didn’t happen in worship.

The biggest thing I remember from church was THE GREAT DEBATE over whether the Associate Pastor would become the pastor. There were no rules about that back then. He became the pastor and was later a friend and colleague of mine.

God was just there. No one asked about children taking the Lord’s Supper. I prayed childhood prayers, some serious and some stupid and went to church.

Pastor Bob