When I was 42? (1991 – 1992)

A question for my millennial friends: What were you doing when you were 42? What was going on in your life? Many of us who are retired or approaching retirement have children approaching the age of 42. This in mind, I have been reflecting on what I was doing both personally and professionally.

I find myself braking into song:

“When I was 42 – it was a very good year!
Very good year – for family, church and friends”

Now, I have some free time, in retirement, to write about such things. The years around the time I was turning 42 – 1991 and 1992.

What was painfully obvious in my reflecting on this slice of time was my addiction to my work as a Presbyterian Pastor.

Perhaps, someone who runs across this journal entry will benefit from my personal/professional reflections in asking yourself: What was I doing when I was 42!

Now, a quarter century beyond the age of 42, I can see clearly how I could/should have done some things differently. For the most part, I wouldn’t change a thing!

Personal Highlights

It’s hard writing these “personal highlights” because I don’t have notes or a journal to draw upon in building a chronology of evens.

Generally, Nancy and Emily and I, along with two cats, lived in Saginaw, Michigan. We lived in a beautiful home on Court Street.  We loved hat house we occupied for over 25 years.  We had great neighbors – especially Jim and Loraine and Sandra.

Emily was 12 years old attending South Middle School. An active young girl, she was involved in cheerleading and chasing boys. As with all dads, I was always worried about the “boy thing!” 🙂

Emily loved living on Court Street and inviting friends over to play. Two of these girls are friends to this day – Carrie who now lives in Seattle and Darcy who now lives in San Diego.

Nancy was always active as a mother, wife and leader in the church where I was pastor. She was blessed with an opportunity to get her Maser’s Degree in Library Science at the University of Michigan. Having worked for the Saginaw Public Libraries, she got a wonderful position at the Dow Chemical Company. As an ‘Informational Specialist’ Nancy had opportunities to travel the world. At the same time, she always found time to give 100% attention in supporting Emily and me and the church we both loved.

My biggest regret is in not spending more time at home. How many men say this? I can only hope, now and as a grandparent, that I can make up some of what I didn’t give Emily in now spending quality time with our grandson Tommy. Back in 1992 I could only dream of my little girl growing into the lovely parent and wife and daughter she has become today.

I also had ongoing issues with my health—heart issues and chronic arthritis. I will save discussing these important issues for another time. Needless to say, 1992 was a pretty good year for me health-wise.

One experience I recall and now laugh about: Following my doing a funeral with a good friend and mentor, Ron Watson, I went to my second floor study in the house to do some chores. I gathered some trash and decided to save some time by throwing it over the second floor deck fence. The fence wasn’t that strong. When I leaned against it, this fence gave way and I fell 18 feet to the ground landing on my right hip. How would this be funny? My adrenaline kicked in and I got up and ran up the stairs to my study – and called my wife. She came home and took me to he emergency room. Nothing broken but boy was I sore. I also recall attending a meeting of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly Council within a few days – boy was I stiff and sore! Muscle relaxants did a pretty job of helping me through this tough experience. Who do I laugh? The neighbor who said they thought we had an earthquake when my body hit he ground. I hit so hard my glasses were found twenty-feet away!

Lots of personal things that could be said, I want to move to my passion for doing ministry.

Professional Highlights

A capsule in time between 1991 and 1992 – when I was 42

Ordained in 1977 at the age of 26, I was in my 15th year of ministry in the year of our Lord 1992. This was my 7th year as pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw. Having previously lived in Davenport, Iowa and Evanston, Illinois, the Cundiff family, as I mentioned before, was living on Court Street in Saginaw.

Church membership in 1992 was roughly 350 members. We celebrated 11 baptisms the previous year, a statistical reminder that things were going well in the church. We received 9 new members in 1992. Unfortunately, we also had 7 funerals that year. As years went by, we would see the losses surpass gains. The church, 26 years later, would need to make the heart-breaking decision to close.

Back to 1992. One thing I loved about this church was the fact the active membership never let the statistics drive their mission. Of course we wanted to see more members—in bringing more people to Christ. In reality, we were more focused on bringing Christ to people in the community. There was a large number of churches in our community. This being a predominantly African American neighborhood, most of the potential for church growth was with neighboring black congregations. Main-line denominations weren’t doing well when it came to receiving large numbers of new members.

