Deep Inside Is A Dreaming Child   

I presented the original version of this paper at Pilgrim Place senior community in April 2015 as part of a series of autobiographical statements by residents.  It was revised in May 2017 and in June 2020.  PMM

 

Virtually every time I think about how my life has unfolded, I am struck by how much my personal journey has been shaped by events beyond my control.  I became a child of the Deep South because of a chain of consequences flowing from the decision made in the mid-1700s by my great-great-grandparents, Jacob and Mary Minus.  They left Britain in search of a better life in North America (apparently the ancestral home had been Scotland but more recently the family had relocated to England).  Most ocean-going vessels available to them headed to Charles Town, the South Carolina capital and one of the largest cities in the British colonies.  Because Jacob and Mary had been farmers in the Old World, they became farmers in the South Carolina low country.  They soon followed the lead of other hardworking farm families there and bought African slaves to help them cultivate their rice crops along the Ashley River. 

 

Over the next four generations, most of Mary and Jacob’s descendants continued to live within fifty miles of Charleston.   In 1860 twenty-year-old Josiah Minus became the first to break from the family’s land-holding and slave-owning tradition by enrolling at the recently established Medical College of South Carolina.  When the Civil War erupted the following year, he was among the first volunteers for the Confederate army.  He survived the next four years of bloody, devastating conflict, and soon after the war, he resumed his medical education.   Josiah spent the remaining forty-five years of his life as a doctor in and around the small town of St. George, South Carolina, where he and his second wife Emily raised four children, including my father.

 

As a boy in the 1940s, I often rode with Daddy on Saturdays back to St. George.  I enjoyed the visits with my grandmother (Josiah had died many years earlier), but I realized that much of the region was trapped in the past.  Racial segregation – built on the assumption and practice of white supremacy - was evident everywhere.   I knew that within that pervasive reality there were different options available to whites regarding how they related to blacks.  I have always been grateful that my parents fell where they did in that range of possibilities.  I never heard my parents use the N word – nor did my older sister Betty, younger brother Joe or I use it.  We had a black maid helping out in our home, and I remember as a youngster taking note of the fact that when Ernestine was given a ride home in the family car, mother had her sit in the front seat with her, not in the back seat by herself.  My father’s wholesale electrical appliance business in Charleston hired blacks to work in the warehouse, and I enjoyed getting to know them when I worked alongside them during the summers.

 

One of my sharpest memories from the 1940s was hearing a statement somebody made shortly after World War II ended.  It was the prediction that “the next war is going to be between white people and colored people.”  This prospect worried me enormously, and for the first time I can recall, something inside me refused to accept what had been confidently asserted by an adult. Not for me a future where my family and I would be fighting Hattie, Ernestine, Julia, Oscar, James and their families.  I instinctively knew there must be a better way.

 

The great upheaval of my young life occurred in 1951.  I was happily involved in the

tenth grade at the High School of Charleston - enjoying good friends, playing varsity tennis and basketball, doing well academically.  One spring day the school principal called me to his office and told me the Ford Foundation was conducting an educational experiment to discover whether talented high school students could succeed if they entered college earlier than normal. Initially I was not interested, but I soon learned that the Ford Foundation would pay my tuition if I agreed to enroll just a few months later at one of the four nationally prominent universities participating in the experiment.

So, in September 1951, six weeks after turning 16, I joined 50 other guinea pigs in the freshman class at Yale University, in New Haven, CT.  It was a huge shock to me academically – I made a grade of 55 on my first test – but it was even more of a shock culturally.   As a young guy from the Bible Belt, what disturbed me most was that the great majority of these smart people wanted to have nothing to do with Christianity.

Like our parents and most of our forebears, my siblings and I had been regular churchgoers, but I had never thought much about Christianity.  For the first time I realized it was important to me.  After several weeks trying to come to terms with this situation, one night - as I was saying my prayers - I suddenly felt as though God was putting a hand on me and claiming me to serve God’s purposes for the world.  It was an experience something like what I imagined John Wesley had had many years earlier, which he described with the words, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”  The only way I knew then to make sense of the moment was to regard it as God’s call to me to the ordained ministry of the church.

