God’s grace began in my life when I was born to Christian parents. As the scripture says in Proverbs, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” This must certainly have applied in my case. By this, I do not mean that I lived an exemplary life forever after, but rather that the scripture was more literally fulfilled: After accepting Christ at about age 12, I was baptized and confirmed at the First Presbyterian Church in Blackwood, New Jersey. I sought to live the Christian life as I then understood it.
Yet, despite what I was doing or not doing along the way, God was still active in my life. God’s prevenient grace was present as God protected me during a tour in Viet Nam, and later provided a wife who was a Christian and would grow in grace with me.
God’s major intervention in my life came in the form of a cancer operation which I had in 1975. While I can still recall many details of God’s grace during that time, it is enough to say that I lost a third of my right lung, God got my attention and many prayers were answered. Soon thereafter, my family and I were reassigned to Germany. There, the absence of the usual “support structures,” such as an extended family and community, led us to reevaluate the importance of our Christian commitment. And while there we were also blessed by a time of rich Bible teaching and preaching, which enabled us to grow in faith.
Upon returning to the United States for later assignments we were able to put these experiences to use in service to others by leading small group Bible studies, by teaching in church school and adult education, and by serving on various committees. (We are Presbyterians!)
In 1986, while I was still in the Army and stationed at the University of Delaware, the First Presbyterian Church of Newark asked me to consider serving on the Session. I accepted based on the conviction that God will not ask anyone to do anything and then not provide the means and the grace required to get it done. That service was enjoyable and rewarding, and it encouraged me along the path of discipleship. I had the opportunity to preach my first sermon, chair a few committees, and serve on a PNC that received and reviewed some 200 dossiers. Each step led naturally, or supernaturally, to the next.
About nine months before my military career was drawing to a close, a Princeton Theological Seminary student who had a Field Education placement at First Newark submitted my name to the seminary as a prospective student. I was invited to attend a preview weekend to hear presentations, attend classes and worship, and had the opportunity to talk with students and faculty. I ultimately applied, was accepted, and graduated.
God’s grace has been essential during my almost twenty-five years to date as a pastor. Because my wife was a tenured elementary school teacher and our children were all enrolled in our local public schools, we had no desire to move. And so, three interim pastor placements followed. Then after consulting with the late Rev. Pat Singleton, I sent my PIF to Lower Brandywine in the spring of 2000. I began my ministry here on October 1, 2000 and have greatly enjoyed serving here through a Facilities Expansion Project, two capital campaigns, a renewed emphasis on community involvement, preparation for our 300th Anniversary in October 2020, and all but one of our annual LIFT Youth Group Mission Trips!
Along the way, I have been enriched by serving as the Spiritual Director of the Delmarva Walk to Emmaus Community (2002-2004), acting as resident Spiritual Director for numerous teen (Chrysalis) and adult (Walk to Emmaus) weekends, and providing many more walk-in talks. It has also been a joy to lead a monthly Protestant Worship Service at the Jeanne Jugan Residence (Little Sisters of the Poor) since 2006.
And after joining New Castle Presbytery in August 1994, I have had the opportunity to serve the presbytery as moderator and clergy commissioner to the General Assembly in 2002, and for six-year stints on the Congregational Empowerment Unit, the Board of Trustees (on which I am again serving), the Committee on Nominations, and the Leadership Development Unit, convening each (as chair or president) for at least two years. (Not to mention the then-synod Chesapeake Center and Campus Ministry Boards.)
As I rapidly approach the 25th anniversary of my ordination, my six years of interim ministry remain formative: a worthy goal for an interim pastor and indeed for anyone in ministry, is to be a “non-anxious, self-differentiated presence.” So doing allows you to maintain your own boundaries while being present to those in need of ministry, but without taking any anxiety inherent in the situation upon yourself.
Another way to say this is that “we are responsible to re-present Christ to others, but not for the decisions they ultimately choose to make.” The bottom line is that I remain convinced that God never calls anyone to do something that God will not [hen resource by providing the means and grace necessary for accomplishment!