As church leaders, again in 1992, we struggled with budget issues. With a demanding program schedule and full staff we were dependent on an endowment fund –a million dollar bequest that was given to the church roughly 20 years earlier. We had a huge campus, nearly 40,000 square feet. There was always a long list of expensive maintenance projects. The endowment fund was often used for emergency repairs that cost a lot of money to maintain. From the 1992 Annual Report:

“As surely as churches have roofs, those roofs will have leaks. We had to deal with three areas of water damage this year, including the renovation of the organ pipe chamber and repairs to an area in the sanctuary. …. We also did a major re-roofing over he Narthex…..” Ruth Gardstrom.

I also liked to joke with the fact the church, with such a large campus, had 11 toilets…..one for every 30 members.

As a congregation, the intentional decision was made to remain in the downtown Saginaw location in order to use our resources in serving the community—especially the children. We made the decision to maintain a full staff including an Associate Pastor, the Rev. Tony Patrick. The Associate Pastor, in addition to doing general work as a pastor, was called to manage our Summer Magic program.

For years, women and men would return to visit the church talking of he wonderful expediencies they had participating in community youth programming.

The congregation loved Tony Patrick. He was a good friend. One of the best things we did as a church during my pastorate was calling him to serve with me as a pastor. We truly grieved when he made the decision to move to Detroit to become pastor of hi s own church—the end of 1992.

1992 was the year the work of a long-range planning committee came to an end with proposals forwarded to the Session in redefining how we would manage bequest, memorial and endowment funds. The church still had an endowment valued at roughly 1 million dollars. This number, however, was misleading given the amount we chose to use to support our annual budget. In 1992 12% of the Market Value of he Endowment was used to support the church operating budget.

1991 Endowment Fund $ 965,175
Amount taken for operating budget $ 115,820
Payback of Renovation Loan $ 40,000

1992 Endowment Fund $1,052,913
Amount used for operating budget $ 126,349
(Numbers from Annual Reports)

In 1992 we adopted a new Mission Statement:

Mission Statement

“We are a people of God rooted in a commitment to use our human, physical and spiritual resources to enrich the lives of our members and our neighbors, near and far, in creating a sense of community. We shall invite and welcome all who profess Christ to join us, to be a witness for Almighty God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, that we might serve the poor, heal he broken and create a community and world filled with God’s justice and peace.”

I must not forget this important fact: I begin service as a member of the General Assembly Council and Committee on the office of General Assembly in the year 1992. Serving the church at the national level was an honor of a life-time!

In 1992 we celebrated our 125th Anniversary. Some of the guests we invited to be with us in celebrating this anniversary:

September 13, 1992 Dr. Clinton Marsh, former PCUSA Moderator and brother of former city mayor and church member was invited to preach.

September 15, 1992 We were host to the meeting of he Presbytery of Lake Huron with Dr. Clinton Marsh preaching.

October 11, 1992 Rev. Timm High from the Community Presbyterian in Flint was invited to preach on HOMECOMING SUNDAY.

November 15, 1992 Dr. James Andrews, Stated Clerk of he PCUSA was our guest preacher. (Note: A perk in serving on the General Assembly Council was in gaining access to national church leaders. Rev. Dr. Ken Hall, another former Moderator, was also scheduled to speak.)

All of these reflections, from my perspective, paint a positive picture. We had (and would always have) an enthusiastic core of church members excited about all the things we were doing in and beyond the community. With a lot of factors working against us, we never lost HOPE in the work that would be accomplished in coming years because of the endowment funds and because a core group of members would never – ever waver in their commitment to be Christ’s Church in the neighborhood.

While I am no longer pastor of the church, I know this church will be closing the end of this year (2018). Yet I have to CELEBRATE all the years we were able, with God’s sustaining help, to move for another 25 years beyond where we were in 1992! Many thought back in the early 90’s that the church was dying and that there was little hope. I now thank God for all the decisions that allowed this wonderful church to serve Christ for many years to come. Everyone who reads this should be proud of all that the church was able to accomplish in its first 125 years in serving Christ. Another 25 years would follow.

As a pastor I loved everything I was called to do. We had, in the church, way too many funerals. I would delight in monthly meetings with the “Lunch Bunch” – seniors who gathered regularly for lunch. I loved leading worship and preaching.

The weekly gathering of members for worship was the highlight of every week in my ministry. I enjoyed greeting members before and after worship.

