We are pleased that more than 50 alums responded to the inSpire Interactive question about how they experienced ministry to them when they were young people. As many responses as possible were printed in inSpire, and more are here online. We hope you will be inspired by the many ways young people can be drawn closer to God through the words and deeds of a caring adult or congregation. If you are a PTS alum and want to contact these writers for further conversation and exchange, you can find their email addresses on the protected alumni/ae web pages at www.ptsem.edu. We look forward to nurturing online alumni/ae conversation and community through this online inSpire forum.
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June Feller, my Sunday school teacher, invited the entire class of junior-high boys to her farm every single Sunday afternoon.We ate a huge Sunday dinner at her round oak table, and then we ran loose all over the Pennsylvania hills and along her creek until supper, when she had a mound of sandwiches for the class.But before we could eat at either meal, she prayed around that table one by one for each teen in a way that made us think she knew all kinds of secret needs we’d never told her.When she said “Amen,” we gobbled down her sandwiches, and then she took us home. Her prayers around that table still come back to me 40 years later.She cared enough to perceive my needs, and then took them to God in front of me.
Keith Drury (M.R.E., 1971)
Pillar-of-the-church, old man Ed Rapp (older than my parents!) caught me after worship one Sunday and said to me, “You know, you ought to think about the ministry.” Pleasantly surprised but certainly not interested, I mumbled, “Uh, yeah—sure.”I was a junior in high school.Four years later, I began applying to seminaries.Twenty-six years of ministry later, I still love being a pastor. Ed Rapp planted the seed.Countless people watered it.But one brief ten-second exchange redirected my life. Thanks be to God and Ed Rapp.
Don Lincoln (M.Div., 1980)
West Chester, Pennsylvania
In high school I was a “shop boy” studying to be an automobile mechanic. Late in my senior year, I felt called by God to be a minister of the gospel. I told my youth minister about my deep desire. Because I had taken vocational courses in the last two years of high school, this presented some real academic deficiency difficulties for college entrance.But the Rev. James Cole was undaunted. He drove me fifty miles to Waynesburg College and did some very fervent pleading with the admissions people on my behalf. He was successful.I was placed as a “provisional” student. The arrangement was that if I carried a normal freshman course load with acceptable grades, while also making up my high school course deficiencies, I could remain.I went on to graduate cum laude and served the Presbyterian Church for almost 40 years.Without the Rev. Cole, none of it would have happened.
Robert H. Crilley (M.Div., 1959)
I was not even 23 years old when I finished university and, upon the request of my church-owned theological school, I returned to teach English there. I was introduced as a young teacher by the rector of the school in Monday morning worship. Most students and teachers were there. The rector mentioned my name and before I was asked to say something, he said something like, “May Mr. Likumahuwa be a blessing to this school.” To be a blessing is what I was expected to be. I worked there for almost 20 years before I took an early retirement. Though sometimes I wondered whether I had become “a blessing” for the school, those words have been really inspiring ever since…God had put those wonderful words into the mouth of the rector. Now, I am working for another school and I am working really hard to be “a blessing” there as well.
Nico A. Likumahuwa (M.A., 1983)
Central Java, Indonesia
By day, Mr. Wingfield was a music teacher extraordinaire.When the school day was over, he left his class door open for any student to drop in.I was a regular after school.One day, Mr. Wingfield said that I didn't seem myself and asked what was up.All that was aching in me found voice as tears fell.Mr. Wingfield asked me if I knew that Jesus loved me. I said, uncomprehending, that I was a Christian, that my whole family was for three generations, beginning with my grandfather, who had died in a North Korean prison for being a minister.He asked, gently, if I had ever asked Jesus into my heart, to be my friend and savior.He gave me a Bible and asked me to read out loud Proverbs 3:5-6: “She is more precious than jewels, nothing you own can compare with her.” Mr. Wingfield repeated those words, personalizing them with my name. He said this was the love of God for me, and if I simply prayed, Jesus promised God would come and make a home in my heart.Though it was the same faith that my family practiced and raised me to know, that afternoon, in that classroom, it was Mr. Wingfield's faith—that God saw me as precious beyond compare—that inspired my desire to know the love of God in my heart.One teacher, one afternoon, with the eyes to see a student's pain, and the faith that knew I was loved, made all the difference to me.I teach now, hoping I will be Mr. Wingfield one day to a student aching to know that they are precious to God.
Mari Kim (M.Div., 1995)
Imagine flying in a four-seater plane, landing on a bumpy, grass airstrip cut out of the jungle, to represent your church at a conference of indigenous Choco Christians in the Darien region of Panama. My pastor asked me, a sixteen-year old, to accompany missionary Glen Prunty, a gentle retired man with a good heart who loved these people. Formerly a mean-spirited alcoholic, he incarnated the transforming love of Christ. I participated in worship, testimony, singing, and prayers, bathing in the river, sleeping in a hammock. Glen first gave me a heart for mission. He died two years later when the plane carrying him there crashed.
