There has never been a time in my life when I was not surrounded by a faith centered on the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Breaking of Bread. I would eventually come home to the fullness of this faith.
I was born in Syracuse, New York, the second of three sons in my family. My parents had an English background, my father having been born in England. More importantly, they had met in a Plymouth Brethren meeting and had planted the Plymouth Brethren assembly (as their churches were called) in Syracuse. For the Plymouth Brethren, worship means the Breaking of Bread, and all adult males “in fellowship” can participate verbally in that meeting. My early life was centered around the Eucharist and the Bible, which my mother started reading to me at age one. Later, we would read a chapter after dinner every evening around the meal table, each of us reading a verse. My father taught a Bible class in our home every Wednesday night. My “naughty” act as a child was sometimes sneaking part of the way downstairs so that I could listen to the teaching and see a bit through the railing. I am very thankful for my upbringing, which, although not without problems, solidly rooted me in a very Protestant and very individualistic Eucharist, but nevertheless was centered on the Eucharist.
My father’s company moved his whole department to Lynchburg, Virginia, when I was 10. At age 15, I realized that “it was time to get serious about my faith,” as I put it to myself. This was not a conversion, but a realization that I could not simply float along with the family, believing without resistance, but had to step into my faith as a committed “adult.” I approached the elders of our assembly (those other than my father, of course) and asked to be baptized and to “come into fellowship.” For North American Brethren, Baptism is only a witness to faith, not in any sense a sacrament. Because the congregation was moving to a new church building and the elders did not wish to repair the baptismal tank in Melrose Chapel, I was “received into fellowship” immediately and so began to partake in communion and even read a Scripture or “give out a hymn” in the worship service. Three months later, my father baptized me, and in so doing inaugurated the baptismal tank at Fleming Chapel.
Soon after my baptism, the elders chose three “likely young men,” my older brother (5 years older), Dick Adams, and me, and started us preaching once a quarter in the evening “gospel service,” with other youth providing music and the other parts of the service. We did well and were moved to Sunday morning, to the “Family Bible Hour,” the main preaching service (so long as one understands that, for true Brethren, all preaching services are optional, for worship is the Breaking of Bread). On the Sunday after my 16th birthday (November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated), I preached my first Sunday morning sermon. It was well received, and I still have a tape of it. I play it if I need to be humbled; homiletics was not a Brethren strong point.
The next summer, I was at what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology on a summer science program, helping a PhD student in electrical engineering with his research. Of the 20 of us in the program, 18 were atheists or agnostics, one was Catholic, and I was, in my own eyes, the only Christian. Sadly, I never talked with the Catholic about his faith. About halfway through the six week program, I was walking to my dorm from the dining hall with an atheist colleague on each side and felt an unexpected shock inside, hearing a voice in my head: “You don’t want to be an engineer, do you!” It was a statement, really, not a question, and I saw in my head a picture of me behind a large desk, somehow chained to that desk, and with a slide rule. Now, my father was an electrical engineer, my brother was in university studying electrical engineering, and I was already deeply into amateur radio, having built my own equipment. The thought had never occurred to me that I did not want to be an electrical engineer. But I saw that picture and knew, “No, I don’t want that.” The voice responded, “But I have called you to study the Bible.”
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