“Great literature is one of two stories: A man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” - Leo Tolstoy
Whether a story begins with “Once upon a time” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or “In a galaxy far, far away,” we all know those opening words have a way of pulling us in or pushing us away. Today, I have Part I of a story to tell you. Next week I will tell you Part II. I trust it will be told well enough that you will want to keep reading.
The first time we arrived in Franklin, Pennsylvania, we drove into town in a four-door 1964 Chevrolet Impala pulling a U-Haul trailer with all of our earthly possessions. We were just out of college and had not yet celebrated our first wedding anniversary.
In that town was a very small church with just eight people. After meeting us and hearing my first sermon, they voted us in as their pastor. We were thrilled. We moved into the third floor apartment of a huge old house on Liberty Street, the road through the center of town.
Because the church was small and there was no salary, Evie and I had to find a jobs. She became a secretary at the Franklin High School and I was hired in the Right-of-Way Department of PennDot (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) where I helped buy “right-of-way” for road improvements in the seven counties of northwestern Pennsylvania.
That small town along the Allegheny River of about 10,000 people became our home for seven years. I was a bi-vocational pastor. And as the church grew, we were able to relocate from a one-way street in an obscure part of town and build a new church on a seven-acre parcel on the main road into town.
We were there about two years and God blessed us with our first child, Darin. A couple of years later, Evie became pregnant with twins. We were excited beyond words. However, Kevin and Keith arrived six weeks early on July 30, 1971. Since their lungs were not fully developed and the technology 45 years ago was not what it is today, Keith died two days later.
We will never forget the day of Keith’s committal service at a little cemetery just a mile or so from our home. That afternoon, in our car, we followed the ambulance carrying Kevin for two hours south to Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. There, Kevin was placed in the Intensive Care Unit where he stayed for 10 days until we could bring him home. Once he started eating he never stopped. Today he stands six feet, two inches tall and is a healthy young man who just completed his 22nd year as an elementary school teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When Evie and I first arrived in Franklin, we were filled with youthful exuberance. Life was fresh. We had an abundant dose of the typical optimism of any young couple starting out on life’s journey. We felt like we could do almost anything.
In addition to the challenges that came with pastoring our first church fresh out of college, that experience taught us things about ourselves as well as things about God we never could have learned in books or classrooms. We grew up fast. When profound pain came, we learned what really mattered and it changed us forever.
We often say that we needed that little church much more than that little church needed us. The life experiences of those years, which were poured into our souls, shaped the foundation of our lives.
Recently, we went back to Franklin with Kevin and his 13 year old son, Noah. Next week I will share with you the end of our Franklin, Pennsylvania story.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President Emeritus of the University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville. Connect via firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer, www.DrDonMeyer.com, Twitter and Instagram: @DrDonMeyer