Robert Foltz-Morrison (M.Div., 1982)
Westfield, New Jersey
When I was a 20-year-old college chaperone at a church conference in Lakeside, Ohio, a minister who had befriended me cornered me for a conversation. Talking to Roger Skelley-Watts (M.Div., 1974) was 100% entertaining—but that week I wanted to flee anyone who might “out” my inner chaos. I was too embarrassed to describe how, just days before, God had casually but dramatically dropped a nerve-wracking thought into my brain: I should go to seminary.
Convinced I was losing my grip, I swore myself to silence. Roger suggested a walk, (did he suspect something?) and, pacing the streets of Lakeside, he listened as I groped for God-words, helping me sift and sort. Finally, Roger said, "Kenda, I think God is calling you to ministry."
Despite the fact that I grew up in a Methodist town with a Methodist theological school, a Methodist university, and half a dozen Methodist churches, and had attended a Methodist youth group, a Methodist camp, and served on a Methodist youth council advised by countless Methodist pastors, no one had ever suggested that I consider ministry.
He changed my life—thanks to the simple fact that he was paying attention. At a crucial moment, when he saw a kid whose life was on the spin cycle, he named it as something holy, and claimed it (and me) for Christ. It's a job description I hope to live up to.
Kenda Creasy Dean (Ph.D., 1997)
Associate Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at PTS
The first time I was home from college, Albert Fuller (a deacon in our Baptist church who had been one of my Sunday school teachers) remembered each course I had told him I would take. For each, he asked what I had learned and what grade I had earned. While my initial reaction was resentment at the intrusion, I quickly recognized that he actually cared and I cheerfully held myself accountable to him. I worked so as to give an acceptable accounting and actually looked forward to his inquiry at least once a semester.
Wallace Alcorn (Th.M., 1965)
The most significant act of ministry I received as a young girl of fourteen was in my secondary school in Victoria, Cameroon. It was during our Lenten retreat at school, and the theme of the retreat was “Clay in the Potter's Hand.” One speaker expounded that theme, and the seed that now guides my life was sown. My school was owned and run by American Baptist missionaries. Everything I do in life, from that time, is guided by the fact that I am only clay in God's hands to mold and make me what God wants me to be.
Nene Amogu (Th.M., 2005)
During my sophomore year in high school, I had a passionate argument with my Sunday school teacher about the validity of the theory of evolution.Afterward, we agreed about only one thing: I didn't belong in his class anymore.I wondered to myself if I belonged in the church at all.
My congregation ministered to me in a profoundly wise and ennobling way: they asked me to teach a class of twelve eager fifth-graders. With trepidation and gratitude, I agreed to do so. For the next two and a half years, until I went to college, I received the many blessings of being a teenage Christian educator.
That was more than forty years ago.The love, trust, and care that my church gave me planted the seed of Christian ministry in my life.That ministry became a very rich and rewarding career.Even more importantly, at that critical time in my life, I was pulled forever toward the care and nurture of the body of Christ instead of being pushed away.
Gary Dallmann (Th.M., 1988)
When I couldn't pass my driver’s test my sophomore year of high school, the Rev. Gordy Hess (M.Div., 1967) spent time with me teaching me—not to drive, but to know that I was loved.He knew why I had a hard time believing this and found ways to make God's love real; teaching me to “pump iron” (literally) and get strong in ways that let me know I was OK.I got my license a few weeks later.Twenty years later I succeeded him in his position after I graduated from PTS.Some of the old-timers who saw me driving the youth group in the church van said, “Isn’t he the one who could never pass his driver’s test?”
Bruce Kochsmeier (M.Div., 1985)
Carson City, Nevada
When I was in junior high I was an altar boy (I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church).Carl Schultz, a young priest fresh out of seminary, was assigned to our parish, and my family befriended him.He was a Yankees fan, and he took my older brother and me to many games.He drove like a maniac and had a few beers at the games.He yelled with us at the umpires when they made a bad call, and shouted for joy with us at every Yankee run scored.Sometimes in the confessional booth, he would chime in with, “Did you see the score of the game before you came by?” or “The As are in town tomorrow, do you and your brother want to go?”.As I got older, I lost touch with him and later learned he passed away in his early thirties of Parkinson’s disease.
When I felt the call to youth ministry later in life, I recognized early on that my ministry style reflected that of Father Schultz.I valued honesty and always strove to be myself around those I served, and never put up a fake pious front that anyone could see right through.Father Schultz taught me that to be a follower of Christ was to lead an invigorating life of joy, to be always willing to walk in faith no matter how great the risk, to care for those who surround you, and to be honest in the way you live life.My only regret is that I never got to tell him in person; I look forward to the day when I will.
