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A significant moment in my teenage years was a Labor Day Young People’s Bible Conference (September 1959) sponsored by my church, Buena Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, pastored by William J. Larkin (Th.B., 1943).The church held such conferences, each centered around the study of a Bible book, every Labor Day weekend and January.Philippians was the book of study that year and the theme verse was Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”I was converted in childhood, but God used that conference and verse to call me to surrender my life to Christ's Lordship.
William J. Larkin Jr. (B.D., 1970)
Columbia, South Carolina
Church camp left an indelible impression on me as a young person.It was there that pastors and laypeople had a profound influence on the direction of my life.Numerous people made comments about serving God fulltime as a pastor, and made note of gifts they saw.In addition, my home pastor was great at allowing me to participate as a liturgist in the service and to preach my first sermon.Furthermore, my home pastor
invited me to accompany him to a funeral to see what was done and how he interacted with the family.This mentoring approach was extremely helpful.
Ed Brandt (M.Div., 1985)
When I was a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Goshen, New York, I attended a Sunday School class where the teacher encouraged me to attend a summer conference at Stony Brook, Long Island, in 1939, where I made a decision to accept Christ as my Savior. Later I enrolled in an electrical engineering course at MIT and was working at the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York. The minister of the First Presbyterian Church there encouraged me to make a decision to enter the Christian ministry. Acting on that decision, I enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall of 1946.
Charles J. Hooker Jr. (M.Div., 1949; Th.M., 1952)
In November of 1967, a radiant sophomore from Northern Illinois University came to visit with our youth fellowship. Susie spoke of a different gospel than I had been aware of before, of the new life she had experienced in Jesus Christ, quoting II Corinthians 5:17. The Lord spoke to my heart when I was feeling especially vulnerable in my second year of high school. I grew up in a wonderful church, First Presbyterian in Arlington Heights, Illinois, but everything came together the night God used Susie Smith to speak to my heart and I asked Jesus Christ to come onto the throne of my life. Although this was to ultimately become a series of many conversion experiences, it will always stand out as a life-changing moment in my spiritual journey. Many mission trips, leadership conferences, retreats, elected offices and camping adventures would follow and deepen my faith, but initially it was just one courageous person sharing the gospel with enthusiasm, love, and radiance.
Rick Tindall (M.Div., 1978)
The associate pastor who worked with the youth groups at my church, John Spangler, told me he thought I’d make a good minister…which started me thinking about serving the church in a way I’d never before imagined.
Bill Smutz (M.Div., 1987)
Overland Park, Kansas
When I entered my senior year of high school, I was invited to attend a Presbyterian conference on evangelism.I went as a youth representative from my church.During the week I met piles of believers who talked about Jesus as a friend who knew them and who helped them live and make decisions.This was different.By the closing communion service I was deeply struggling with a suddenly very present God and finally surrendered my control over my life and my misconceptions of how God should act.I found my friend Jesus, or he found me.
Geoff Kohler (M.Div., 1987)
When I was in eighth grade, a kid from school named Jeff used to follow me home. On one occasion when he had a bigger friend with him they pitched pebbles at me and called me names. In spite of that, Jeff and I became friends and he invited me to attend his church youth group. I went with him and had a great time. I started attending youth group meetings regularly. Eventually I went to worship on Sunday mornings and became a member. If Jeff had not invited me to church I might never have become a Presbyterian pastor.
Will Vaus (M.Div., 1988)
I am a Timothy Christian, and so I cannot point to any one moment that changed my life, but among the many moments and incidents which drew me closer to God, I remember particularly one Sunday preacher at the Lawrenceville School, where I was a student.I cannot remember his name, but the Scripture passage on which his sermon was based was from Revelation.Quoting the passage (now different in the NRSV), he said that
God wants us to be either hot or cold, but those who are tepid or lukewarm, the Lord will “spew out of his mouth,” and he said “spew” almost with vitriol. That impressed me greatly.Mediocrity may be among the greatest of our sins!
Lawrence A. Jones (M.Div., 1978)
When I was a teenager, the most significant act of ministry to me occurred when a pastor recognized that I had gifts that would be useful in church work and made a place for me to serve in positions that would usually be held by an adult. That gave me confidence, held me accountable and made me believe that I could be valuable in that setting.
James R. Memmott (M.Div., 1955; Th.M., 1957)
West Long Branch, New Jersey
I grew up in Los Angeles at a time when the church drew me to Christ and young people were important. A seminarian asked me if I would think about going into Christian education. Barbara and Tom Gillespie were my friends and I followed them to Princeton. Women’s ordination was still far from reality in 1956. Twenty years later I was ordained and became a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I made a road for others to follow and now 50 years later many have followed.
Betty Kurtz Hamilton (Class of 1956)
In high school my youth minister and spiritual mentor, Merry Grayson at Smyrna Presbyterian Church in Conyers, Georgia, invited me to write the VBS curriculum with her over the course of an academic semester while earning school credit.That summer I codirected the VBS with her.The highlight of the week was recreating heaven from Revelation 4 with all the children. That was merely one of the ways in which Merry taught me the value of lay empowerment, equipping, challenging the young, and hard work for the Lord.
Case Thorp(M.Div., 2000)
When I was a teenager, our church and town sponsored a basketball league.We had a great time playing different churches and anyone could play on the team—if you went to Sunday school and church!Our coach, Eddie Gilmore, was a caring man who enjoyed sports and encouraged us in our Christian faith. This meant that all my basketball buddies and I made church a priority. As I did, I found that I actually liked studying the Bible and learning the stories of Jesus.What a joy.
Rob Morrison(Th.M., 1969)
Jackson, New Jersey
Gordon died recently. I met his parents when a guest at a meal for newly registered students at Princeton Theological Seminary. I decided to enter the ministry when I was a senior in high school at Camp Michaux, and then slowly came to believe I was unworthy. It was at a seminar at PTS, taking a break from my studies at Drexel Institute of Technology where I was headed to be a dull and detail-oriented accountant, that I learned that truly no one is worthy. That’s the point. So how did God put this all together? He brought me to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, where I first joined the senior choir, and then in time became a parish associate minister. My choirmate was Gordon Loos in the baritone section. He had a quick wit, a love of writing poetry, like me, and a truly deep and abiding faith, which he learned at the feet of his missionary parents, whom I had met years earlier as a guest of their humble, yet warm, inviting, abundant home. Connections! That's what it's all about. Praise God, who brings us together, sometimes when we don’t know it at first. God has been so good to me.
Bob Murphy (M.Div., 1967)