At a point of reflection, we are sometimes surprised to recognize the hand of God so obvious on the canvas of life. How glorious to have been sculpted to do God’s work.
My first formal religious training was three years of confirmation classes. Most kids go for only one year. I kept taking the class until I was old enough to be confirmed. The classes were held in the family room of my parents’ house.
My father was charged by the Presbytery with starting a new church in unincorporated Pompano Beach. I saw my father walk door to door fearlessly asking people if they had a church. I remember seeing the church grow from just a few people (my Mom, Dad and I) to over a hundred members. All of the church activities, including choir rehearsal were held in our home. Church Committee Meetings became as much a part of my vernacular as pizza. Is it surprising that by the time I was 16, I was an avid surfer, played tournament tennis, had a rock band and yes, taught Sunday School.
Peculiarly, my high schooling was spent in an untraditional private school that was 98% Jewish. I learned a tremendous amount about the Jewish religion by simple immersion. I attended countless Bar Mitzvahs and an occasional Seder Service. Being the token gentile I became the object of schooling on the rituals and symbols of the Jewish faith… in detail… over and over. The Old Testament became more dimensional.
In my first year of college I worked in a Funeral Home where I observed the reality of death, grief and the stumbling but vital effort of comforting. After a year, they offered to pay my college tuition and send me to school to become a funeral director.
In my second year of college I married the love of my life, Cindy. A year later our love took form in the birth of our beautiful daughter. I took the job as tennis pro at a large tennis facility in west Broward. I developed and ran the largest pro tennis tournament in the area, the Aloe Sun Invitational, with over 150 pros from all over the world. As in most resorts the clientele seeking tennis lessons was of varying ages. I was taken with the observation that people of all ages learn in very diverse ways. My psychology classes coupled with private study and individual analysis, I devised a teaching method that served my students well both on the tennis court and later in the classroom. Cindy and I graduated from college with BFA degrees and soon I was asked to take the position of Tennis Director at the venerable Hawks Cay Resort. I had the pleasure of over-seeing the design, development & construction of the first 5 star tennis facility in the Florida Keys. After the first year I was asked to become part of the executive staff and also given the position of Executive Director of Guest Experience. That was being charged with the responsibility of providing the most delightful experience possible for each guest. Not always such an easy task considering the often jaded tourists visiting the resort. I rarely compare that learning experience with any of the factions of the Presbyterian Church but you may disagree. I oversaw the marina operation, guest excursions and dolphin adventures. Mine was the obligation to do FAM trips with all the travel writers and VIPS. Those I found more interesting were Bill Murray, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton and Dan Akroyd . This public relations position also involved representing the Resort for the Tourist Development effort for the Fla. keys and the State of Florida.
After the birth of our 2nd child, Noah we decided it was time to move back to the area of our family and church where my father was the associate minister and had been for 30 years. We chose to move back to Broward County. To marry our talents with a means to generate a business we began a special events firm which directed us to corporate and social event design and execution based in Palm Beach County. Our goal was original design whether a wedding, Bar Mitzvah or a corporate gala. Ordinary was not a part of our vocabulary. It always had to be sensational. Our clientele included noted people and companies from varied pursuits such as the President of the United States, to Stephie Graff, Andy Roddick (1# tennis player in world) Princess & Celebrity Cruise Lines, Cannon, IBM, Imax, The Super bowl, and many more. I specialized in weddings and Large Gala’s. I designed, wrote and directed hundreds of inter-faith weddings… Jewish…Protestant… Catholic… Greek Orthodox and many with no connection at all.
I found myself counseling the couples. I would discuss their religious beliefs, their family’s feelings, how they plan to raise their children? The importance of the step they were preparing to take. How can the ceremony set the tone?
For 19 years we designed, installed, directed a staff of thirty and built it into a business generating three quarters of a million annually. A satisfying but demanding path. During that time our efforts in the church were unceasing. I served on the Search Committee to find a head of staff for 3 years, was an Elder, a Trustee and chaired the Christian Education Committee. Cindy and I designed and taught an adult class called Real Coffee that dealt with today’s real issues: Death Penalty, War, Gay clergy, The Dying Mainstream Church and the Challenge of Jesus’ Word in our contemporary world. We had from 20 to 30 people, who for the most part, eager to share in questions and commentary. In the absence of a paid Youth Director, a good tennis buddy, Cindy and I directed a youth program that attracted young folks from many denominations. One of my most fascinating church experiences was heading a Long Range Planning Committee which involved a detail study of churches that had been transformed or failed of different denominations.
As I view the patterns of God in my life I realize I have seen and experienced the Ministry from another side. It is not the chilling robed orator portraying the ultimate in dignity viewed mostly in a Sunday Worship Service. I’ve seen young “green” ministers in their first church out of seminary, trembling with the emptiness of their labored preparation. And sometimes it never got any better. Middle aged pastors who needed to move on but fear and comfort preventing their action. Ministers who waited too long to step down staying at the embarrassing mercy of a polite congregation. I’ve seen egos out of control, sexual addiction, and alcoholism. Although I know the unmatchable joy of fulfilling the will of God I am hardly a starry eyed neophyte.
After what seemed an endless contemplation, wrestling with myself and God I shared my strong conviction with Rev. Jack Noble, that I felt “called” by God to commit myself to His service.
The need for a Youth Minister was at hand. We sold our business and I began to minister to the youth of our area at the First Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach. The position has grown into Christian Education and Family ministries and begun a contemporary worship service.
My overwhelming concern as shared by most Presbyterian Ministers that are still in the habit of inhaling and exhaling regularly is the growing demise of the Presbyterian Church. I have examined the extraordinary flowering of many independent churches. I’ve engaged in classes in Post Modern Churches, Gen-X, Organic churches, Gen. ME, Transformation and Resurrection movements. I have visited Mars Hill Bible Church with Pastor Rob Bell, Solomon’s Porch, Calvary Chapel, The Harbor, Christ the Rock Bible Church and The Emerging Church.
I’ve taken the opportunity to conduct worship services from contemporary to high traditional and have preached at the St. Andrews in Toxaway, NC, Kirk of the Keys, Marathon, Second Presbyterian of Ft. Lauderdale and repeatedly at The First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Florida where I serve.
I wish this epistle were shorter in length but I can’t argue with God’s design. As I look back on this unfinished painting, I only wish for every minister that they might have had this very exciting and fulfilling path to prepare them for their tasks of teaching, administration, education, creativity, music, business management, communication, grief counseling, patience, understanding and most of all, courage to believe it can all work.
Pastor of Second Presbyterian Ft. Lauderdale Moderator of Presbyter 2012 Director of Youth, Children and Family Ministries Students Pastor LHCS Worship Leader / Director of Contemporary Worship Elder Trustee Chair of Long Range planning Member of the Committee on Ministry Seminary FCTS N.C.D. P.A.C.T. Association of Presbyterian Church Educator