Fr. John told me about a Principal friend who was looking for a teacher in the religion department of a large Lutheran high school (800-900 students) back in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

By that time I could read Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German.  I certainly knew theology after 8 years of college and Seminary.  I had been trained in preaching sermons.  I had the equivalent of at least an undergraduate degree in Psychology and had had supervised Counseling classes. I could read the Bible in the original languages and analyze passages effectively to discover the meaning for today.

There was a catch.  I had no idea how to teach.  I had had a one term required class in teaching methods but nothing more.  At least it was not the parish.   I would have a chance to get to the heart of the message with kids at an important time in their faith development.  Having just come through the crisis of faith, I could talk candidly about faith struggles.

I took a class in Education Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis during their summer term.  I agreed to give the teaching job a try.   It seemed such a waste to give up on the ministry completely.  I was Ordained on August 17, 1969 at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Aurora, Illinois (the church in which both Mary Ann and I grew up).

We packed up Lisa and rushed to Ft. Wayne so that I could get to faculty meetings and prepare to start teaching.  Remember the part about not knowing how to teach?  There is more.  I would be teaching three different courses, titled, Old Testament (Freshman Religion), New Testament (Sophomore Religion), and Doctrine and Life (Senior Religion).  There was no text book nor any curriculum for any of the three courses.  Not only had I not been taught how to teach, I had not been taught how to write a curriculum, let alone do so on the fly with the kids sitting in front of me.

I walked into five different classrooms each day, with nothing but the titles of the three courses.  There sat in front of me, 30 to 39 students in a required religion class.  Almost all of the kids came from Lutheran Elementary schools.  They had had religion classes since they were in Kindergarten.  They did not want to be there! I was scared spitless, but of course could not let the kids know.

Teaching is not as much about having knowledge as it is knowing how to communicate that knowledge effectively.  I knew that I needed to talk about the message without using the church words they had heard when they were seven.  The minute I tried the traditional church words, their eyes glazed over. I had no tools to use to construct lesson plans and structure assessment instruments.

While this so far is all about me, the impact on Mary Ann was clear, especially three years later. This part of our story is complicated and dramatic. It turned out to be a volatile time in life for both of us.

I tried to challenge the kids thinking, to make the message personal, to frame it in language they had not used before.  While the head of the Religion Department, Earl, was a very good fellow, who had set up the room I used for a Seminar style of teaching.  He did not have the time to mentor me, help with curriculum.  I had to do this entirely on my own with absolutely no training as to how to do it. He left after my first year there.

What happened as time went by, was that I began to develop good relationships with the students.  I listened to them, treated them with respect.  As an Ordained Pastor my vows expicitly bound me to confidentiality.  It was safe to talk with me.  The time between classes became the most valuable time for kids to come in and see me.  I became friends with most successful students and the least successful students and those in between.   It was a little like going through high school again, only this time I was popular.

There were challenges of course, this was 1969 and following years.  Someone came in after taking a pill in the bathroom that she thought was bad LSD.  Someone came in and announced that she had just gotten “knocked up.”  There was a lot of Boone’s Farm Apple wine and Strawberry Hill consumed in the restrooms.  There were parent problems, relationship problems.

When I led chapels I tried to be as straight and clear as I could be.  Chapels were a challenge since all 800-900 sat on one side of the gym on the bleachers, sometimes dropping hymnals from to the floor under the bleachers.  One time I put together a Communion Service with the kids help.  There were altar coverings that the Art Department had tie-dyed.  There was Communion bread that had been baked in the Home Economics department.  the Music Department provided a small band, a vocal ensemble, soloists, doing popular songs that had words compatible with the message of the day.  “Spirit in the Sky” was a song that was used.  In our tradition, the Passing of the Peace was relatively new (returned from the New Testament worship customs).  The service was a veritable happening.  The kids sat on the floor instead of the bleachers.  When the service was over, the Principal had to get on the loud speaker to get the kids to go back to classes.

Not everyone was pleased with my style.  The Principal that hired me that first summer left by the fall to serve as Superintendent of the Lutheran Schools in Chicago.  The new Principal was not so comfortable with the relational approach that I used.  I caught wind of the discomfort of some, and picked five faculty I thought might be unhappy with my style.  I met with them one on one.  Four said they thought I was doing fine.  The fifth blamed me for every social evil including the Pastor of her congregation who had not been very helpful when her Dad died.

It was April of my third year of teaching that it happened.  More tomorrow.

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