 

One might think this would be a calming, stabilizing experience, but it was not.   Instead, I anxiously asked myself: If God wants me for the ministry, should I really now stay at Yale, where my college future is so much at risk?  Wouldn’t it be better to go back to Charleston, finish high school, and then go on to college and seminary the normal way? 

 

 In the next days and weeks, I wrestled mightily with this issue.  Fortunately, my parents gave me good advice, perhaps the best I’ve ever received:  Stay at Yale until Christmas-break, they counseled, and when you come home in mid-December, decide then whether you’ll rejoin your high school class or continue at Yale.  

 

For the rest of the autumn months I worked hard, I began enjoying life at Yale, and by the time of Christmas-break, my academic nosedive was over and I was on the Dean’s List.  Back in Charleston for the holidays, my decision was clear.  I would return to Yale and use that education to prepare for whatever future lay ahead.  The child deep inside dared to dream that something good could come out of this unusual twist in my educational journey.

 

As it turned out, my four years as a college student were probably the most formative of my entire life.  Interests, habits, commitments and skills developed that have held up well ever since.  The part of my college experience especially decisive was the broadening and deepening that occurred through my multiple involvements in the student Christian movement.   Most of this went on at the Wesley Foundation at Yale.  But there were other important occasions, notably a five-week Methodist Student Movement workcamp in Mexico City; attendance at the 1954 Evanston Assembly of the World Council of Churches; and several years as a board member (including student chairman) of the Student Volunteer Movement for Christian Mission, based in New York City.

The major cumulative impact of all this for me was the conviction that God was now calling me and all Christians to a new way of being the church – a way that better expressed our mission and unity than did our inherited denominational patterns.  So, during my junior and senior years, in the early stages of what was becoming a new ecumenical era for Christianity,  I gathered the presidents of the seven Christian organizations working on the Yale campus in order to establish a fresh pattern of collaborative activity.  It was guided by a new body we created and named the Council of the Yale Christian Community.  This experience, more than any other in my student years, taught me that when I heeded the dreaming child within, there were skills I had been given that could be harnessed to help implement my vision of a better future.

 

Also in senior year I made the decision about where I would do my seminary work.  A staff member of the National Methodist Student Movement meant to give good advice when he told me, “If you want to get somewhere in the Methodist Church, you should go to a Methodist seminary.” That conversation helped me realize that getting “somewhere in the Methodist Church” did not rank high in my priorities for the future.  By then I had learned a lot about the fine professors teaching at the Yale Divinity School, and the prospect of studying there was irresistible.  So, in September 1955, I became a student at YDS (where my very first class, coincidentally, was an introduction to Old Testament taught by Davie Napier, who would many years later become a good friend when we found ourselves living in the same retirement community).

 

The three year period as part of this community of about three hundred students was wonderfully enjoyable. It was particularly significant for me that the member of the faculty I got to know best was the distinguished historian and missiologist, Kenneth Scott Latourette.  “Uncle Ken,” as he was called by many at Yale, was beloved for his befriending and mentoring of young people, and he kept up a prodigious correspondence with many of them as they moved into careers around the world.  He customarily hired a YDS student to help with his correspondence, and I enjoyed a two-year stint in that role.  During this period, too, he went on a lecture and research trip to five countries in Latin America, and I accompanied him as his secretary and handyman.  While we were in Buenos Aires, he delivered a major lectureship at the united seminary there, and some school leaders encouraged me to consider coming back to teach there when my formal education was completed.

 

Also in the YDS years, my friendship blossomed with Nancy DeWitt.  She was a student at Smith College in nearby western Massachusetts, and it soon became clear that we shared interests in many areas and that we wanted to spend our lives together as husband and wife.  After her graduation in 1957, we were married, and we eventually were blessed with three wonderful children.  Nancy was my best friend and soul-mate for the next twenty-five years.

