My Life So Far–New York, Boston, Akron

We went from mid-summer in São Paulo to mid-winter in New York City within a few hours. We really owned no appropriate clothing, but especially for our lightly clad baby, the transition was startling. The denomination assigned us an apartment just down the street from the offices and on the way, we had the cab stop at the department store so we could buy a warm wrap-around for Frances.

Within a month we transitioned to the U.S.; I translated the microfilmed affidavits and turned it all over to the National Council of Churches office on Latin America. Within a few weeks, I had flown out to interview for several positions: Mall Ministry chaplain in the midwest, community organizer in Marin City, CA, and even one pastoral position. But none of them seemed right. The community organizing position was a close fit, however we finally, mutually, went another way.

Finally, there was a proposal from the Cambridge Ministries in Higher Education. CMHE was the combined chaplaincy of Harvard, MIT and Radcliffe with a bit of Boston University thrown in on the side. Most of the work was ably done by a great staff with offices on the Harvard campus. My job was two-fold: To do counseling with students and to organize churches to oppose the U.S. support for the military dictatorships throughout Latin America.

It was a well integrated community, but struggling like all progressive groups with issues that could have been divisive if the group was not a bastion of caring and concern. This was the early days of the modern resurgence of feminism. People of conscience, aware of the way capitalism and the US government were running roughshod over the world and especially Latin America were easily distracted by leftist sectarian arguments. I remember being frustrated as the Trotskyites and the Socialists and the Maoists and the other 57 varieties would have doctrinaire arguments about how many leftists could dance on the head of a geographical pin. This often interfered with my work in trying to bring churches into the fold.

Still, I was able to accomplish much in my short stay. I saw a lot of students in counseling/psychotherapy. We were one end of an underground railway to Canada where women in need could get an abortion. Of course this was before Rowe v Wade and it was illegal to aide and abet the crime. We had to be careful and we were. Before we would see a woman, she was vetted by her gynecologist and by a "conductor" Even so, we knew that our telephones were monitored so we spoke judiciously and in code.  But after some months, the F.B.I. got an undercover woman through our precautions and we were busted. As a result, the railway terminus had to move. We never knew the new location so none of us could be questioned about it successfully.

The second effort was the organizing, which mainly took the form of guest sermons and talks in churchs. Every Sunday was a different church. I got to know a lot of the Boston geography. There were several radio interviews and a joint workshop with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1966 to work to foster a national policy in which the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean would be free from oppression and injustice, and have a different relationship with the United States; one based on mutual respect, free from economic and political intrigue.

The contract with CMHE was only for six months. Expectations we had were that in that time local church people would continue to organize. Consequently, I was still looking for a position elsewhere in the church; either a Presbyterian church or some ecumenical effort. One position, ironically, was in Marin City. The church and community were looking for a full-fledged community organizer. I crossed the continent to interview with the good folk from Marin City. Even though we hit it off as people and I greatly applauded what they were trying to do, we all realized that my minor training at the Urban Institute was simply not sufficient to meet the need. They needed a professional community organizer with some long time commitment to these skills.

In June, I received word that my mother had died. Along with her surviving brothers and sisters and my brother Melvin, I arrived in Corpus Christi, Texas. There had been little contact with my mother in the years since my conversion, and even long before that she and I had given up the pretense of a close connection. It did not surprise me that she had designated Melvin and me as co-executors of her "estate," but were also subjects of a clause in her will, that we were not to receive anything. Not that there really was much legacy. She apparently had notified various charities that they would receive large sums on her passing. However, there really was little remaining. The house in which she lived had deteriorated and was probably worth very little and the business had been run into the ground. Neither Melvin not I was prepared to interrupt our lives. We did arrange for an attorney to handle the affairs of the "estate".

Together with my aunts and uncles we arranged for her funeral. She was buried in the double-plot my father had purchased 25 years earlier, next to him.  I left funds with the attorney to pay for engraving the headstone properly. Within two days, thinking that everything was in good hands, I returned to Boston.

Only four years later did I learn that the headstone had not been engraved and that my money had disappeared. But back to that subject later.

In August, the "Urban Ministries" consultant from Cleveland Presbytery called me. He had a possible position. I flew out, to be picked up at the Cleveland airport and we drove to Akron, Ohio. In the same weekend I had interviews with several people and met the Session of Margaret Park United Presbyterian Church. Later Tamayo and I came out to meet them and for me to preach a sermon. After which the congregation voted to offer me the pastorate.

Margaret Park church was an predominantly elderly congregation composed mostly of good people whose parents had migrated north from Appalachia. Most of the men worked in the tire industry all their lives. They were very conservative politically and theologically. The previous pastor had been there for over 25 years and never challenged them. They were staunch union supporters having lived through the period when the city authorities supported the rubber industry management who hired thugs with baseball bats and guns to put down the unions. Akron was still a rubber town, the headquarters of Goodyear, Firestone and others.

The previous pastor was a conservative and theologically uneducated. He never challenged the congregation. We began a clash of values almost immediately. I had just experienced conservatism at its worst in Brazil; had been organizing against the US government's policies in Latin America; counseling women in need of illegal abortions; and participating in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.

To be honest, I bear most responsibility for what followed. I was too impatient and had too little skill in finding compromise. My best skills were in visiting the sick, and counseling the few young and middle-aged couples and individuals. I got along best with the handful of young people of high school and college age. I did a reasonable job of preaching, though it was not my strong suit. Visiting members in the hospital was always an important part of the work and there was a lot of this.

The college age group of four or five were my main supporters. They were the ones who saw the world with a similar vision as mine. (Ironically, they later confessed that they were the main group who voted against me in the congregational meeting.)

A word about Tamayo's endeavors. She quickly decided that she needed a profession and started to apply to the University of Akron's program in Social Work. Of course she would first have to get her bachelor's degree. But then, with the help of her counselor, she realized that what she really wanted was the financial freedom that would allow her to be self-sufficient and able to partake in exciting experiences. The battery of tests they gave her pointed in the direction of computer sciences. This was a period before everyone had a computer on their desk. It required a lot of mathematics and the ability to think logically. Tamayo was a mathematical whiz. And her thinking style was right. Consequently, she took the program by storm; always ahead of anyone else in her class.

By the middle of 1971, I came to the clear understanding that the pastorate would never work. Not only was I the wrong person, but the church itself, in a "changing urban neighborhood", was losing members even without my help. I performed many funerals in the short time I was there, but few weddings and even fewer baptisms. The church was not self-supporting but received aid from the Presbytery. There was little inclination to "market" the church to the new people moving in. Eventually I was able to get a daycare program to contract for the use of the church's facilities, which did help the finances but, since most of the children were from neighborhood African American families, it became a contention with the all-white congregation.

I advised the congregation that I would stay through the Easter season, but would resign immediately after. A young student from the Methodist seminary came to be an intern at the chuch. After my departure, he stayed and became the unordained pastor.

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