His ministry was a brief one and we joined a Baptist Church in a nearby town in 1956. Two more church moves led me to another baptist church where I spent my formative teenage years. While there I became a leader of the youth program and on several occasions was asked to develop and lead youth events.
I remember attending a Billy Graham Crusade meeting in, I believe, 1958 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I also remember attending monthly Word of Life rallies led by Jack Wyrtzen on a regular basis in the early 1960’s.
Our church did not have infant baptism and, without prompting from anyone, I requested to be baptized at around age 14. It was an important decision for me as I took my commitment to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and other Biblical writers seriously.
My walk with Christ had some roadblocks. One of the key ones was a youth meeting when I asked a question, close to my heart. I do not recall the exact question, but I recall the reply. It was, “See the pastor”. I went to our pastor, who advised me that Satan put the question into my head. No one even attempted to answer it.
I went away to a Lutheran College, Muhlenberg College, in the Fall of 1965. I joined the Cross Country team and found myself more successful than I anticipated. I began as a Math major, hoping to become a math teacher. That lasted for two years until I took a class in Number Theory, a class during which rarely saw a number on the blackboard. I survived because only one other student dared to join me in taking the class and our teacher could not fail half of the class. We both agreed after completing the class that we still didn’t know the theory of numbers.
Changing my major to Psychology I had to take some humanities classes and so I signed up for a class in Twentieth Century Protestantism. That class was one of the first foundations of my faith, not because of what it taught me but because of the questions it allowed me to ask.
I read a passage from theologian Karl Barth, a page or two of text, and in it I saw him ask the exact same question I had asked my Pastor several years earlier, while in High School. I said to myself that it was all right for me to ask questions if an esteemed theologian also asked the same question. My true faith journey began the moment I read that passage in Twentieth Century Protestantism. I came to find and define faith quite simply. Faith is “saying yes” to the Word of God.
I graduated in 1969 and returned home to a reality that few people remained from my past. My parents had become uncertain about the Baptist Church in which we were raised and no longer attended on a regular basis. It was up to me to find my way.
I visited a local Presbyterian Church in Setauket, NY. I learned that they had an active Senior High Youth Program so, one Sunday after church, I asked the Pastor if they had a program for college age students. There seemed to be several young people in attendance during the service. He said that he was sorry that they did not but when I returned the next week, he called me over and said that the church did have the potential for such a program. I asked how many individuals would be in it and he said that we were starting small: “Just two – you and me”.
So began a journey in youth and young adult ministry for me. It is a journey that continues to this day.
There was a significant turning point for me, a few years later. Although I had made that commitment to the faith when baptized at 14 years of age, my faith had its ups and downs. Complicating it was the social uprising of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, being drafted in the midst of the Vietnam War, another interesting story to share. But to stay to the point of my faith journey that group that began with just the pastor and me rose to a local Christian Coffeehouse that was attracting between 25 to 40 young people a night. It was open on Friday Nights for the High School crowd and on Sunday Nights for the older crowd. Withing four months I was asked and accepted responsibility for both crowds, while beginning my search for a career.
In all my years of youth ministry, involving three local churches as sponsors, I have never made even one penny for my endeavors.
An epiphany was soon to come – the true outcome of stepping out solely in faith. After three and a half years overseeing these coffeehouse programs, a friend of mine, one late night as the coffeehouse was closing, pulled me aside. He prepared me saying that this would be a difficult conversation. Beginning with the fact that the older group of attendees was dwindling and the younger group was becoming more junior high school than high school in age, he gently but firmly stated, “You are older and they are so much younger” inferring that this was not a situation which I would have to same outcomes as I did with the original group which was the foundation of the program. “It is time for you to move on”. It was one of the most difficult moments of my young life.
I was working for an insurance company in a neighboring county and it was providing me my income source but the coffeehouse was providing my sense of purpose. I remember falling down on my knees in prayer when I arrived home. I never prayed so earnestly. It was worth it. The message came clear to me – search for and take the first apartment you find that is affordable and within reasonable travel distance to your place of business. I remember a sense of peace taking over my soul. I knew my friend was right and my time in prayer confirmed it.
It took another six weeks to find that apartment and when found it was in the town of Babylon. I did not know there was a town called Babylon. I remember thinking that the only Babylon I knew was in the Old Testament of the Bible, 2500 years ago.
