Leaving Chautauqua was sad. What a week. So glad we were there with a cohort of WPC members who can corroborate and validate our experience. It was remarkable: stimulating, educational, spiritually renewing, relaxing, challenging, artistically inspiring, and topped off with a night filled with laughter…it really is the best medicine. Amy and I were sad to bid the place goodbye.
Highlights for us were Fr. Greg Boyle’s preaching in the mornings, Jon Meacham’s Thursday morning lecture, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Amy’s cookie decorating class, Jay Leno’s Friday night performance, and dinner with WPC friends on the Athenaeum Hotel porch overlooking the lake.
But there were serendipities too. On Thursday night while I was in the middle of leading evening vespers, an older couple walked in half-way through and sat at the back wall. My eyesight didn’t register who they were until after the service when they came up and I realized they were old friends from Bethlehem! They were the parents of my friend, Billy Winterburn. It was Billy who famously said, “Have you opened it up yet?” as I was driving him home from church choir practice in my brand-new ’70 Dodge Challenger in early April ’76. Well, I opened it up…and it got away from me! Short story is I had a crash, got a tow truck to pull the car out before the police arrived, and then Mr. Winterburn magically appeared to get us out of the back seat of the State Police cruiser! They are 90- and 87-years young, respectively, and it was such a joy to see them again. The other big surprise was I found out my dear friend, Ronnie Ost, was in Rochester, NY getting ready to drive his son, James, back to Chicago for the weekend so James could compete in a bike race. We were able to catch breakfast not far from Chautauqua on Friday morning, which was such a gift, as I was disappointed not being able to get to Chicago over the sabbatical to see Ronnie. Some of you have heard me talk about him before; he graduated a year ahead of me from HS, went to Harvard, played soccer his first year and then turned professional and played pro-soccer as a summer job the rest of his years. Hardly a big match goes by when we don’t call or text each other about it. I wore the tee shirt of the Pennsylvania Stoners, the team he played for in the old American Soccer League. As Father Boyle said, “We laughed from the belly.”
Other, smaller, serendipities occurred as well. In conversation with one of the guests staying at the Presbyterian House, I found out John was a member of the same yacht club with my friends, Kelly and Tom Raskauskas. He is also a Knight of Malta, with my old rugby buddy, Sam Long. Such a fascinating, and well-read individual. Friday morning, I sat on Presbyterian House porch for a long conversation with my old friend, Rev. George Wirth. George was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, PA, one of the churches with whom I interviewed coming out of PTS. So, I’ve known George since ’86. Later, he moved to First Presbyterian, Atlanta while I was still in Alpharetta and was still there when I served Dalton from ’02-’06 and was a very active member of PTS’s Board of Trustees. We had the chance to talk about mutual friendships and our beloved seminary as it begins to search for a new president.
But all good things must come to an end. Saturday morning Amy brought the car around and I packed it, saying a sad goodbye to the Presbyterian House. You know it’s real when your name is no longer up on the sign in front of the House as Chaplain for the Week. We took off for Jamestown, NY to visit the National Comedy Museum. Being there continued the laughter from Jay Leno’s performance the night before. It was hard to see Jamestown so down on its heels, but the museum was all fresh and new. We were there for a solid three hours and felt like we could have spent more time. Plus, we wanted to get to Pittsburgh to rendez vous with old WPC friends, Blake and Mollie Brookshire and their delightful little boys, Dean, Graham, and one-year-old, Luke. We met at a fabulous park in the Squirrel Hill section of the city, not far from University of Pittsburgh, Shady Side Presbyterian Church, and East Liberty Presbyterian Church (which, I’m told, locals pronounce as “Sliberty”). I had forgotten how much energy little boys have! They were perpetual motion machines! But we were able to catch up as they played.
Afterward, Amy and I drove to the airport, checked into a hotel, and prepared for her 4:30 am departure. Mercifully, the hotel had a shuttle so I could say goodbye and catch a few more hours of shut eye, dreaming how grateful I was not to be peddling a bike across Iowa!!!! Sunday morning, I dressed in real clothes, tied on a bow tie, and drove back to Pittsburgh to worship at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. It. Was. Beautiful! On the list of National Register of Historical Places, it is a classic example of Richardson Romanesque and provided a stunning place to worship. Craig Barnes, Princeton Seminary’s President who has preached for us at WPC, had been pastor at Shadyside before being called to PTS.
Revived by good worship, I spent my last hours in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I was pleased to find a robust collection and was grateful to see new paintings by Henry Ossawa Tanner (who grew up in Pittsburgh) and Van Gogh that I had not known before. Off to Morgantown, WV to stay the night with the Brookshires. Hard to believe it will be the last night away from home before my sabbatical ends. It was especially hard to see this last full, wonderful week come to an end.