Friday, June 12, 2009
A view from the parsonage
After 34 years as pastor of the Carlisle Congregational Church, Keith Greer and his wife Bonnie will be leaving Carlisle to begin a new chapter in their lives of service. Here Bonnie reflects on their years in Carlisle.
We were in a white-out on the Massachusetts Turnpike on January 19, 1975. Our white car, driven by my 29-year-old husband, added to the uncertainty of being between “here” and “there.” We knew where we were going, but the lack of clarity outside the car windows matched our wonderings of what it would actually be like to be a young pastor with a wife, one child, and one on the way, in a town called “Carlisle.” The “white-out” cleared immediately upon our arrival. Faces took shape with names that had been just that. Hands worked and helped and fed us and carried our stuff (and our hearts) from the start. This was going to be an amazing place to work and learn and live, and hopefully grow together.
There is something about a sense of community. We all long for it. Psalm 68 says, “God puts the lonely, in families.” Communities are families. People with whom we worship are families. We were blessed with two families (some of which overlapped) besides the wonderful ones given at birth.
I remember being a bit frightened at Keith’s ordination and hanging out in the bathroom a little bit longer. What was this that we were committing to? And then I remembered that part of the reason we were here was to remind others that life is too big not to remember that “His strength is made perfect in [our] weakness.”
Places to “be at home”
Keith found a wonderful place to “be at home” on the fire department. Our children, all four eventually, could mimic the tones and words of the evening pager check. “KCF3 11, testing the Carlisle units. All clear at 6 p.m., testing the Carlisle units.” I found a wonderful place to “be at home” as a member of the Acorn Nuts adult field hockey team. A number of us, including Ellen Huber, Marge Findlay, Irene Blake, Mary Lou Koning, Leslie and Heather Dunbar, Carol Bailey, Midge Eliassen, Lisa Foote, Sally Waite, Lyn Lucks, Eva Herndon, Bev Guyer and Suzie Burnock, tapped some old field hockey roots and came together, with babes in arms to feed in between plays on the sideline.
Thanks to Judy Larson, we found another wonderful place to be at home – on the stage in the days of the town plays. And so we were on our way as part of Carlisle, with Brownies, Cub Scouts, the beginnings of the Dimensions Program with Sue Baxter, Helen Edwards and Sue Heald, team sports and collecting together in the auditorium as parents of kids we were so thankful for and teachers who, it seemed, cared, a lot!
Learning from new friends
Town and church communities converged with friends like Beulah Swanson, who told me that it was simple to make a pie! “You just have to make one every day for a year.” I think she’d be proud! Anna Johnson came into my kitchen and added her comment while I poured boiling pots of water over Alan Malcolm’s free cucumbers, with toddlers underfoot. “You don’t have to make pickles dear,” and I haven’t made them since! Gloria White inspired us with her smile. She had lost several children yet God helped her to live with her grief. I still use Helen Wilkie’s green plates from the yard sale held at her orderly home – a place of wit and wisdom. “Would you like a cup of tea,” she would say, and I knew I would get a lot more. And our church “bounty board” was always full, on Sundays, with produce from the Dutton brothers’ gardens.
You bring to a church family a part of who you are. For us that meant being in the outdoors. We tried to take anyone with us who would go. I talked Luci Albertson into going on the first annual church camping trip and promised her that she would love it. She didn’t. Everything that could go wrong, did. The next year we gave the first of many “Luci Albertson Camping Awards” to the one who fared the best under the most duress.
Growing together through outreach
We didn’t always know what the best thing to do was, but sometimes we were right. I remember the first time we invited anyone who was interested to go with us to the Bronx to help with a city church Vacation Bible School. The Marohn boys were the only takers. But each year there were more, more to help with projects and more to grow together with “outside the box.” I remember painting the AIDS hospice and telling our children to “go paint with your Dad!” I didn’t want them to miss the story of the resident who stood by. Several HIV-positive young men came here to share their stories and we had some good discussions at our dinner table about whose beds they would sleep in. We felt the privilege of being the pastor and wife in having them with us to force some practical issues in our thinking with our children.
Part of being in Carlisle is having many wonderful connections. Thanks to Ed Swift and a name and a phone call, we were able to get Astroturf from Sullivan Stadium so that the horde of Bronx kids, who played in the mud between two houses, could now have “grass.” The next year when we returned, one neighbor had put indoor/outdoor carpet on his front lawn!
Reality check - sabbaticals
Carlisle is a wonderful place to raise children. We have had caring neighbors, great schools, clean air and the great outdoors to explore, but for us it lacked one thing – the reality check as to how most of the world lives. Yet, how many get to have a sabbatical, or more than one sabbatical, to find out? Our first one was in Israel with the convergence of three cultures and three different days for three different faiths for worship. We saw how the Israelis cared for their elderly and poor. We saw how Arabs knew how to “feel the day.” We became enmeshed in Biblical history and left in awe at the end of the three months.
The second sabbatical with our children was to Europe with train passes in our hands and backpacks on our backs, ending in Hungary in an old village where we were joined by some from our church family for two weeks to haul ceramic roof tiles in rhythm to help build a center for kids and adults, a job that would have taken one day with a fork lift! We could not get out of our own comfort zone without asking, pleading, in some cases dragging others to go with us. The list may sound impressive, but what impressed us the most was how people let us come, how they let us help and learn to care, even if only a little bit or for a little while: in Haiti and Croatia, in DC and New Mexico, on camels in the Negev and on a rope course in the Adirondacks, on the ocean in kayaks and on a rickety bus in the Dominican Republic, in Ecuador digging a ditch for a water line, or in a town near Carlisle helping with food and English classes! These are the experiences that rounded out our education, and I don’t just mean our children. I think that had we not lived in this place of privilege we would not have been as likely to go.
Time to train others
It’s not the call of the wild that takes us from Carlisle after 34 ½ years. It’s not boredom or discontentment that bids us go. What it is, is a yearning to finish our days sharing the gifts we have gathered here in Carlisle with students and pastors in less developed countries, to encourage missionaries on the field (who are real people with real needs just like ourselves), and to be close enough to our children and grandchildren in Pennsylvania to perhaps leave a little imprint.
What it is, is heartbreak over separation from people we have come to love and respect and a loss of this slice of what is lovely and peaceful and comfortable. It is a sad parting yet we couldn’t be more grateful, more blessed! When we drive out of town this summer after one last stop at Kimball’s and cross into another town and then into another state, we will be saying, “Thank you friends, thank you God!” ∆
Leaving Carlisle for new challenges
In May, when this newspaper learned that Keith Greer, after 34 years of service, was to step down as pastor of the Carlisle Congregational Church, I called him to set up a time for an interview. On this past Saturday, I sat down with both Bonnie and Keith Greer to learn what they will be doing once they leave Carlisle, sometime during the coming summer months.
Although their plans are not definite, it is clear that they wish to work in the ministry of a local church, somewhere in the vicinity of their children and grandchildren who live in Pennsylvania, with the opportunity to invest more of their time in the training and encouragement of missionaries and students in less developed counties. “Our general plan is to offer pastoral care and encouragement to missionaries serving cross-culturally and to share in the training of pastors and their wives internationally,” said Greer. What this means then, is continuing on with the work they have done on sabbaticals over the years and around the world, in the States and abroad, including Russia, Peru, Zimbabwe, Philippines and India.
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito