Faith Works 9-27-14
One more retrospective
A few weeks ago I ruminated about a couple of personal anniversaries that related to this column, and I hope you'll indulge me as I do so one more time. It'll be another quarter-century before this all comes up again!
25 years ago, earlier this week, I drove a big ol' U-Haul into Newark, Ohio with two cats, too many books, and all our worldly goods. Joyce was right behind in our car. We moved into McMillan Woods, the first of five places we would live in Licking County, and I began as associate pastor of Newark's Central Christian Church, where I'm now back again as plain ol' pastor.
What I actually remember more clearly is from a few weeks earlier when I'd driven into town for my first visit to Newark in our '73 Impala. I was late for the interview, as I'd completely forgotten about the time change between Indianapolis and central Ohio at the time, and there was construction on I-70 around Dayton.
Now I drive a 2009 Impala, and there's construction on I-70 around Dayton. Some things change, some things haven't, much.
I stopped at the McDonalds off the Buckeye Lake exit (now closed and replaced with a new model closer to the highway), and found a pay phone to call the church from. Someone explain "pay phone" to the young 'uns. They understood, and promised to be there, and said I wouldn't be that late, I was close. (No one understands how long it takes to get through Heath, even people from Heath, but they were there when I arrived.)
Up Rt. 79 for the first time, stop light after stop light; passed the Great Circle which I noted for future reference, not knowing just how much time I'd spend there as an interpreter and storyteller over the years ahead, but as an undergrad anthropology major with a concentration in archaeology, I knew about the Newark Earthworks. They'd piqued my interest when I'd gotten contacted as I was finishing seminary by the senior pastor at Newark Central.
The thing was, Joyce had plans to attend grad school, and in her program there were four schools she said "if you get an invitation from any church within reasonable driving distance of these four schools, let's look at it." The Ohio State University was one of the four, and Newark was just barely within what could be called a reasonable (pre-161 as it is today) drive.
So I interviewed with the senior pastor at a church conference, and he recommended the search committee have me come to Newark, and off I went. I'd seen "Son of Heaven" in Columbus the year before, so I'd been across from Indy that far, but once I passed through the I-270 loop, it was terra incognita. Then.
No internet, no GPS, just a rough map, some directions on that pay phone, so I got off at Main St. and turned right. Abandoned factory buildings, a teetering smokestack, a bridge, some homes that had seen better days, and up a short pull: then West Main Street opened up as I drive east. The Licking County Courthouse. I nodded to myself. "Nice," I thought.
Jigged and jogged, finding the thread for Rt. 13 up and around and under and on to Mt. Vernon Road, and then the last stretch through a residential neighborhood, and the church. I parked, walked in, and said my still widely-remembered first words to the committee: "Is there any coffee in the building?"
Apparently, this struck a favorable chord, or so Cynthia Rarick reports. Coffee was found, a discussion was begun, and then I was bundled off for the night to the big downtown hotel (now the Doubletree). I wandered back out by dark, circled that grand old courthouse, admired the great old trees, regretted the decay of the Auditorium and Midland Theatres, and had a cup of coffee and a burger at Wendy's.
The next morning, when I was picked up for phase two of the interview weekend, I mentioned to my drivers that I'd gone out around Courthouse Square (remember, 1989) and grabbed a late snack there. The look the two in the front seat exchanged was one of, well, horror. They figured, I learned later, "well, he's never gonna want to move here now."
What it took them a just a little while to learn was that I loved it here, Wendy's and all; there was work to do, but I had some thoughts about that. We're not done, but for me and mine and our Land of Legend, it's been a good twenty-five years.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you came to this marvelous place at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.