Mark A. DiGiacomo (M.Div., 2003)
Lawrenceville, New Jersey
When I was in high school, my senior pastor would take me out for lunch from time to time, always giving me the impression that he had nothing else pressing to do.(Now that I serve a church, I realize how hard he must have worked to carve out the time to do that.)He would engage me honestly about politics, how he saw the world, and how he wrestled with questions of faith.Most memorable, though, was the day he told me that my parents were proud of me—something they had never thought to mention to me themselves, assuming I knew it already.It was a moment of illumination that I've always treasured, as I have treasured his honesty about everything else, as well.
Mary Austin (M.Div., 1994)
What follows is my recollection of a powerful youth ministry that in a short five years produced two clergy and four elders out of a small struggling church. John D. Craig came out of western Canada via Gordon College. From 1945 to 1950, he was our pastor at Slackwood Church. He did youth ministry the old-fashioned way. He preached sermons filled with intellectual content and an ethical edge. On Sunday evenings, he led a youth Bible study. We memorized Scripture. We argued and prayed about everything. He made us think. John Craig was a pastor. He visited, knew our families, and always encouraged and elicited the best from us. He had integrity. We loved him. The best way to get across an idea is to wrap it up in a person.
Paul R. Miller (B.D., 1955)
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Toward the end of my ninth-grade year, I was to be confirmed. It was the custom of Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church in Hartsville, Pennsylvania, that each confirmand meet with the senior pastor. My meeting was set and I went to it with a heavy heart, because the truth was, I wasn't sure if I believed in God. I knew I was setting an example for my younger siblings, and that by not joining the church, my name would not appear under my mom’s name in the church directory. I had wasted a year and I would embarrass my mother, who was a teacher and active in the Women’s Association.
At the meeting, I looked the Rev. Ernie Moritz in the eye and confessed that I could not join the church because I was not sure I believed. Pastor Moritz, a kind and gentle soul, said, “You can join as a seeker. You may promise to seek God as you say your vows, and you and God and I will know this.” I went home so light and relieved, and the following Sunday, I joined the church.Pastor Moritz asked me to consider seminary when I was in college so many years later, and I was blessed to pursue my faith at Princeton Seminary. Today, almost 15 years after my ordination, I continue to seek God's call in my life from seminary, to the mission field, as wife, mother, chaplain, minister, and child of God.
Amy Louise Visco Na (M.Div., 1989)
New Castle, Pennsylvania
I was a troubled, lonely, dejected and rejected sixteen-year-old just kicked off the high school basketball team. It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon, the second Sunday of Lent, and the carol service was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. I decided to go, and with no transportation, I hitchhiked. I was picked up by the youth minister's wife who also happened to be going. She introduced me to her husband, Roger Uittenbogaard (M.Div., 1969), who drove me home after the service and invited me to come to their house the following evening. They became surrogate parents, their house, my place. Where I had been walking dead, I was now breathing in great gulps of new life.
Cheyenne Wilbur (M.Div., 1979)
My father died suddenly from a heart attack when I was four months old. My mother was left to raise four girls under the age of ten alone and she was a fabulous mom. However, there were many times that I missed having a father and none more than the night I graduated from high school.All the girls wore long white gowns and carried red roses. I was processing with my class, feeling a mixture of excitement and sadness, I heard a voice calling, “Cherie! Over here! You look beautiful.” The voice was coming from someone snapping pictures of me. When he let the camera down from his face, I saw that it was my pastor. I felt so loved and affirmed in a way only a caring adult male could have communicated to me at that time in my life.
Cherie Dunn Riggs (M.A., 1969)
When I was a teenager from New York City, my church sent me to a one-week youth program held at Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey.Among the faculty was a professor from Yale Divinity School, John Oliver Nelson.He was, as I remember, the devotional leader that week.One afternoon we met on a walk down a path.After a bit of conversation he quietly said to me, “Conrad, you should seriously consider studying for the ministry.”I gave several reasons why I would not consider it, and he gave me several why I should.He was a quiet man and not argumentative.Most of all, he obviously cared about me and what he was suggesting.He ended the subject with a simple, “Well, think about it.” Although I was determined to study engineering, I never forgot the man or his gentle challenge.About five years later, and after a period of military service, I decided to study for the ministry.
Conrad Massa (M.Div., 1954; Ph.D., 1960)
The most shaping Christian influence that drew me near to God was the requirement in my home congregation that I memorize the Heidleberg Catechism to qualify for membership in the church, by “profession of faith” before the elders.I do not remember much of that catechism, but the first two sections are inerasable: “My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior….” “To live and die happily I must know how great my sins and miseries are, how I am delivered from all my sins and miseries, and how I may live a grateful life for such deliverance.” This experience was an extension of meaningful conversations with my superb father about the Reformed faith, from my youth on. For a neurotic kid, deeply traumatized by a painful early childhood, this saved my life.
J. Harold Ellens(Th.M., 1965)
Farmington Hills, Michigan