It was at Yale Divinity School that I began keeping a small bulletin board to which I attached photos, mementoes and words that had become very important to me.  One of these items was a little decorative banner bearing the words, “Deep inside is a dreaming child.”  I don’t recall where I got it or who made the statement, but it remained on my office bulletin board for the next forty years. 

 

Those words reminded me that  I was called to serve God’s transformative purposes for the world, and I knew I needed to let the dreaming child inside, that voice of my best self, break through the fog of routine and group-think, so as to remind me of the better future that lay beyond, as well as to nudge me to do everything possible to help other people see and embrace that future.  And in later years, as I thought more about vocation and call, I came to believe (as I do now) that each of us is gifted by the presence of such a dreaming child. Moreover, the ability to hear and heed the dreaming child within – however partial and halting our response may be - is a sign that though we are partly shaped by events and forces beyond ourselves, there is also present in each of us a significant measure of freedom and self-determination.

 

As the end of my seminary program approached, I thought a lot about what would come after YDS. The possibility of teaching at the seminary in Buenos Aires beckoned.  I figured it meant going on for a PhD, and doing it in a field that would prepare me to deal with the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic history and culture of Latin America.  Also, I had come to realize that wherever Nancy and I settled, I wanted to be part of the next stage of the churches’ ecumenical journey, which I believed must come to include the great family of Roman Catholic Christians around the world.  Because one of Protestantism’s foremost experts on contemporary Roman Catholicism was the Yale theologian George Lindbeck, we decided that I would enroll in Yale’s PhD program.

 

The decision to stay on at Yale was also influenced by the fact that William Sloane Coffin had just become University Chaplain at Yale, and Bill had invited me to be his graduate student assistant.  Coffin was a gifted person who soon would become a national leader in the civil rights and anti-war movements.  I accepted Coffin’s invitation and during the first two years of my PhD program, my work with him included several administrative tasks as well as leading the liturgy in the University Chapel on the Sundays he preached there.

 

My graduate work over the next four years on contemporary Roman Catholicism was the most engrossing, mind-expanding experience of my life.  Early on, Lindbeck and I decided that the focus of my PhD dissertation would be the rise of a new Catholic ecumenical approach to other Christians and their churches, with an emphasis on how this development was playing out in French-speaking Europe, especially with regard to Protestants.   We also decided that I would spend a year in Europe studying and directly observing this new movement.    A Fulbright grant gave me the opportunity to take Nancy and our infant son David (who had joined us in May 1960) for a productive year in Belgium, based at the Catholic University of Louvain. Fortunately, too, I was able to travel to meet many of the Catholic ecumenical pioneers who had worked virtually underground in pursuit of their daring vision.  After I completed my dissertation in 1962 and subsequently revised it, I was pleased that an American Catholic press published it as The Catholic Rediscovery of Protestantism.  This turned out to be one of seven books I wrote, edited or co-authored between 1966 and 2010,

 

Following completion of my PhD work, it happened that we did not go to Latin America to live and work.  But there was another missionary-like situation that did attract us: Florida State University, in Tallahassee, Florida, where I became University Chaplain and Assistant Professor of Religion in July 1962. The 1960s were a time of great ferment in our country and around the world – symbolized notably by John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Pope John XXIII and “We Shall Overcome.”   It seemed that far-reaching transformations of the old order were now possible.  Florida State had admitted its first black student the previous year, and I quickly became Maxwell’s chief advocate and counselor.  In a variety of ways I worked both publicly and behind the scenes to prepare the university and the community for the demise of racial segregation. It was hard work, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and opportunities

 

