My 20’s were difficult years, as I began a professional career, moved to a city that was too small for my taste, as I floundered with relationships, and mostly, was lonely, although I had many good friends, long-time friends and new friends. What did I want? Who did I want to be?
At first, I began my journey into relationship with the Holy One by reading books. I had been confirmed in a fundamentalist denomination, and I rejected that before I was out of high school. That’s all I knew of church. I began to know that for me, faith and political action and perspective were needed. I read books about different denominations, all Christian. Along the way, I encountered the first people I knew who were serious about their faith – a Baha’i couple who influenced my understanding of faith, and who encouraged me to find my own path. I have always been grateful to Joan and Nat.
I had within me the rumblings of a “call” – had had that rumbling since my late teens, when I began to think that I could be a pastor. I had not seen or heard of a woman pastor, so I put that on a back burner, and didn’t take it out for anyone to see. I was reading Ms. magazine from cover to cover, so the thought occurred to me: “why not?”
When I moved back to Milwaukee, my home town, in late 1975, I continued my search for a community to safely bring my questions, a community involved in the world, a community that sought for justice and wholeness.
I met Harvey Stower, Young Adult Minister, on the first Sunday I attended Kenwood United Methodist Church, across from the University in Milwaukee. A kind woman, Verdell de Yarman (“the grandmother who went to jail” during the Civil Rights Movement), spoke to me. Often, as a lone visitor to a church, I had been ignored. I didn’t return to those churches. Verdell told me I’d like it there. After worship, she took me to meet Harvey Stower.
I guess I became one of Harvey’s followers, learning from him, spending Sunday afternoons with his family – Marilyn, his wife, fed whoever showed up at their flat on the East Side of Milwaukee – and beginning to see that a community DID exist to “do kindness, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”
Harvey and Marilyn owned a large and humble cabin in Northwest Wisconsin. When they had time away, they’d spend time at the cabin, and they’d invite young folks who hung around them in Milwaukee to be with them there. On a summer weekend, I made the long journey to the cabin, where I found a clean bed made up for visitors, and of course, wonderful meals, cooked by Marilyn as she held her baby girl on her hip.
One night, Harvey and I stood out in the blackness surrounding the cabin, looking up at the stars. Is there anything more beautiful, magical, and mysterious as the night sky, filled with white dots, shooting stars, constellations – away from city lights? As I stood there in the dark, I confessed to Harvey: “I’m not a Christian.” Still looking up at the stars, Harvey answered: “If you can just think of Jesus as your friend.”
His words changed my life. I could set aside all I had been taught to “believe” for a real relationship with the Holy One. My own journey began that day.
One day, not long after, Harvey asked me: “Do you ever think about going to seminary?” I told him: “I do, all the time. I don’t tell anyone about it”. It became his mission to remind me, from time to time: “what does this mean about seminary?”
Harvey was a true “evangelical,” who loved God and showed his faith by how he lived his life, by his work in the world. (These days, the media has used the word “evangelical” to describe folks who are really fundamentalists, who take the Scriptures literally and use their faith against others in the world who do not share their values). Harvey had studied in seminary in Washington, D.C., and he had been part of the beginnings of the Sojourners Community in Washington. One summer week, he took several of us to D.C. to work in the Community.
Later in his life, Harvey would go on to be elected to the Wisconsin State Senate. And even later, he was elected as Mayor of Amery, Wisconsin, his home town.
Harvey is gone, now. I was privileged to be able to travel to Amery, Wisconsin, for his funeral, on October 10, 2009. When he died, Harvey was serving as Mayor of Amery. Since I was serving a church in Oakland at the time, a good friend stepped in on short notice to preach so I could travel to the funeral.
Out through the
fields and woods
And over the walls
I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the
world, and descended;
I have come by the
And lo, it is ended.”
“Reluctance,” Robert Frost