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March 10, 2015

Faith Journey - Seminary Years #5

My agnostic husband chose to go to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley instead of the Unitarian seminary, Starr King, because he believed that he would have more interesting dialogues in a school where students represented a wide diversity of denominations and beliefs. His fellow students ranged from Episcopalians to Methodists, Congregationalists to Presbyterians, with a few others thrown in for good measure. Three different experiences had a huge impact on us as a couple during seminary.

The first arose out of our living situation - a triplex at 1717 Arch Street. Bob and Carol Olmstead came from the East Coast and moved across the hall from us in the other first floor studio apartment. Upstairs, Doug and Pat White, and their two preschool children, were in the two-bedroom flat. We quickly became very close friends. During the day, while the guys were in classes, Carol and I worked, and Pat was busy being a mom.

I didn't have to go to seminary for a taste of the theological education that came from the hours we three couples spent either sharing meals or hanging out on the stairwell between our apartments. All of us joined freely in the discussion of ideas that our husbands brought back from their classes. After that first precious year together, the guys were hired at local churches and we moved into different living situations. We continued to see each other socially, and we dined together every Sunday afternoon for the next three years. The first year of seminary, there were eight McWhitesteads, a name we coined from McClellan, White, and Olmstead. By graduation, we were twelve since Carol and I had each given birth to two daughters. The friendship and support from these two families greatly enhanced our seminary years giving us an instant forum for ideas ranging from theology to childbirth.

For us, the most significant events during those seminary years were the births of Danielle Christine and Jennifer Anne at Herrick Hospital in Oakland. Birth was a common occurrence during those Berkeley years since most couples were in the early years of marriage. My labor with Dani was very long, causing several friends to call the hospital to check on my progress. My doctors kept coming in to laughingly say, "Another one of your pastors has called." Don was allowed in the delivery room. I'm sure that we would both say that all three of our children's births were a marvelous experience for us. Giving birth was truly a miracle that was deeply spiritual.

The third important occurrence was especially life changing for Don. As an agnostic, his intention was to become a minister to higher education and work in college ministry after graduation. That was before he became the Minister to Youth at Plymouth Church in Oakland where I conducted a children's choir, and we both began a young couples' group. Don's job was to work with Walter Mueller, the pastor, and preach from time to time. We became a solid part of the church community, and it was that community that changed his life's direction.

You might say that it was the act of putting old wine into new wineskins. Suddenly the kinds of Christian activities that he had rejected from his conservative childhood (words such as evangelism, discipleship, and mission) took on a new and fresh meaning in this more liberal congregation. Don saw how these things were truly lived out in a loving church community whose mission was not to look inward with an exclusive faith, but to build a community that would reach beyond the church walls to serve the world. My previously agnostic husband began to put together a new belief system based upon God's Word becoming embodied in a company of believers. From that time on, he wanted to serve a congregation because that is where he saw that Word acted out in the world.

Theologicallyl, in those days it always seemed that I just toddled along after him, enjoying the ride and taking it all in. I had not been brought up in a congregation that thought their ideas were sacrosanct and that you were either out or in depending upon what you believed. That was one of my beefs with the Mormon Church. And, I truly believed that education, as opposed to indoctrination, would enhance my belief system and help me grow. But, most important during this time, I could agree with Don that it was amazing to be a part of a loving congregation who accepted all people who wished to journey together and who lived their beliefs to the best of their ability. That community had a huge impact on both our lives.

Posted by Marilyn at March 10, 2015 1:57 PM


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