CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…
Harley Woolridge almost destroyed my marriage before it started. It was my first date with Helen, if you can call it a date, and it’s surprising there was a second.
Harley was the pastor at Worthington, IN, but was preaching a two-week revival at Garrison Chapel, 10 miles or so outside Bloomington, worship each night. I was the preacher at Solsberry, Koleen, and Mineral, even though I was just an IU undergrad, so Harley and I knew each other a little, through District programs and clergy meetings.
Harley was an old-fashioned preacher, doing an old-fashioned thing, preaching a revival in a little country church. I thought it would be good for my fellow student city friends in The Wesley Foundation [Methodist Campus Ministry] to experience something so foreign to their sophisticated urban church experiences. Also, I wanted to get better acquainted with the quite cute Norma Sullivan, and I figured she would fall for something like that.
She did, and she got three or four other students to agree to go along, or at least she said she did. By the appointed evening for us to drive out to Garrison Chapel, everybody had backed out, so Norma told me, for one reason or another, except for Norma and her roommate, Helen Karr. Helen was getting ready when she noticed that Norma was sitting on her bed in her pajamas. “Shouldn’t you be changing your clothes?” “Oh, I can’t go. I have a big test to study for.” So poor Helen had to come out to my old green Chevy and say, to a boy she barely knew, that she was the only one going.
I was disappointed by Norma’s absence, and Helen, who was from Gary--about as urban as it was possible to get--was ill at ease having to go out into the country, to an experience she knew about only from hearing about its excesses, with a guy she barely knew. But we made the best of it, and were having an okay time, sitting in the back row, singing along with the revival hymns, until good old Harley spied us.
“Let’s have this young preacher and his wife come up here and sing a duet,” he shouted.
That sort of free-wheeling was typical of what happened at a revival, so Helen got what was promised, but neither of us had ever been so shocked. There in the back row, we were isolated from the rest of the whole world, with only each other to share our embarrassment.
I’ll always be grateful to Norma and Harley. Norma realized I was interested in her, but she didn’t return that interest. She wanted Austin Ritterspach. [And she got him.] But she set things up so that she could not only deflect my attention but so that Helen and I could discover each other. And Harley Woolridge started us out with an experience no one else could share.
But we still have not sung a duet in church.
“All we ask [in old age] is to be allowed to remain the authors of our own story.” Atul Gawande, Being Mortal, p. 140.
“If a story is not willing to tell itself, it probably should not be told.” [Should you use quote marks if you’re quoting yourself?]