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One fall Wednesday afternoon in 1961, my Spanish class had just ended at Haddonfield Memorial High School. David Stedman, a senior, leaned across the aisle, and out of nowhere asked me if I’d be interested in joining a bunch of kids for a prayer breakfast at church the next morning at 7:00 a.m. I had not been active in youth activities, but out of my own nowhere I told him I’d do it. That next morning not only did I enjoy my first cup of coffee (thank you, First Presbyterian!), but more importantly I experienced the kind of warm affirmation I never anticipated as the shy and socially inhibited teenaged boy whom others knew me to be. Today, as vice president of Presbyterian Pan American School in Kingsville, Texas, I have become the one who now leans across to speak to others, inviting them to join in support of our church’s future, which is still in her youth. Mercifully, times have changed. Breakfast here is at 7:20 a.m., with prayer not until 8:00 a.m.!
Ed Seeger (M.Div., 1971)
The most significant act of ministry that I received as a teenager was the opportunity to participate in the Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdue University in Indiana in the summer of 1992. Triennium was a life-changing experience for me. The week that I spent there with other teenagers from all over the country (and the world!) was incredibly moving and transformational for me. As a matter of fact, it was during that week that I first realized that I was being called to ordained ministry. I have fantastic memories of Triennium, and I highly recommend the experience!
Michelle Denney Grunseich (M.Div., 2002)
I remember my confirmation sponsor, Mr. Clark Olson, at First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Illinois.Mr. Olson took time to get to know and support me on a personal level. In our closing ceremony, he gave me a cross made from nails. I felt truly welcomed by the body of Christ.His deep personal interest, along with the cross and the confirmation group, provided a crucial foundation for my Christian faith.
Daniel J. McQuown (M.Div., 1996)
After four years of minimal involvement in church life, having reached my goal of being “a big fish in the big pond” of my Cleveland, Ohio, high school, I headed off to Princeton University in 1953.Princeton life and my first religion class created a spiritual crisis for me. I came home at Christmas break with dozens of questions for my pastor.He listened,
responded, and answered some of them.More importantly, he gave me the sense that these concerns would be resolved, if not answered, in God's good time. That gave me the confidence and courage to carry on with the struggle.
Ralph W. Quere (Ph.D., 1970)
I will always be grateful for that businessman who, in mid-career, and with heavy responsibilities both for his company and his family, took the time to teach a weekly Sunday school class for teenaged boys.Not only did he carefully prepare, he also took an interest in each one of us personally.And he modeled for us what it was to live a life marked by integrity.What he taught about Jesus Christ was backed by the way he lived his life.I will never forget the tenderness with which he treated his child who had Downs Syndrome. And on those occasions when 15-20 of us were entertained in his home after church, I was always impressed by the many pictures of missionaries for whom he prayed that were taped to his refrigerator door.Although our paths only crossed three or four times after I left the Chicago area for Princeton Theological Seminary, his impact on my life has lasted to this very day!
John Huffman (M.Div., 1965; D.Min.,1983)
Newport Beach, California
When I was in high school, the adult advisor of our youth group in church took a personal interest in me, encouraging, teaching, guiding, and even “correcting” me.He continued supporting me through college and seminary. Without planning or words, perhaps once a year he would shake my hand and in it would be a $20 bill.This was in the years 1958-1965.He was a mentor, example, and a continuing lifelong friend. He modeled the Christian faith for me and for many others.I have tried to follow his example as I have connected with young people over the years.I thank God for men of his faithfulness.
Dale I. Gregoriew (Th.M., 1966)
Without question, the youth ministry of a small Midwestern congregation, entirely lay-led, provided the support and encouragement that was life-changing and career-opening.The layer above this was the meaningful experiences at church camp that propelled me into the realm of Synod and General Assembly youth programs. The esteem-building love and the peer affirmation that made my church youth group the primary social sphere in my teenage years were formative to me.
Ron Roberts (B.D., 1959)
Our church educator gathered us junior highs into a room previously used as a custodial apartment, and had us paint the walls so it became our youth center.Life-sized drawings from Jesus’ parables went onto the walls, and for the next two years I looked at those and thought about them week by week while the youth program of the evening went on.I still remember wanting to be the lamb fed by the Shepherd, and to be like the Good Samaritan portrayed on the walls we had painted in the room that was reserved just for us.
Paul Watermulder (M.Div., 1977)
As a 10th- through12th-grader at the John Knox United Presbyterian Church of Amarillo, Texas, I was part of the Sunday School class taught by Nelson Bourn. We used Robert McAffee Brown’s The Bible Speaks to You. Mr. Bourn would consistently engage us in issues of the day. I remember him regularly asking the question, “So … what difference does it make that we're Christians talking about this issue?” That question has stayed with me for 42 years. Once, when he was going through a particularly trying time at work, he would ask us—as his fellow Christians—what we thought, and what we thought he might do. He’d actually try what we suggested! Then he’d return to evaluate with us. He was the first adult to teach me that it really matters that we are Christians, and that our opinions, wisdom, faith, support, and insight as young persons mattered to him as an adult.