A highpoint of our life at FSU was the arrival of son Stephen in October 1963; he and David became virtually inseparable.   But even as we celebrated Steve’s birth, we knew our stay in Tallahassee was nearly over.  Several months earlier, we had accepted an invitation to move to central Ohio, where I would become a faculty member at the newly established Methodist Theological School in Ohio (called “Methesco” by most people related to it). Initially, Nancy and I had thought no place could attract us away from FSU and north Florida, but we quickly learned that this young seminary had gathered a fine mix of younger and older scholars, all committed to working for the renewal of American Christianity, and especially of one of its major constituent parts, the Methodist Church. As Assistant Professor of Church History, I would teach subjects that had been the focus of my graduate study, and there also would be numerous opportunities beyond the classroom to pursue my chief commitments.  With a mix of sadness and keen anticipation, we took up our new life in Ohio in January 1964.

 

Within a year of our arrival, I decided that my best contribution as a young faculty member could be made by working to combine a critical, reflective approach to issues confronting American Christianity with active engagement in particular challenges that were close at hand.  An important consequence of this decision was that relatively obscure academic topics were never at the center of my teaching, research and writing – nor did I often attend academic conferences focused on those matters.  Instead, I tended to spend classroom and “extracurricular” time addressing broader issues that had significant, palpable impacts upon church and society.

 

In the 1960s the main target of our efforts at Methesco to transform the Methodist Church was the system of overt racial segregation that gripped our denomination.  This system had its roots deep in the past, and it had been given a fresh lease on life in 1939, when the three regional bodies uniting to create the nation-wide Methodist Church agreed – as a condition of union insisted upon by southern white Methodists – that there would be separate structures in the new church for its black members.  They would belong to what was called the Central Jurisdiction, and they would have their own separate annual conferences, bishops, pastors and congregations.

 

My first taste of the struggle against racial segregation in American Methodism came when I had been on the seminary faculty only three months.  In April 1964, I went with three of my white faculty colleagues to Jackson, Mississippi, in response to the invitation of a small interracial group of courageous Methodists at Tougaloo College.  On Easter Sunday morning we were joined by three other white Methodist seminary professors and two black Tougaloo  students as we went together to worship at a downtown white Methodist church.  The ushers refused to let our little interracial group enter, and as we quietly stood outside the church door, local police arrested us, and took us off to jail. We were there until Tuesday afternoon, when our case was heard by a local judge.  He found us guilty of “disturbing public worship,” fined us $500 each, and sentenced each of us to six months in prison.  We were released on bail, our convictions were appealed, and about five months later, we learned that our convictions had been overturned by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

The 1964 Easter Sunday event was one of many public signs that began multiplying of how segregated the church was – but also a sign of the fact that, for a growing minority, racial segregation of the church was a blatant and unacceptable contradiction of Christ’s message of justice and reconciliation.  In 1970, when the new United Methodist Church was created, the deliberately segregated structures of the Central Jurisdiction were not included within it.  Nevertheless, the legacy of our segregated past continued to fester, and a major objective of church renewalists at Methesco and elsewhere became more elusive targets, such as electing black delegates to General Conference, electing black bishops, and seeking cross-racial pastoral appointments to congregations.  In the Methesco faculty, we undertook the additional tasks of hiring black faculty, attracting black students, and revising our courses to be sure they addressed issues important to an interracial constituency.

 

During my twenty-four years at Methesco, there was a variety of other social issues that claimed my attention as well.  Three stand out.   In the early 1970s I chaired a coalition of denominations in the Ohio Council of Churches attempting (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to persuade voters across the state not to make Ohio the eleventh state in the nation to establish and operate a state lottery; it was bad public policy, we argued, for government to raise revenue by promoting gambling among its citizens.   In 1975 and 1976 I chaired a national United Methodist task force aimed at mobilizing the people and agencies of our denomination to combat world hunger.  And for several years in the late 1970s, I led the process establishing an ecumenical think tank in Washington, D.C., based at Wesley Theological Seminary.   We named it the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, and for several decades it had a major role in helping shape the American churches’ public witness in such realms as nuclear disarmament and environmental stewardship.

