Pastor Nelson was new in our life. One of our writers for the Woodstock Townsman (we were editor writers for the back page) had introduced us to going to church. It was unheard of to us but she and I were "open minded." I thought the church he referred to, the Willow Wesleyan Church, was a museum. I would often notice its museum-ness in my jogging route as the "past." Alas, it was home of about twelve regular attenders and a high percentage of that twelve were the Nelson’s and Mary Owen’s children.
Herb Hartman was introduced to me as an evangelist. They wanted us at church that night as this week was "revival" week at our church. The way I remember this conversation was that we were being reminded that the "evangelist" was coming to town. Herb, his wife Sheila, who played piano and sang with Herb, also had a nine year old son Stephen who did a puppet show. Herb eventually preached a sermon and when he was finished invited people to come forward in response to his message. I noticed no one came forward to the altar area. When all was done and we were dismissed, I then noticed Herb Hartman shaking hands as the attenders were going out the door. I am sure Herb and Pastor Nelson were reminding people to come out tomorrow night and bring friends. Wendy went ahead of me to prepare some things at home for us as I still was not really home yet. So I saw an opportunity as the last person at church to be social and to encourage this nice man Herb and his family.
"Mr. Hartman," I said. "You preached a very good sermon and I am sorry that you got no response from the listeners." Without missing a beat Herb said to me, "Would you like to come forward?" Just like that. In my mind as I write this, I do not remember what his sermon was about. I do not remember being emotional. In my mind I was being adventurous and also polite as I followed Herb to the tiny altar space in the white church building erected in 1854. What followed, however, was far from normal and much greater than emotional. Pastor Nelson was soon praying with me and, of course, so too was Evangelist Herb. Things were "happening." Again I do not remember what was said to me or what I said. I do however know the essence of the meeting happened for me at the altar. I looked over at the window’s early evening’s reflection of myself. I heard a Presence say, "As I was always with you alongside you, as a reflection, I am now in you as a revelation of Me in you and you in Me."
The next thing I remember was being very happy. I asked the nine year old Stephen if he would dance with me and we were very silly together. Of course it was my influence, but I was soooooo happy. I came home, and Wendy was so happy with me and I with her. I had a revelation kind of dream just prior to sleeping. It was sort of like being in a live play versus watching a movie. In the dream I saw the image of my most recent tarot card reader dissolve before my eyes. I did not think of this until months later, but I noticed I was no longer smoking marijuana either. In a subtle and yet obvious way, I had a new mind.
Two years later I gave up transcendental meditation. I noticed I was not swearing anymore. I do not remember being told to do this or do that, but I was changing. My nature was human but it was a new humanity – one I did not know before. Wendy and I over the next few days, then weeks, months and years, had lost all our former friends. It’s like we had a plague. We eventually moved away and yet I remember Woodstock so fondly. The air, the land we owned, the softball league, life-acting in Woodstock, the newspaper, and of course, The Willow Church Pastor Nelson and Mary Owen and the Hartman Harmonies . . . on and on and on.
I was "born again" that night thirty three years ago. Yes, it is a birth canal and it is a lot different from Mom’s womb. I was born again - but this time of the Spirit. What I am about to say is only for human ears to hear. Whatever kind of human you are, we humans all have the same origin and have so much in common. By God’s pure heart and personal desire we have the same destiny, too. Namely, that we, all of us, would have a second birth. He, the Son of Man, is also the son-author of humanity. Whatever your starting point in life, even wherever you started this very day, He is ready to initiate a new birth canal. He is the common integrator for all humanity. We used to sing a song that seems appropriate to say now.
"There's just something about that Name."