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Calvary Presbyterian Church, Riverside, CA

My last (final) call, after 54 years of ordination, was to Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco.  So my 54 years of ministry are bookended by churches named Calvary.  One of the most popular and successful programs at Calvary, Riverside (my first call out of seminary), was the Mothers’ Club, which met weekly on Wednesdays.  It was a program that attracted mothers with infants and toddlers for a morning of childcare, fellowship and study.  At Calvary, San Francisco (my last call), I was impressed by the Wednesday Playgroup, one of the most popular and successful programs there.  At Calvary, Riverside, all the attendees were mothers with their young children.  At Calvary, San Francisco, a handful of the attendees were mothers and grandmothers; but most of the participants were nannies who brought the infants and toddlers in their care.  Both Calvarys were large, tall-steepled churches, with large staffs.  While sharing similarities, there were differences, due primarily to the cultural and socio-economic shifts in our society and world between 1966 and 2020.  In those 54 years, the Presbyterian Church (USA), along with sister mainline denominations (Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Disciples) had moved to the sidelines. 

I was called to serve as the Minister with Youth at Calvary, Riverside.  My position was the equivalent of an Assistant Pastor, a position that no longer exists in the Presbyterian Church.  Assistant Pastors were called by the Session, and did not require a Mission Study nor a Pastor Nominating Committee.  In my case, the Associate Pastor conducted the search, made the choice, and recommended his nominee to the Session for approval.  I moved into my office on a hot July day in 1966, at the age of 26, to begin my very first call to the ministry.  I was the 4th man (yes, we were all men) on the pastoral staff totem pole.  At the top was the Senior Pastor, followed by 2 Associate Pastors.  I reported to one of the Associate Pastors, who was in charge of Christian Education.

As I was unpacking my boxes and putting books on the shelf, the intercom rang.  One of the secretaries (and they were all women) called to tell me there was an emergency at the front desk and needed a pastor.  I was dressed in a tank top and shorts and covered in sweat.  A woman had come off the streets and needed to talk to a pastor because she was contemplating suicide.  I was the only pastor in the building.  The woman was ushered into my office, sat down, and proceeded to tell me her story.  I managed to help prevent her from going ahead with her plans to take her life that day.  And we continued to talk weekly for the next couple of months.  Our sessions ended one day when she informed me that she had decided to move to Seattle.  She thanked me for the time I had spent with her and for the fact that she was still alive.  Little did I realize and appreciate the fact that in all the years of ordained ministry that followed, my training to be a minister would be a life-long process.  I took a seminary class in Pastoral Counseling; but I learned more about pastoral counseling from that woman than everything I read and all the lectures I sat through in the classroom.

Mabra, one of the oldest members at Calvary, Riverside, called me one day to invite me to his Friday Night Prayer Meeting.  I hesitated for a variety of reasons.  I had never participated in a prayer meeting and it was certainly not taught in seminary.  And after all, I was called to be a youth minister.  After a long pause, and much hemming and haahing, I accepted.  I accepted because I could not come up with an acceptable excuse.  Arriving at Mabra’s house on the appointed hour, he ushered me down a long, dark hallway to a room at the very back of the house.  Walking into a smoke-filled room, I was welcomed by men, all of whom were around Mabra’s age, seated around a poker table, lit by a hanging lamp.  I was introduced to more variations of poker than I ever imagined, by these men who had been playing together for years.  After 4 years serving as the Minister with Youth, I accepted a call to Medford, Oregon, to serve as Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church.  Mabra and his cohorts invited me to a final, farewell game before I left Riverside.  At the end of that night, I was fortunate to leave the house with my clothes on.  I had never been beaten and humiliated so badly in my life at any competitive endeavor.  But it was all in good fun; Mabra’s gang just wanted me to know that they had been toying with me all along.  I did not feel humiliated; rather, I appreciated the lesson in humility.

3 thoughts on “Calvary Presbyterian Church, Riverside, CA”

  1. Wow, another gold star sharing of your life journey like a mind map in web rather than hierarchal structure!
    Each described experience, snuck in with little but powerful phrases in parenthesis, could have taken the reader anywhere from there. Those phrases led my mind to anticipating how the rest of that story could go, only to find at the end = not so.
    Those powerful phrases did reveal your acuity and sensitivity to current general concerns, left it open for the reader (or writer) to reflect on those issues on another occasion. However the experience was, you reframed it and the reframing contributed to your growth.
    What an ending! Thank you.

  2. Sunday night Screen Actors Guide (SAG) an award was given to the film “Everything, Everywhere All at Once.” According to online description, it is about intergenerational trauma. Hurt people hurt other people. They lash out at people that are closest to them.
    Should be an interesting flick to watch although I personally will wait. But if the SAG award is telling us that is the mainstream mentality that is true in our divided society and is sad. Thank goodness for rogue thinkers and writers like Cal who tells a difference experience.

  3. You confirm my having always thought that when done right there was no more important part of an SFTS education than the internship.

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