I remember my learned definition of faith – “Say yes to the Word of God”. In this case that word was the conviction I felt come over me that night of prayer. I took the apartment.
On the way home I passed through a town called Deer Park, about four miles north of Babylon. Again – I never heard of Deer Park. As I passed through, I saw a small white church along the way. I said to myself that I had to start somewhere. I felt an inner voice calling me to attend that church the next day even though I would not be moving for another few weeks.
That next morning, I rolled over in bed on a bright, sunny mid- May day and said to myself, “Sleep a little longer, take a walk this morning, visit the church next week”. Then I rolled over and remembered that I felt called to attend this Sunday, not another. I got up and got dressed, unaware that a minor miracle was about to occur. I arrived, sat in the back of a filled church, and listened to one of the men describe a Men’s Convention in St. Louis, Missouri that he had just returned from. Halfway through his talk he stated that one thing he enjoyed was listening to youth playing acoustic guitars outside during breaks in the conference. Then he said it. To this day a tear still comes to my eye, when I recall that moment. He said, “I hear that there are plans to start a new coffeehouse in town and our church should support it”. It was an unbelievable moment for me. I was reluctantly leaving a coffeehouse that had been a major part of my life for three years, had gone to an unknown church in an unknown town and, on my first visit, the involvement in a new coffeehouse, sponsored by a church, was presented to me.
Here is the most interesting part. In actuality, there was no coffeehouse being planned. Rather there was talk of a “Youth Center”.
It is clear to me that, if I had rolled over in bed one more time and decided to attend the church one week later, I would have said nothing. But I did speak to the pastor the next week after church. He advised that he had not heard of a local coffeehouse being planned. But something about my conversation struck him. He invited me to the church a few days later to meet five young people about to graduate from high school and had me share the ideas I had. A month later the second coffeehouse was born, not in the community but in the church basement. And so, my ministry moved into a second phase for the next twelve years.
A year later (1974) I was hired as a case worker for the local Child Protective Services, a career that lasted for 42 years. I retired as the Director of the Adult Protective Services in the same agency in 2016.
In 1985 The Coffeehouse group closed its doors but, by then, I was a single parent of two boys, age, two and five. I signed them up for Cub Scouts and, when a new leader was needed, I offered to take that role on in 1987.
In 1994, with my new boys in fifth and eighth grade, our new pastor called a meeting of parents of the young people in the church. “We need a new youth leader”, he said, and all eyes looked my direction. I asked if I could have the old Coffeehouse room back and was told “yes”. We converted it into a youth room and the new youth group began Easter Sunday 1994. With the exception of some time off in the summer that Coffeehouse turned Youth Room became a meeting place for junior and senior high school students every Sunday night for twenty years.
I self-published my first book, “Not the Same Old, Done-it-before Youth Meetings” through Xulon Press in 2006. The book contains 355 pages of activities including guidance as to actions for youth workers to take if they learn of abuse or neglect situations their youth may be facing. This book, with little advertising except for my website, has sold between 1500 to 2,000 copies.
My second book, “The Chest of visions: Secrets of Caperston” is the first of a triad of short novels. It was self-published in 2012, also through Xulon Press. It has sold approximately 500 copies. The book was written for the purpose of creating a teaching tool for youth workers and we have successfully used it in our youth programs. I have been surprised by the number of adults, who have advised that they truly loved the book.
The positive reviews the book has received encouraged me to move forward with the completion of book two and three of the series. The second in the series: The Chest of Visions: New Pathways ‘cross Broken Highways is going to a traditional publisher, who is typesetting it at this time.
I remain active in a local church as a leader in the Mission Committee, the designated leader of the church’s Men in Faith Group and a confirmation class teacher. At present there are not enough young people of age to begin a new youth program .
I have maintained three websites over the years, with the current one being https://lessonsforchristianyouth.com.
I am married and have two sons, a stepson and a step daughter. My oldest son has just completed his tenth year working as a caseworker for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services, the same job I performed at the onset of my professional career.
I am truly blessed and, although retired, I am as busy as ever with church work, keeping up the website and writing. I believe that we are living in challenging times for the world as a whole, but these times also provide an opportunity for Christians to re-evaluate their commitment to the message of Jesus Christ.
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