 

Throughout my time on the Methesco faculty, I tried deliberately to connect these social involvements with my daily classroom

teaching of church history.  I wanted my students to recognize how important it is to harness the power of organizational structures, both secular and religious, to pursue better life for all God’s creatures. I wanted them also to see how individual men and women in Christian history have worked imaginatively, courageously and persistently to make the church a more faithful servant of Christ in the world.  My biography of Social Gospel pioneer Walter Rauschenbusch was written to show this, and more especially to demonstrate that in Rauschenbusch’s case, his deep engagement for social justice grew out of his long immersion in a rich tradition of Evangelical spirituality.

 

The other major stream of my Methesco teaching and outside activity focused on helping to close the four-hundred-year chasm between Catholic and Protestant Christians.  I had had the good fortune in October 1963 of spending three weeks as a Protestant observer in Rome at the historic Second Vatican Council.  My Methesco colleagues appreciated my efforts to establish collaborative relationships with the nearby Catholic and Lutheran seminaries.  I also reached out to the other Catholic and Protestant seminaries in Ohio to form the Ohio Theological Colloquium; twice a year it brought members of our faculties together for theological dialogue.  On the national level I was a participant for several years in the dialogue between Roman Catholic and United Methodist scholars and bishops.    

 

Perhaps my major contribution to Catholic-Protestant rapprochement occurred in 1975 when I was a United Methodist delegate to the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.  During one of the final plenary sessions of the gathering, the dreaming child in me nudged me to ask for the microphone.  I moved to amend what I thought was a terribly lame conclusion to a report about the hoped-for future relationship of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council.  My proposed one-sentence amendment was simple: “Therefore, we look with eager anticipation to the time when the Roman Catholic Church will become a member body of the World Council of Churches.”  Delegates greeted it with vigorous applause and quickly adopted it overwhelmingly.  But, in the years following Nairobi, ecumenical ardor cooled in many quarters, especially among church leaders, and the Catholic Church did not become a member of the WCC.

 

The 1975 Nairobi Assembly was also the starting point of another major phase of my professional life.  One of the optional activities I attended showed a hard-hitting documentary film called “Nestle Kills Babies.”  It advocated boycotting products made by the Switzerland-based food giant because the film’s sponsors believed Nestle was unethically promoting its infant formula among poor mothers around the world.

 

Soon after returning from Kenya, I happened upon one of my neighbors, who was a senior vice president of Ross Labs, a Columbus-based, major American manufacturer of infant formula.  I asked – with a smile on my face – “Dewey, does Ross kill babies?”   This proved to be quite a conversation starter.  A week later he introduced me to the CEO of Ross Labs.  After several conversations, Dave and I agreed it would probably be useful to gather a group of colleagues from Ross Labs and local churches to explore issues that – thanks to the growing Nestle boycott - were being hotly debated in many quarters.  No one was yet proposing a boycott of Ross products, but industry critics were beginning to accuse Ross  – like Nestle – of immorally  seeking  financial gain by  marketing its infant formula product among mothers in low-income areas of the world.  Because of a combination of circumstances – especially the limited availability of clean water and refrigeration – the bottle of infant formula they gave their babies often did more harm than good.

 

 Over the next several years, an ongoing conversation occurred among Ross executives and educational and religious leaders in central Ohio.  We called it “the Church and Corporation Dialogue,” and I served as its chair.