I enjoyed all the meetings – not because of the work but because we shared in fellowship every time we gathered to meet. I found a great deal of satisfaction in seeing church members gather to do Christ’s work.

One guiding principle in the work we were doing as a congregation and disciples of Jesus Christ was in having fun! In my mind none of the hard work we were doing was worth anything unless we had a sense of satisfaction – and having some is and having some fun in the process. For me Worship was in giving glory to God.

I end this journal entry with this – from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What is the chief end of man (humankind)?
To glorify God and Enjoy God forever!

 

Remember Your Baptism

Now retired, I am going through some new experiences as a pastor who served congregations dating back to the 70’s.    That’s a long time ago!   In particular, I remember and continue to miss the congregation I served the beginning of my ministry, the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa.  This is the church where our daughter Emily was baptized (April 12, 1981).   I will always remember this day.  Standing as a parent I was asked by the pastor the name of my child.  I answered with confidence – “Susan”!  Everyone started laughing.  I couldn’t understand why everyone would laugh at such a sacred time.  The pastor leaned in and asked: “Isn’t your daughter’s name Emily?”  An Associate Pastor in that church, I’m glad I was standing with my daughter as a dad instead of pastor performing the baptism.  “Susan” is our daughter’s middle name.   I have no idea why my brain told me give the wrong name.  I now wonder what kind of holy-mistakes my nerves would have caused me to make if I was actually doing the baptism of my own daughter?  I will always remember this baptism!

Another church I that will always be close to my heart – the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI.   I served this church as pastor from 1985 until my retirement in 2013.  Through Facebook, I recently experienced the birthday of a member of this congregation who just turned 30.  I will call him BJ.  In looking at all the people wishing him a “Happy Birthday”, I realized with a smile on my face that this church continues to be BJ’s “family’.  All the congregations I have been blessed to serve through the years of ministry are members of this family.  And this is the truth:  I remember your baptism!

Honestly?  I remember BJ’s baptism because one of the cherished files I keep is a written log of all the baptisms I have performed throughout my ministry.  I often find myself looking at this log of baptisms.  I don’t remember the actual day this young man, as an infant, was sprinkled with sacred water with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit”.   I don’t remember what he was wearing or what I was preaching.   I do, however, know he was baptized the same day another baby was baptized.  I remember the parents of these children who continue to be active members of Christ’s family.  By the way, BJ was baptized on September 20, 1987.  He is still an active member of he Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.

BJ and all those baptized on the chancel steps of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church and churches around the globe are members of the huge family named “Christian”.  This 30 year old man, BJ,  is now a police officer.  I am sure proud of him and all of his accomplishments!  I thank God for the opportunity to watch him grow as an active member and officer in the church I once served.

And my point?  REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM!   Remember who it is who pronounced faith in Jesus Christ prior to your being sprinkled with sacred water–your parents.  Remember who continues to hold you and protect you–God.

This Holy Week, remember who lived and died and rose from death to be our Lord and our Savior.

 

I’m glad I’ve gotten back to writing in this blog.

I. Church and Family-“I Belong to God”

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I’ve given my life to the church.   I also know that this wouldn’t be possible without the support and encouragement of family!  This is a first of many entries under the theme:  Family and Church!   

I thank myimg_2854 parents, Sanford and Helen Cundiff, for being parents who made sure church was part of my life.  Born in 1951, my parents introduced me to the church through baptism on April 15, 1953.  I was baptized in a small chapel by Dr. John M. Pattison at the First Presbyterian Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  While born in Cheyenne, our family soon moved to Denver.  I was only three or four years old.   I had an older brother, David, and a younger sister, Susan.

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It was in Aurora, Colorado where my parents introduced me to another Presbyterian Church—the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.   I belonged to this church until I was ordained.

 

 

When we moved to Colorado we initially lived as a family of five at the Ranger Motel on Colfax in Aurora.   My dad was busy helping to build our first Colorado home.  That motel is still located on Colfax.   I remember, in our downstairs room, the pay-television.  If I recall, we had to put a dime or quarter in a small machine on top of this television order to get thirty minutes of programming.  This was much like the machine that controlled a vibrator on the bed. 🙂

This motel was across the street and of block away from the First Presbyterian Church on Kingston Street..  As a family, we were active in this church.   I have always been a Presbyterian!   While we never really talked about it, this Presbyterian church was an anchor for our family.  With my family and this church I discovered early in my life, to borrow from some creeds, “that I belong to God”.  Church became for me, through this First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, a second home.

