Thursday, 17 July 2008

How I came to be in the USA (part one)

In late September 1974 two young Americans arrived at my Theological College, St. John’s College, Nottingham, U.K.

They were freshly minted from Williams College in Western Massachusetts, where they had been strongly influenced by a very evangelical Episcopal Chaplain. These two young Americans had been accepted for Ordination by the then (Episcopal) Bishop of Western Massachusetts, who had readily agreed to their requests to take some of their Seminary education in England.

They were Peter Pierson, and his wife Mary who are now semi-retired and live again in Western Massachusetts.

And Jay Haug (pronounced “Haig”) from Marblehead, MA. (These days he and his wife Claudia live in the Jacksonville, FL area, Jay has since left the Episcopal Church and is now a Baptist. He hosts a very right-wing radio “talk program”.

(Jay and I were, in some senses, “ships passing in the night”. Jay was coming from a Broad Episcopal Church tradition, and moving towards a much more conservative and evangelical stance. I was coming from Christian fundamentalism, and moving towards a very liberal place).

But “back then”, Jay and I became firm friends. Through his agency I was invited by that self-same Bishop of Western Massachusetts (Alexander D. Stewart, now deceased) to work the summer of 1975 in his Diocese.

I was a member of a team of four students who helped to organize Vacation Church Schools in Western Massachusetts parishes. After a week of training at the Diocesan Camp and Conference Centre, I worked in Greenfield, Worcester, Northborough and Oxford – each in Massachusetts.

It was a glorious summer. I loved the work, enjoyed my team members, and got to appreciate some of the finer aspects of the American way of life.

I grew a beard.

I drank root beer from an A and W road-side stand (remember them?)

I tried Tequila in an Irish pub in Worcester, MA

I went to my first drive-in movie. And ate my first MacDonalds "Quarter Pounder".

I met DeWolf and Kitty Perry, Noreen Suriner, Paul Goranson, Al & Doris Williams, and Gwen Sears – later to be important influences in my life.

I went to Tanglewood and there heard my very first “live” 9th Symphony by Beethoven – a magical evening under the stars.

I had dinner in a very snobby "Gentleman's club" in Hartford, CT, where the Maitre de provided me with the obligatory jacket, and I tried (and hated) clams on the half shell.

I recorded an audio tape for a Diocesan slide-show on “our Anglican heritage” at the home of Jim and Dorothy Sammons in Pittsfield, MA. (They were to become my parishioners many years later).

I smoked marijuana,

I “skinny-dipped” for the first and only time in my life!

At the end of the two months of Vacation Church School my then girl-friend, Anne Bonner flew in from England, and we traveled 9,500 miles around the United States and Canada by Greyhound ‘bus.

We visited Boston, New York City, Washington D.C, New Orleans, Tulsa (of all places – Anne had a pen friend who lived there), the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Bellingham in Washington State, Seattle (where we met a young man who showed us his home City, and later was convicted of murder), Calgary (where my old friend Marilyn Draper lived with her husband), Toronto, and Niagara Falls.

I’ll never forget the overnight moonlit journey from Vancouver to Calgary, when I stayed awake in the ‘bus all night to wonder at the Rockies.

Our longest stretch was from Calgary to Toronto, 56 hours on the same ‘bus. We had to decamp in Regina, Saskatchewan whilst the ‘bus was serviced. Boy it was cold! And for some reason I always remember a stopover in Thunder Bay (Ontario?), where Anne and listened to in-booth juke-box music in a Diner. In Toronto we stayed with friends of Anne and had a wonderful boozy evening, sans memories the next moring.

I loved America, but she hated it! It was a great trip, but Anne knew that America would never be for her.

In the meantime, Bishop Stewart asked me if I would be interested in having a post-Seminary lay internship in his Diocese - just for the heck of it.

With an eye to the main chance I thanked him, but said that first I would not wish to delay my ordination, and that second I did not think that a year was long enough to enjoy and understand the American Church.

Bishop Stewart promised to keep me in mind.
I returned to England and completed my Degree in Theology. I began to look at parishes in England where I might serve as a Curate.

But then came the ‘phone call which changed my life.

More about that tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Mike,

    I enjoyed your travelog which I faintly remember those many years ago. Your blog came up when I "googled" Williams College.

    Just a few corrections. It was the fall of 1973 that Peter and Mary Pierson and I arrived at Nottingham. Also, I am not now, nor have I ever been "a Baptist." Our family has attended a very loving and grace-filled independent church (the senior pastor was raised Episcopalian) for the past 15 years, though we may be returning to Anglicanism soon. Also, my early tradition was not "broad-church." My parents have been and are traditional Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians who attend St. Paul's Brunswick, Maine. They support Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and other causes that oppose revisionist Christianity.

    All the best,

    Jay Haug