As the 1980 quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church approached, it became evident that this body of some 900 church leaders was going to be asked to commit the entire denomination to a boycott of Nestle products.  While we Methodists in the Church and Corporation Dialogue believed the boycott’s pressure upon Nestle was playing a useful role, we also believed a space should be created where people on opposing sides of the controversy could thoughtfully address conflicting views and move toward a constructive resolution.  In that spirit we asked the 1980 General Conference to commit the United Methodist Church to a dialogical process similar to what we had undertaken in Ohio.   By a close vote, the delegates approved our proposal, and over the next four years I was part of a process engaging leaders of Nestle, Ross and two other major American infant formula companies with ten Methodist leaders.  It was a probing consideration of the companies’ policies and practices related to their marketing of infant formula.  In this period, too, the World Health Organization and other international bodies became involved in the issue.  Not everyone was satisfied with the results, but some important changes in corporate practices occurred and a new measure of mutual understanding emerged.

 

 The major upshot of this experience for me personally was its persuading me of the need for a new initiative to develop a dialogical way of dealing with an array of difficult ethical issues faced by businesses of all kinds.  So, in the early 1980s, I invited friends and colleagues in Ohio from the realms of business, religion and higher education to collaborate in forming a new non-profit, interdisciplinary organization to undertake this task.  We called it the Council for Ethics in Economics, and by 1988 it had grown sufficiently and seemed to have enough potential that its board of directors decided to hire a full-time president.  They invited me to fill the position.

 

It was a tempting invitation.  The news those days was full of stories of shady and corrupt business dealings. Many years earlier I had learned about my father’s business practices, and I knew from first-hand experience that ethical options were available in the world of business.  By then, I had completed twenty-four years as a theological seminary professor, and I still enjoyed the heady mix of labors as a teacher, writer and activist.  But gradually I was attracted to the prospect of using this same combination of skills and interests to focus on the task of “strengthening the ethical fabric of business and economic life.”

 

I was attracted too because I was at a different place personally.  To explain this, I need to backtrack to explain that soon after our daughter Susan was born in June 1966, she was diagnosed as having cystic fibrosis.  This is a lethal, genetic disease for which there is still no cure.  In 1966, the average life expectancy for kids born with CF was ten.  Susie was a remarkable person – cheerful, smart, loving and lovable.  Her spunk, combined with the medications and daily physical therapy that Nancy and I administered, kept her going until she was fourteen.  Her death in 1981 was a shattering blow. 

 

I knew from studies done on the topic that the parents of a child with a consuming disease like cystic fibrosis often lost their marriage too when the child died.  I hoped we would beat the odds and be able to find a new beginning for our relationship.  But within a year of Susie’s death, Nancy told me she wanted to end our marriage, and she left to live on Nantucket Island with the new love of her life.

 

Because both our sons by then had left the nest, I was now living alone, and it was terrible.  But the dreaming child inside told me I would some day find a way out of this desert.

 

Carolyn McIntyre and I had known each other for ten years, and about the time my marriage ended, hers did also.  Carolyn was Associate General Secretary of the United Methodist Church’s Board of Church and Society, based in Washington, DC, in the Methodist Building across the street from the Supreme Court.  Our personal interests and religious commitments were remarkably convergent, and after many trips between Columbus and Washington, we were married in April 1984.  Soon afterwards, Carolyn moved to Ohio with her 8-year-old son Andy - and they began new lives with me as Buckeyes.

Carolyn was fully supportive of my leaning toward a new vocational path, so in 1988 I became the first full-time president of the Council for Ethics in Economics.  The Council was based in downtown Columbus, across the street from the state capitol building, in the parish house of Trinity Episcopal Church. Our mission was to help business organizations of all kinds – locally, nationally, internationally – address the ethical dimensions of a host of business issues.  Over the next ten years, the Council offered programs for business leaders on such matters as pay equity for women; fostering honesty in business; balancing the responsibilities of job and family; and the role of business in helping improve public education and low-income housing.  We held two international conferences in Columbus, in 1992 and 1995, that did useful work on the topic, “The Ethics of Business in a Global Economy.”  I travelled widely in Europe, Latin America and Asia meeting with business leadership groups about these issues.

