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We have also published the book shown below in the form of an e–book. We invite you to read, copy, or down-load it free at this web-site:
A Spiritual Autobiography
How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes
of an ordinary guy from Jersey City
The Day God Spoke To Me – March 14, 1965
During the past few weeks Americans, and probably people from many other nations, were reminded through the news media that it was exactly 50 years ago, March 7, 1965, that the nation and the world observed what has come to be known as “Bloody Sunday”, in Selma, Alabama. It was the day that a peaceful civil rights protest, in the form of a march to Montgomery was met with and terminated with extreme violence by the local police, officials and many others. A week later the March did take place and eventually the voting rights act, which assured that all Americans had the right to vote, was passed by the congress and president of the USA.
As I listened to the news reporters talking about this event last week, I remembered that something else happened to me on that day, exactly 50 years ago. On that day, God spoke to me. I mean, I literally heard God speak to me. It wasn’t a loud voice coming from somewhere “out there”. But in my head I clearly heard and understood words being spoken to me. And I knew without a doubt it was God speaking to me. Something I had never before experienced. I was 25 years old. That’s what today’s blog post is about. What follows is an excerpt from my book, Hopes Fulfilled (announced at the top of this blog post), as follows:
Recently I read that today most people who drop out of church, don’t do so abruptly. They tend to drift away. That seems like what happened to Joan and me. I was beginning to feel that most of the worship service was boring. I believed that the only thing that mattered was the sermon. And since I didn’t understand a lot of what the sermons were about, I wondered what was the point of going, other than that I was taught “it’s the right thing to do”.
Another problem was that the congregation was getting older. The kids I had grown up with in Sunday school were no longer there. There was the subconscious feeling that we didn’t really fit in. What made it easy for us to stop attending the church, was that it continued the long standing tradition of closing for the summer months. So I was used to not attending church for this period of about three months. And I didn’t feel guilty when Joan and I spent weekends at the summer place at Lake Mohegan, New York, which had belonged to my family since the 1920’s. All of this made it easy, when the summer of 1963 ended, to simply not return to church.
We became church dropouts, which at first didn’t bother me in the least. Except that I had to hear my mother’s frequent comments about our not being in church. However, I have to admit that from time to time I felt just a little bit guilty. But the longer I was away from the church, the more difficult I felt it would be to return. It would be embarrassing trying to explain to the people and the pastor why I hadn’t been attending. So I just settled into the habit of sleeping late on Sunday mornings, and not worrying about it.
This went on for two years. Until Sunday morning, March 14, 1965. During the previous two years the only times I really felt guilty about not attending church was on Christmas Eve and Easter. I didn’t really understand why, but I knew that these were the two times of the year “everybody” went to church, even if they otherwise never set foot in the church. But for two years we hadn’t attended, even on Christmas Eve and Easter.
Now it was March 7, a Sunday morning, probably about 10AM. I was still in bed. I didn’t hear an audible voice. But I was discerning a message that was somehow being silently transmitted to me. Based on what I was discerning, I quickly came to realize that this must be a message from God. I couldn’t remember God ever specifically directing a message to me before. The message, and my response went something like this:
God: You should be in church.
Me: I know, but it’s too late.
God: I know it’s too late to get there today, but next Sunday I expect you to be in church.
Me: But I will be too embarrassed to go back to St. John’s Church. Everybody will be asking “why haven’t you been in church the past few years.
God: I didn’t say you had to go back to that church. Just be in some church next Sunday – any church.
Joan and I discussed this message. We agreed we would go to a church the next Sunday. But which one? We remembered that there was a church on Bergen Avenue, within a ten minute walk from where we lived. I had walked past this church many times during my life in Jersey City. I knew nothing about it. Except that it was called Emory Methodist Church. The next Sunday we got up and walked to that church. Almost immediately we met a few people that Joan already knew from her work as a nurse. Everyone was very welcoming. I was surprised that the offering was taken twice. I didn’t really like that. However, I soon came to understand that the second offering was to be given to various mission related works the church was supporting. Once I understood this, I agreed that this was a good idea.
It was the sermon, more than anything else, that told me this was the church we would attend from now on. All of this was taking place at the height of the civil rights movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During the past week, we had seen TV news reports about the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. Among friends and family I expressed support for the civil rights movement, although I did not take an active part myself. Also, other than Dr. King and a few other African-American church leaders, I wasn’t aware of the church in any form supporting this movement – until that Sunday morning when we returned to church.
On that morning, the pastor announced that he was not going to preach the kind of sermon people usually expected on a Sunday morning. Instead, he was going to tell the story of his experience as one of those who during the past week, had been part of the march in Selma, Alabama. He told what it was like to experience what we had seen on TV. The violence of the police and their dogs against the peaceful marchers, including children. The blasts of the fire hoses. The bigoted shouts and threats. Without a doubt, I was hearing a white church leader, in my presence, publicly saying that God expected the church to be supportive of and in some ways, to be involved in the civil rights movement. For the first time, I heard a sermon which directly related to life in the world, here and now, and which moved me to want to be part of the church. This church. A Methodist Church (In 1968 it would become The United Methodist Church).
We continued to attend Emory Methodist Church, but we also continued to be away from church on summer weekends for about the next eight years.. The thought of attending another church while we were away hadn’t crossed my mind. In the fall of the year we returned to Emory Methodist Church, only to discover that the church had a new pastor. He explained that in the Methodist system, pastors are appointed by a bishop, rather than hired by the church. This was one of many new things I learned about The Methodist Church over the next few months, as we met with the pastor a number of times, in preparation for becoming members. I was beginning to have a whole new understanding of church. It’s purpose wasn’t simply to be a place you went to on Sunday mornings. It was a community of people serving God by serving people. It was about being the body of Christ in and for the world.
During this time, the pastor explained that in July of that year, Emory Methodist Church was going to merge with Simpson-Grace Methodist Church. That was a large cathedral like church at Journal Square, which was the heart of Jersey City. The Emory Methodist Church building would be sold to a church of another denomination, The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME)… On July 10, 1966 we stood before the congregation and became the first new members of the merged church…
When all this was happening 50 years ago, little did I know where it would lead. I hadn’t the slightest idea of the many God-directed changes that I would experience in my life. I wouldn’t have believed it back then if someone told me that I would became more and more involved in the ministry of the church. I would leave secure and profitable secular employment to work instead for a church related non-profit organization. I would start my own business (Horizon Communications) providing public relations and fund-raising services for small non-profit church related organizations. And least of all, never once did the thought cross my mind that one day I would here God call me to attend seminary and serve as a pastor. Finally, I never expected that in retirement, I would take up a new career of spiritually based writing, which includes this blog.
Along the road of life, I have had many hopes. I’ve discovered that when those hopes were in accordance with what I’ve understood to be God’s will for me, those God-given hopes were fulfilled. So what’s next? I keep listening to hear whatever God wants to do with me, always believing that if I say “yes” to God, those hopes will be fulfilled. One of my hopes is that as you go through life, whatever your age or present circumstances, you too will continue or begin to hear and say “yes” to whatever God wants to do with you and that you will experience the fulfillment of those God-given hopes.
Grace and peace, Ray
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.
Patty Perez and Ray Gough