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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough


“A person’s home, especially the livingroom, should express the occupant’s interests,” Franklyn quoted from a book he was reading. ‘‘Now, Norma, when you entertain, what do you do? Play cards? Listen to music? Watch television?”

‘‘None of these, unless you are in the mood to play and sing for us. We converse, about books we are reading, plays, current topics, personal projects, people.”

“All right, then. You talk. So your livingroom should be arranged for conversation.”

“Why, of course, dear. So . . .”

“So we rearrange the furniture,” he exclaimed with a gleam in his eye for he loved to change things. “Okay, let’s start!”

So we started by moving the grand piano away from an inner wall to the recess of the bay windows, then the davenport, then the chairs and end tables and lamps. Finally we had them all in place according to Franklyn’s ideas, and we sat down, or more accurately, collapsed into the most comfortable chairs. Franklyn looked around brightly, awaiting comments.

“Flow do you like it now, Norma?” he asked.

“I—I can’t think of a darned thing to say!” she exclaimed.

A Sally from Sally

Sally McChesney was one of Norma’s most adoring friends, of the “I’m the only one who appreciates you” variety. If I had known of a visit from Sally I would have been prepared for the phone call I had from Norma, asking in a tremulous voice if I would come to her apartment for a confidential talk. Our offices were close to each other. We didn’t usually bother with phoning. An open door indicated availability; a closed door was respected and offered sufficient privacy for most any situation. This must be serious.

“Hi, Normie, what can I do for you?” I asked as she ushered me into her livingroom.

“I—I want to make a change,” she faltered.

“A new apartment?” I ventured.

She shook her head. “Oh, no. I—I want to leave the church.” “You mean, give up your ministry?”

“No, to start a work of my own.”

“What kind of a work? Where?”

“I’d like to start a class in one of the smaller communities, like Ontario.”

“I’d miss you like everything. Franklyn would miss you. The congregation would be in mourning. You’re so capable, people love you so; and you make each one feel as if you’re talking to him or her alone. You deserve a work of your own. But—Ontario! That’s no place for you, Normie. You’re used to crowds. You love young people, like those who came to your Unity class at the University in Westwood. Let’s see if we can get regular use of the auditorium. We’ll advertise the meetings on radio, announce them in “Prayer and Praise” (our monthly bulletin). Franklyn and I will come with you for the first meeting to give it a big send-off. You’ll attract a whole new following, yet still be a part of Christ Church. What do you think of that?”

“Well, I don’t know. I—I’ll think about it.”

“Okay. Only let me know when you’d like to start. Allow time for special mailings. What shall we call the meetings? Unity in Westwood? Or how about Norma Knight Jones Speaks? Oops, I’ve got a class coming up. Let me know.”

She gave me a little peck on the cheek as I was leaving.

She phoned me at home that evening. “Darling, I’m a damned fool, aren’t I?” she asked meekly.

“Ah, ah! Mustn’t say damned, Normie. Let’s make that lovable!”

Adoration can be a problem.

The Hucksters

Always on the lookout for illustrations to bring fresh interest to my discourses—it takes a lot of them when you’re giving up to five hundred talks a year—an incident came to mind in the midst of a Sunday sermon. “It’s like I read about in the new book, The Hucksters, ” I commented, and proceeded to recount an inspiring success story from the book. A few weeks later, one of the elderly women in the congregation greeted me at the door following the service.

“I read that book you recommended, and it didn’t seem at all like I expected.” I wondered what the problem was, particularly since I had gotten my quote from an excerpt in The Reader’s Digest, and had not read the entire book. I found out very soon when I made a long-promised visit to the Lake Tahoe summer home of Richard and Mona Bonelli. Sitting on a window seat overlooking the lake, my glance fell on a book left on the seat beside me. It was The Hucksters. With mounting temperature I began reading the uncut version, which told in graphic detail about the many amorous extra-curricular activities of the high-presssure salesmen called the hucksters. At the next Sunday service I explained wryly that my endoresement was very limited.

On impulse I wrote a note to DeWitt Wallace, the Digest editor, suggesting that if his staff was going to change the tenor of a book so much—there had been no hint of the hucksters’ sexual prowess in the condensed version—to offer a word of warning for the sake of reviewers like me.

I thought that my note probably would never reach him, and was surprised by a cordial note from him; that a minister with my sense of humor might have a message for Digest readers, and inviting me to submit something for publication.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t.

Almost a Bishop

The name Charles Hampton on my appointment calendar rang a distant bell. Could it be ... ? Well, I would soon know, and did. A handsome gray-haired man, dressed in Oxford gray, wearing a clerical collar and the pink rabat and amethyst cross of a bishop entered my study. He was carrying a suitcase.

“Haven’t I met you before? Weren’t you a young priest at Krotona in Hollywood Hills back about 1918?” I asked.

“How kind of you to remember. Yes, I was putting the finishing touches on a little redwood chapel where I was to conduct services of the Liberal Catholic Church, revived by Charles Leadbeater. Perhaps you wonder what has caused me to ask for some of your time.” ‘I’m grateful for whatever cause should have brought you to me. I was impressed by your obvious dedication. I’ve often thought of you and wondered what had become of you.”