 

In 1989, Carolyn was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer that had spread to her lungs.  The cancer responded well to chemotherapy and she was able to live a fairly normal life for five years.  But in February 1994, while we were in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, she developed terrible abdominal pains.   When we got back to Columbus, she was hospitalized, and her doctors realized she had been hit with a second, more severe form of cancer.  In the hospital her situation worsened.  Doctors told us that she had developed a lethal blood disorder, and she probably had less than a week to live.  They offered to try extraordinary measures to add a few days to her life, but she said, “No, enough is enough,” and a day or two later, this courageous, smart, loving person died.  She was 53 years old. Carolyn’s death was a terribly heavy blow, and I decided I would retire the following year.

In the next months, the child still dreaming in me began to see possibilities of new frontiers beyond the dark clouds that engulfed me.  Four important things happened to me during the next decade.  Jean Dickinson and I had known each other for fourteen years, from the time she came to Ohio from Claremont, California, when her husband Buford became the second president of Methesco.  After several years in that position, Buford was stricken with cancer and died in 1984.  For many of Jean’s years as a widow, she and Carolyn had been close friends. Jean and I were both from the Deep South, enjoyed each other’s families, and had a lot of shared interests.  We were married in August 1995. 

 

The second important thing was that I became active in the volunteer leadership of two organizations focused on helping Christian laypeople figure out the implications of their faith for their daily responsibilities in the workplace.  The third important thing was that Jean and I moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1999.   I had vacationed on the Cape with Nancy and our kids since the late 1960s, and I grew to love it as I have never loved any other place.  Part of my delight in being there was that I was once again geographically close to Yale, and I happily accepted the YDS dean’s invitation to join the school’s advisory board, as well as to teach a class there for two years on “Faith in the Workplace.”

 

A fourth, very sad thing happened during the first decade of my retirement.  In July 2002, I lost my first-born child, David, to a heart attack, at age 42.  It had been preceded by Dave’s deteriorating relationship with his wife and a long struggle against alcoholism.  The worst moment of my life came on a late-July day when I flew across the country, from Boston to San Francisco, and found Dave dead in his apartment.  That terrible event was followed a few years later by his widow declaring that she would no longer let their two children – my dear grandchildren Justin and Erin – have any contact with me and the rest of Dave’s family.   That separation continues today and it constitutes a great sorrow for Steve, Jean and me.   And yet:  I have not given up hope that as these two grandchildren embrace the independence of adulthood, a time of reconciliation will come.

 

Perhaps I should now say a word about the impact upon me of the terrible losses I have experienced.  Certainly, a great sadness has shadowed much of my adult life – owing especially to the early deaths of Susan, Carolyn and David. They were not able to experience the full range of life’s joys we had hoped for them, and I - along with many others - were deprived of the gifts these remarkable people would have brought us.  There are other reflections their deaths have prompted.  I have been taught how very fragile human life is, and with that knowledge has come a heightened sense of the importance of savoring every moment of the life I am given, as well as a greater sensitivity to so many other people, across the ages and around the world, who have borne losses akin to mine.  Most fundamentally, I have been pushed to grasp afresh the parts of Christian faith that speak to loss and grief – especially the Easter affirmation that Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of the new heaven and new earth God intends for the whole of his creation, including Susan, Carolyn, David and all others who will live again in that better place, where there is no more weeping.

 

There has been another kind of sadness I should note, this one associated with the part of my life I have called the “dreaming child.”  While some of my efforts to bring change did bear fruit, many times they did not.  Instead they were met by a variety of negative responses, all the way from cold indifference to bitter opposition.  Those responses, I suspect, have been generated by a host of causes, some rather benign (including my clumsy advocacy), others more malicious.  My response to these setbacks has usually been marked by disappointment and sadness, but fortunately I have been spared   the kinds of bitterness and grudges that can be enervating; instead I usually have been able to move on in search of new challenges and opportunities.

