The Good Book(s)

I studied to be a minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination. As I grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, my family’s life centered around Central Christian Church.

My father – George, Sr. – was chair of the elders and taught one of the adult Sunday School classes. My mother played the piano in Sunday School. My sister Sally and I were officers in the youth group.

I was the Sunday School song-leader, just as my grandfather Bauman had been. I used some of his methods to encourage full congregational participation in hymn-singing. Grandad would sometimes announce that after singing the first verse together of a hymn, such as “What a Friend We Had in Jesus”, the second verse would be sung by the men, the third verse by the women, and all together again on the concluding fourth verse. Other times he would have the congregation whistle a verse of “The Old Rugged Cross”. Pointing to each of the three sections of the sanctuary, he’d tell each section to sing a second, third, and fourth verse of “Just as I Am”.

I chose yet another way to keep some of the congregation from dozing. I learned some of the members’ favorite hymns, so if I saw old Bill Barber nodding off in the back under one of the stained glass windows, I’d call out, “Let’s all open our hymnbooks to Bill Barber’s favorite hymn, “Trust and Obey”. Bill would startle awake at the sound of his name, and join right in. My mother’s favorite was “In the Garden”, so I’d turn to her on the piano and tell her to play a verse through without us singing along, and then we’d sing the verses with her.

Once a year we’d have a special Sunday night “Gospel Sing”, when we’d sing the evening away rather than have any Bible readings, prayers, or mini-sermons.

We were a singing congregation.

My cousin Randy and I were best friends growing up. At church we were the head of the youth group, and one year the congregation was having a membership drive to bring new blood into an old, declining congregation. Randy and I came up with the idea of stringing two lines across the sanctuary for a visual representation of the drive. On them, we each had a rocket ship. He had a list of half the members of the church, as did I. As new members were brought in by “our” half of the team, we would advance the rocket ship part way across the lines, so that these vessels hung over the worshipers for months until the campaign ended. We never got the rockets all the way across the sanctuary.

Randy and I were in the choir together. Since we both sang bass, we were the last to enter, the sopranos, altos, tenors all having shuffled into their places in the choir loft to the left of the pulpit. For some crazy reason, pop-music-fans Randy and I would sing “Duke of Earl” under our breath as we stepped from the choir’s gathering area out into the sanctuary. “Duke, duke, duke, duke of earl…” we chanted solemnly, as though we were Catholic monks chanting the matins. (We were definitely NOT Catholic. Whenever I’d announce to my family that I had a date with a new girlfriend, the first thing Dad would ask in a threatening way was, “She’s not Catholic, is she?!”)

Having to sit facing the congregation was a challenge for those of us non-morning people, who would rather be home still under the covers. Randy and I nearly got blisters on our elbows from nudging each other so much during the sermons.

Somewhere along the way I decided that I’d like to be a minister, giving up my dream of being a major league baseball player, and deciding that I didn’t want study all the science necessary to become a chiropractor.

So I went to Bethany College as a pre-ministerial student, naïve as I was. A year later I transferred to Geneva College, because my aunt taught there, and my mother had just been hired as the bookstore manager. Naturally I started hanging around the bookstore, offering advice to students browsing through the new paperback section, which was part of the anti-hardback revolution on campuses in the early-mid ‘60s. I helped out when I could, and soon was told, “You may as well get paid for what you do around here.” I loved it.

For the next three years I worked part-time in the bookstore during the week, and preached at First Christian Church in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. My studies suffered, of course, but as long as I could get a B without working at it, I was content, even if my parents weren’t.

I ran the church’s youth groups, called on hospitalized and home-bound members, and led the Sunday and Wednesday night prayer meetings. I did everything but marry and bury.

Sometime in my senior year, I decided that I didn’t feel called to the ministry, which I felt (and had been told by my professors) was necessary. I’d already been accepted at Brice Divinity School at TCU in Fort Worth.

I preached my last on Christmas Sunday 1966, then told my parents of my change of plans. They were not happy, especially Dad, who, as chair of the elders, felt that I’d betrayed the family’s religious tradition. Once, in his forties, Dad had considered going to seminary and becoming a minister himself. He and Mom asked me what my vocational plans were now.

“Well, I’m not sure. I’ve got a minor in English, but I really haven’t given much thought to what I want to do, only what I don’t want to do.”

That’s not the thing to tell your career-oriented parents.

I graduated with the degree in Religion and Philosophy, but just barely. I flunked my final exam in an advanced Philosophy class. The doggoned class was at 8 a.m.! I’ve never been a morning person, and by the senior year, most students were able to schedule their classes for later in the morning. During the second week of class, Dr. Tweed announced that henceforth, “attendance will be optional. You all are seniors and know how important my class notes are beyond the text-reading.” He paused dramatically, then added, “And besides, Mr. Bauman would be able to sleep much more comfortably in his own bed.” The class laughter woke me up, and the professor’s remark was gleefully repeated to me. Dr. Tweed was among several in the department who had taken quite hard my decision not to professionally use their teachings. Others had seen my lack of focus, and weren’t surprised.

So I didn’t attend many of his classes, assuming I could pull a passing grade out of the old wazoo. But when I flunked the final exam, I sure woke up. I needed the class credits to graduate, just a week away. And I was getting married to my college sweetheart four days after graduation, and starting a new job at the YMCA one week after that. Everything depended on me graduating, and here I was in deep doo-doo.

I went to Dr. Tweed, who was a very good friend of my aunt, and pleaded for help, telling him of my post-graduation plans. I received a gentle lecture about my study habits, but finally he said, “OK, here’s what I’ll do. Come to my house at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning” – cruel man that he was – “and I’ll give you another exam. But to receive a D- for the course – which will give you a passing grade for the course – you will have to score an A- on this exam. So you better study hard if you want to pass this course, graduate, get married, and start a new job.”

I didn’t sleep at all that night. No-Doz was the drug of choice to stay awake, and I swallowed it down with coffee, having borrowed class notes from the brightest girl in class.

At 8 I rang his doorbell, exhausted and seriously worried. Dr. Tweed opened the door in his pajamas and robe. The coffee in the kitchen smelled great, but I was offered none. He showed me to the dining room table and handed me the exam. “I’ll be back exactly at 10. Good luck.”

At precisely 10, he came down the stairs, dressed for the day, and took my exam. “I’ll look at it today, and give you a call tomorrow with the news.”

I thanked him profusely for the second chance, and headed straight for the dorm, where I first phoned my fiancé and parents, then slept until Sunday morning. We were all on pins and needles, especially Lori, about The Call. Finally around dinner time, Dr. Tweed called, and mercifully delivered the news promptly. “You scored exactly the amount of points for the A-, George, and that means you passed the course, and will graduate on time.”

Wow! I thanked him, then called home and Lori with the great news. My father put it in some perspective when he said, “Getting a D- in one of your major classes isn’t exactly good news.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, Dad. Gimme a break. I’m going to graduate and get married and no one’s going to care that I had to re-test to graduate, and besides, it’ll make a good story down the road.

As to the YMCA job, it didn’t last long. Nor did the marriage, but that’s another story. Back at my mother’s campus store, I was adrift. I went to my aunt, moping about what kind of work to go into.

She asked me what I would really like to do if I could do anything.

“Get paid to hang out in a bookstore!” I quickly replied.

“Well…?” she suggested. “Have you thought of following in your mother’s footsteps?”

The heavens parted, and I knew my destiny. Thank you Aunt Peg!

So now, instead of preaching the Good Book, I’ve been distributing good books for 46 years.


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