I asked our granddaughter what would be her study during the Winter Study program at college. "1968," she replied.
A momentous year: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy rush immediately to mind. I seem to remember that in December of 1968 Hubert Humphrey was reported to have gone to the lavatory on the 31st and symbolically flushed the toilet, to say good riddance to a bad year, the one in which, among several disappointments, HHH lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon.
Said granddaughter Jessica Mahoney humored me with an agreeable reaction when I suggested she might take as the format for her study of 1968 a comparison between headline events and the mundane schedule of a poor parish priest (me). I have saved almost all of my Daily Suggesters since my first full-time appointment as a Methodist minister in February 1956. With a schedule book open in hand and with a moment's reflection I can tell you where I was, what I did, and whom I saw on most of the days of the past fifty years.
I thought that might be a cavalier boast... until I opened the Daily Suggester, the one I sent along to Jessica up in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts. I opened 1968 to a couple of weeks in June. Here's what I found:
Sun. 2 Spring Concert, at which, I think, I sang a brief solo as the Rebbe in "If I Were a Rich Man." Mon. 3 Monthly Official Board meeting, preceded by a meeting of the Brooklyn Deaconess Fund at 475 Riverside Drive NYC, before which and after which I took home communion to Constance Boe and Nellie Pike. Tues. 4th at 12 N I went to downtown Brooklyn for a meeting of the Brooklyn Division of the Protestant Council of Churches (for which I served as president), the Christian Education Committee and stayed there for a 3PM meeting of the Personnel Committee, to select a new Executive Director; while at 8:30 PM in that same capacity I went to the Catholic Seminary in Douglaston for a Christian Unity presentation. Wed. 5th, at 12 Noon I was supposed to be in two places at the same time, having lunch at John Street UMC in Manhattan's financial district and enjoying Norwegian boiled coffee and krummkake in Wesley Hall of the church next door to the parsonage (I think I opted for krummkake); while at 6 PM I certainly played left field for the church softball team vs. St. Jacobi Lutheran at Field 4 Dyker Beach Park, all of which was preceded by a closing party (with Karl Droge ice cream cups) for the church's Released Time School. Thurs. 6th at 12 Noon sharp I took John Harrison (an Englishman in a Norwegian church!) to a meeting of the Brooklyn Sunday School Union where he was honored for a lifetime of service; I also looked in on Borghild Hansen at her home in Bay Ridge at 5 PM. Fri. 7th, I served home communion to Albert Andersen, Anna Andersen, and two others whose names, Rane and Bosse, escape me; and at 6 PM it was back to Dyker Beach for another softball game, this one versus 66th Street Norwegian Free Church. Sat. 8th at 4 PM I participated in the wedding of Roy Edgar Jacobsen and Mary Ellen Chase in UCC Center Church-on-the-Green in New Haven CT. Roy, now 61 years young, is a Methodist pastor, in Windsor CT, where he and Mary Ellen will be celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary this coming June.
Well, you get the hang of it: that the checked names mean parishioners visited, while times listed are command appearances. Apparently I rarely scheduled a day off... couldn't miss a softball game, now, could I? In another essay, maybe, I can report to you the title and theme of the sermon on June 2nd and 9th, and list the hymns sung. I have a sermon barrel, a very large one, complete with the manuscript of every sermon I've preached and the order of service cover for the day. Of course, we have no room in our house for any other storage.
Jessica primed the memory pump and it overflowed. I just had to look through the Daily Suggester for 1956 and the week we began our sojourn in Brooklyn. Here's what I found:
We arrived in Brooklyn on Saturday. I preached on Sunday, February 5th, on, of all things, the slaughter of the four hundred priests of Baal by Elijah, and, somehow, God only knows how, I managed to twist that grisly act into evidence of the love of God. Barbara and I resided in Hastings Hall of Union Theological Seminary during the week and spent the weekends in Brooklyn. Wed. 8th indicates I had to submit a paper to New Testament professor, Frederick Grant, a laborious chore, rewarded with supper at the Spiveys down the corridor from our room. Martha Spivey still cooks better than Julia Childs. We shall be flying down to Florida this April for a visit with her and husband Bob, a retired college president, in Tallahassee. Thurs. 9th, the Union basketball team (an unofficial athletic program) traveled to Princeton to play the Presbyterians who easily demolished us with a couple of Little All-Americans, one in basketball and one in football, Donn Moomaw, President Reagan's favorite minister. On Wed. 15th we had dinner with Mel Schoonover, our next door neighbor at Union. He may have cooked for us the dish which to this day Barbara credits him with having taught her, pork chops baked with a mushroom soup garnish. In June it was graduation time for the two of us, she from Barnard and I from Union. We went to Brooklyn and stayed for another seventeen years.
But one does not and should not live in the past, no matter how busy and enjoyable that past might have been, especially as revisited with the natural tendency to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Here I am now in 2007 with a page even less annotated than 1956:
Sun. 31st, a reminder to send our granddaughter the 1968 Daily Suggester... although not noted, we did go to church! Tues. 2nd, I am the appointed chauffeur for grandsons' orthodontics. Wed. 3rd, the cross out means that bichon Tappy is spared another week before being groomed into a frou-frou. Thurs. 4th, I am the appointed chauffeur for helpmate's medical sessions. Sat. 6th, we host college roommate and his wife for lunch before attending a festival pageant for Epiphany in which our daughter will be carrying doves. You may fill in the many blank spaces with images of me sitting at this computer composing Essays and other disposable writings.
I laid out on the study floor the accumulation of appointment books and photographed them, just in case a naysayer doubted my claim to have retained them through the past fifty years. Here they are:
The seal on the cover, an icon for what the Methodist book of polity, The Discipline, names "Itinerancy," is a preacher on horseback. In 1956 the horse is apparent; in 2007, it is discernible only if you are acquainted with its previous incarnations, a recognition perhaps that Methodist clergy no longer travel from pulpit to pulpit with any frequency. But, honoring itinerancy, I daresay I have traveled in my trusty station wagons, averaging at least 12,000 miles a year in pursuit of my pastoral duties, more than John Wesley astride his horse over the byways of not so Merrie Olde England.
A concluding thought about 1968: Hubert H. Humphrey may have reviled that year; but, in my recollection and despite the violence and political tumult, that year may just turn out to be, in eternity's view, the hinge on which turned the future of a stronger and humbler Christian witness.