 

In May 2005, Jean and I made another transition.  We moved to Pilgrim Place, a splendidly engaged continuing care senior community in Claremont, California, thirty miles east of Los Angeles.  I already knew several dozen of the some 350 residents, and we soon found ourselves thoroughly enjoying our new life.  For five years I was deeply involved in leading formation of the Napier Initiative for Creative Leadership, an intergenerational project between Pilgrim Place and the five Claremont colleges.  The project brings together Pilgrim Place mentors with students in their senior year to address their shared interests in social justice, environmental sustainability and world peace.  Each year two of the students receive $15,000 awards that allow them after graduation to implement imaginative projects they have designed.  Also, several courses at the colleges deliberately connect retirees and undergraduates as fellow learners.  After ten years of operating, the Napier Initiative now stands as an unusually fruitful venture for everyone involved.

 

My other major activity at Pilgrim Place between 2005 and 2015 was working as part of the Environmental Concerns Committee.  The chief responsibility I bore was co-chairing the group charged with overseeing the energy retrofits of approximately 80 of our 102 single-family cottages.  I also headed residents’ effort to persuade the community’s board of trustees to adjust its endowment so as to embrace socially responsible investments (especially by divesting stocks in fossil fuel companies). 

 

During most of our ten years at Pilgrim Place, Jean and I spent a large part of each summer on Cape Cod.  Steve had inherited the vacation home in East Orleans that Nancy, I and our three children first enjoyed in 1974, and from 2006 onward, Steve generously let us use it whenever we returned to the Cape. Many friends and family members visited us there, and our trove of Cape Cod-inspired memories grew.  We learned again how much we loved this special part of God’s creation, and I increasingly felt a responsibility to help Cape Codders more aggressively address the rising  ecological threats brought on by climate change.

 

Our ties with people and places in California had become strong, but the lure of Cape Cod was stronger, so in December 2015 we said good-bye and flew to our new home in Orleans.  We moved into a three-story building of 41 condominiums near the middle of town.  On the third floor, with glimpses of sunrise and sunset, and with trees and birds all around, our condo was a perfect base for our reconnecting with the Cape’s multiple treasures. 

 

In the years following our return, I became involved in leadership roles for several environmental ventures.  In our condo community, I chaired the first Environmental Stewardship Committee established by our board.  In the Federated Church of Orleans , I led the first Care for Creation Team to be organized there (along with a similar organizing effort two years later at the St Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chatham).  On the larger Cape Cod scene, I  became a board member of the recently established Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative, and as part of  that responsibility I took the lead in forming the Faith Communities Environmental Network; in three years it grew to number about 35 churches and other religious bodies  on the Cape and Islands.  And at Yale Divinity School, I once again became a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council, where I was able to nurture several ventures yoking faith and ecology. 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my immersion in these environmental efforts, and they were a wonderful learning opportunity. I especially found a quiet joy and gratitude in knowing I was helping to awaken people in the churches to the importance of their ecological mission. Perhaps most of all, this work made me grateful that I was able to do something useful to protect our Earth home – thereby helping to enrich the lives of our beloved grandchildren Emily, Eliot, Justin, Erin, Ellie, Maddie, Aimee, Cordelia and Charlotte - and their progeny for many generations to come.

 

But as enjoyable and gratifying as these efforts proved to be, there was also a growing recognition that old age was catching up with us (we had both reached our mid-eighties) and that we must now adjust to this reality.  For me, it meant withdrawing from active environmental leadership roles, and for both of us it meant looking again for a continuing care retirement community well equipped to help us cope with the diminishments and opportunities of elderhood. When we moved back to the Cape in 2015, we thought that we would find such a community nearby, but that search has not borne the fruit we hoped for.  So, somewhat to our surprise, we have found ourselves once again looking to Pilgrim Place – and California – as the place of a new beginning.  We are not sure about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the weeks and months ahead, but arrangements have been made for us  to fly across the continent in early August and start again as “new” residents of Pilgrim Place.

                               Paul M. Minus    Orleans, Massachusetts    June - 2020