Val Fowler (M.Div., 1975)
Honeoye Falls, New York
It was late at night at a weekend Christian camp. A group of us from the same high school heard the “good news” for the first time: “God loves you, lives within you and wants to walk with you for the rest of your life.” I had been questioning what life was all about. I was fifteen. Our counselor Add Sewell answered many questions. Then he
said a most remarkable thing. “I’m going to bed. Talk it over with God and ask him what he wants you to do.” I guess you call it prayer, but I just talked to God and decided to make him a major part of my life. The next week a number of us who had made that decision met with Add. He said another amazing thing: “I don't know what you said
to God, but if you were serious then it will show in the life you live. Let's get to work and see what the Christian life is all about.” He and his wife, Loveta, became my spiritual parents and still are. All these years later, some of us who were in that room fly to
Seattle every other month to spend a day with Add. He is now 91 and we are 70. We are still learning what the Christian life is all about.
G. Rogers Carrington (B.D., 1961; Th.M., 1965)
San Rafael, California
Youth ministry to me is all about planting seeds of faith.The first seed of my journey to ordained ministry was planted on a bus ride to Park City, Utah, when I was a sophomore in high school.One of our seminary interns casually turned to me and said, “You know, you're going to be a pastor some day.”Nine years later, I enrolled at Princeton Seminary and continue to serve as a pastor to youth.
Tom Brown (M.Div./M.A., 1999)
Downers Grove, Illinois
The summer prior to my sophomore year in high school, a group of our senior high youth from our church in Buffalo, New York, ventured to Kentucky and Tennessee to visit mission churches.We were accompanied by the two clergy who were serving our congregation and a young couple who were members of the congregation.As much as the interaction with the people who resided in the areas we visited, the opportunity to view close up and in person the two clergy as they led our two-week adventure was significant.Over the years I have been asked, “What led you into the professional ministry?”I have consistently responded, “Because of my two-week trip with our ministers when I was in high school!”
Ronald J. Sloan (M.Div., 1960; Th.M., 1974; D.Min., 1981)
South Wellfleet, Massachusetts
I was a junior in high school when Larry McMaster (M.Div., 1954), our student assistant minister at Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, urged me to participate in a two-week work camp to Morris Fork, Kentucky. We were invited to help teach Bible School in that isolated Appalachian community. Larry's eagerness to help us broaden our circle of friends and his enthusiasm for mission were infectious. We worked with Rev. Sam VanderMeer, the Morris Fork pastor.The Rev. VanderMeer was a caring pastor, committed to equipping the saints for the work of ministry, and he worked with the whole community to secure a more abundant life.His way of ministry deeply moved me.Several weeks after our return home I intentionally began my journey toward ordination.Following ordination I returned to the hills of eastern Kentucky as associate pastor with Sam VanderMeer at the Morris Fork and Buckhorn Presbyterian churches.
Bob Undercuffler (M.Div., 1962)
The church provided a relatively reliable answer to a need of which I was aware.My family moved quite frequently; we changed residence fourteen times by the time I graduated from high school.Each move meant starting over in finding a place in the community, finding friends, etc.I somehow discovered that the local church almost always (I wish I could say always) offered an immediate welcome to a stranger, making an exploratory cold call. No other institution offered that, in my experience.
In every congregation in which I chose to continue I found both phony pretenders to some standard of social propriety, and genuine, caring people. Although the theology articulated differed widely (from silent Quaker meetings with an emphasis on ethics to an Anglo-Catholic congregation with a reliance on ritual... and of course including vital Presbyterian congregations at critical times in my development), the caring was not that different.I attributed that caring to their experience of God's grace and loving presence in their lives, and I could not see that doctrinal opinion or style of worship was an active ingredient in how they treated me.
Leaders who were outgoing and welcoming were important.Facility in actively involving me and my peers in the program was also important, I believe. Opportunities to work in summer camps, and in NCC service opportunities gave me a sense of having some meaningful contribution to make, and developed into a sense of call.
Richard Diller (M.Div., 1959)
At a youth retreat, our advisors and seminarian Gregory Anderson (M.Div., 1980) led a teaching session. Greg drew a big gap with the words US and GOD on either side of the gap to show sin separated US from GOD. Arrows pointing into the gap (from the US side) told us that nothing we could do could get US across to GOD. But a CROSS bridging the Gap showed us that GOD had made a way for US. In my search for life's meaning as a 12-year-old, I realized, “This is what I have been looking for.” This moment changed my life.
Eric Oliver (M.Div., 1995)
Brocton, New York
I was 19 or 20, already a freshman or sophomore doing my undergraduate work at a small Catholic college in New Hampshire…I signed-up for an “Encounter” weekend. The environment was deliberately set up to be like a womb for that weekend. No distractions were allowed and no other activities could be planned, because the full day was set out for us in an insulated location. We were urged—no, NAGGED, to take notes on what we were hearing from the leaders in the classic “blue book” with which we were provided. We were fed lectures on prayer, on piety and various other central, essential Christian themes. And of course, Scripture was the basis for it all.
By the end of the weekend, many of us were in tears, saying goodbye and taking turns at the microphone, sharing what the weekend’s experience had meant to us. It was designed and managed to be intense. We could not hope to continue riding that emotional “high” afterward. But that retreat served to make my faith much deeper and real. I still have the small cross that was given to each of us before we departed. On it are etched the words, “Christ is counting on you.”
Jack Moriarty (Th.M., 1992)
Ellicottville, New York