I attended Sunday School classes and youth fellowship.  I sang in the youth choir.  I remember, as a fifth grader, shooting a rubber band at my dad who was a Sunday school teacher.   Everybody learned that he had quite the voice when it came to showing his temper.  I may not remember the lessons taught in those Sunday school classes, but engrained in my heart was this sense that I belonged – and family church were the core of this belief.

While we moved into different houses that my dad helped to build, this First Presbyterian Church remained my church home until I was ordained in 1977.  I remember the long Saturday morning sessions in confirmation class – and learning and memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism—confirmed in the mid-60’s.

I was introduced to worship leadership with the Rev. CVR DeYoung.   I would read scripture and sing an occasional solo with the choir.  Oh yes, private music lessons and choir under the direction of Ken Graham were an important part of my life in belonging to the church.

Rev. DeYoung and Rev. Meanor, the Assistant pastor, were always giving me opportunities to help lead worship.  This was unusual in the 60’s in Presbyterian Churches!  Rev. DeYoung once took me to his office on a Sunday morning.  Opening the closet door he pulled out a black and blue tie.  He had me pick one.  The paisley one I was wearing wasn’t appropriate for a worship leader.    I learned many things in leading worship.  For example, I must always sit with both feet flat on the floor in front of me.  These pastoral mentors saw what my parents always knew – I was a wiggly, squirmy kid always on-the move.   They also saw some potential in my becoming a leader in the church.  They may have been wondering:  “Would I become a pastor?”

From early in life, I learned that I belonged to God.  I was greatly influenced to be open minded, if you will, a progressive thinker.  I also learned to accept others from where they were in their faith journeys.  These teachings came from both church and family.  I had people around me, family and friends and mentors, who helped me recognize a “calling” to be an ordained pastor.

Now forty years after ordination I am turning 65.  Thanks to my mom and dad for introducing me to the church through baptism.  Thanks to the church for giving me a life-long sense that I belonged to God.  In retirement, I now have time to write about this journey – and what better place to write than in this blog.  There will be more to come!

The Emotions of Letting Go…..

Our 35 year old daughter, wife and mother writes a monthly article for the Mount Diablo Mother’s Club blog (www.mdmcmom.org).  She brought tears to the eyes of her mother and me in writing about her son, our grandson Thomas.        

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The emotions of letting go

Thomas has been in daycare and pre-school since he was one and a half. While it has gotten easier there are still days that it tears my heart out to walk away and leave him for a few hours at a time. I know the separation is good for him – and for me – but what is he doing while I am not there? Is he eating what he is supposed to? Is he making friends? Is anyone picking on him? Is he learning enough? Does he miss me? The questions are endless. Some days there are tears, but most days there are not. It is the days where he cries and says, “Mommy don’t go” that are the hardest. However the grief for him lasts maybe five minutes, for me it lasts a bit longer. On the hard days, I usually text his daycare provider a few minutes after I leave and ask if he has calmed down. He always does. She says the tears usually stop within minutes of me leaving. On these days that drop-off was so hard it is always exactly the opposite when I go to pick him up “no mommy I want to stay, I am having fun!”

I know this will never end. He will start elementary school and I will worry about him adjusting to the academic world and making friends. Middle school where I will worry about bullying and if he is listening to his teachers or just talking with his friends instead. High School where I will worry about his preparation for college or whatever life after high school will bring. College where I will have empty-nest sorrows and miss him terribly. When he gets his first job, I will worry if he is paying his bills on time? Is he impressing his boss?  Is he happy? I think it is in our nature as parents to worry and to have trouble letting our babies move on to each stage of their life with the fear that we might be left behind.

When the emotions start to get the best of me I just try and remind myself that I am raising a caring, independent and smart boy. He will always be my baby – through every up and down, even after he is long over the phase of telling me how much he loves me and hugging and kissing me with wild abandon. Part of being a parent is learning the balance between letting go and ensuring that our children know that we will love and support them no matter what.

So if you are facing the first days of daycare or school just know that it is normal to feel emotional. It is normal to go and sit in your car in cry. Heck, it is even okay to cry as you turn to walk away. They will be fine. They will still love us. They will thrive.