“That touches on my mission. Leadbeater, as you know, was a prominent Theosophist who was gifted with spiritual insight. He became interested in observing what happens on the invisible plane during the celebration of the mass of the Church. He learned of Holy Orders dating back to the second century A.D. in Beirut, and was consecrated a bishop at about the turn of the century. He determined to maintain the succession among enlightened clergy. Only a bishop can consecrate a bishop. If the line of succession should die out it cannot be revived. So some of us are desirious of consecrating worthy clergy who are friendly to liturgical ways of worship. In short, I’ve come to ask you to let me consecrate you as a bishop of our—of the Liberal Catholic Church.”

“I’m overwhelmed by the invitation, but I could not leave Unity to become a Catholic, though I do remember being invited by your church in Minneapolis to give the sermon at its Christmas service, and enjoyed doing so.”

“We wouldn’t want you to leave Unity or to change your teaching. It would be enough if you were willing to celebrate the Holy Communion by the use of the elements at intervals.”

“That I have actually considered doing for those who are accustomed to doing so and don’t want to change, even in Unity.”

“I know you love beauty. Let me show you the bishop’s robes. I have them in this case.”

He displayed them to me, and the sight of them evoked an eerie feeling of familiarity. Had I perhaps really been a dignitary of the Church in some past life, as Charles Fillmore insisted? And oddly some of my closest friends secretly called me “The Bishop.”

I was impressed by Bishop Charles’s spiritual integrity, and wished I could know him better. We did become friends and saw each other at rare intervals.

—Well, at least I could have been a bishop!

A Seeking Comedian

Ken Murray was attracted to Unity soon after I began appearing on television, attending the midweek service. I first became aware of it when an usher appeared at the vestry door to tell me that he sat holding a dead cigar between his fingers. “Shall I ask him to get rid of it?”

“Where is he seated?”

“In the back row, off in a corner by himself.”

“No. If he’s not disturbing anybody and feels more comfortable with that familiar stage prop in his fingers, by all means don’t disturb him.”

After the service he greeted me at the door, and I was pleased to see that his attendance continued. I was a little surprised, although I should have known by then, that performers are not necessarily like the parts they play on stage. For years, the first years I was in Los Angeles (and for some years before) he had been appearing in his own variety show, Blackouts, with the blonde comedienne, Marie Wilson, as his foil. I first met Marie soon after becoming acquainted with Charles “Chic” Sale, his twin son and daughter, and Chic’s sister, Virginia. We were both guests of the Sales. Marie impressed me as being an astute young business woman off stage, quite different from the role she played on stage. I was to meet her again some years later, again as fellow guests, in the home of Sheik Mar-Elia and his wife, Helen, at the memorable meeting with Queen Nazli, the queen mother of Egypt.

Ken tells, in his book of memoirs, Life on a Pogo Stick, about how he first came to Christ Church. His wife, Bette, had been an avid Unity student since childhood. He had drifted away from any sort of religious guidance. His interest was aroused as a result of living with her. If Unity helped to induce her serenity, he wanted some.

He writes: “When I asked my wife one evening if I could accompany her to the Thursday service, I was completely fascinated. The minister had a serenity and approach that is very unusual in a man; a great asset in the ministry.” He was surprised and delighted to find that in its midweek informal atmosphere, remarks could be made that called forth acceptable chuckles and even laughter to make a point. He continues:

“As we left the church he was standing outside shaking hands with everyone. When my wife introduced me, Doctor Wilson said, ‘Oh, yes, I know Ken Murray.’

“I said, ‘Doctor, either you cut out getting laughs like that, or I’m going to open a church.’

“He promptly replied with a smile, ‘If you do, I’d like to dedicate it for you.’ ”

More important, he describes taking part in our double Easter services, reading the touching poem, “The Master Carpenter,” which seemed so appropriate for the occasion. This he did with great poise and reverence. What he doesn’t mention in his book is how I asked him if he’d like to play Santa Claus during a Sunday School program. He agreed, but this was an unnerving experience for him apparently. The reason was that he had no script and had to improvise.

I asked him one time how it was that he appeared so much younger on camera than off it. Was it makeup? “Only partly,” he said. “Have you a portable lamp handy?” He held the lamp a little above his waist so that the light shone up on his face. It seemed to wipe out the sag lines, a fact that many a minister could use. The commonly used overhead lights so often cast dark shadows on the speaker’s face, making it harder for listeners to see the facial expression and lip movements that are aids to hearing.

One-Horn Dilemma

Norma came to my study door one day: “Darling, I’ll be away all afternoon. I thought you’d better know. I have to make a sick call at Norconia Hospital down beyond Long Beach.”

“H-mm. You don’t drive. How’re you going to get there?” I asked.

“Mrs. Chesterfield, whose husband owns the Grand Hotel, has just had a birthday and he has given her a lovely new Cadillac. She’s offered to take me.”

“Great! When you get back, drop in and tell me about your trip.”

Franklyn was present when, several hours later, Norma reappeared at my door. “Hi, Normie. How was your trip?”

“Oh, Ernest, it was so embarrassing.”

“What could be embarrassing about driving through Long Beach in a gorgeous Cadillac with Mrs. C. at the wheel?” I asked.

“Well, you know how she’s built.”

I nodded. Yes, I knew. Mrs. C. was a short, peg-top type.

“And you know what a talker she is,” Norma continued.

“Yes, like Jurgen’s wife, she has no great gift for silence. But what has all that got to do with being embarrassed?”

“Well, that’s just it. Every time she’d turn to talk to me, her bosom would hit the horn ring!”

“Ha!” Franklyn chimed in. “You went through Long Beach on a bust and a toot!”

A Heritage Remembered

George Putnam was one of the outstanding personalities in the Los Angeles area. As newscaster and commentator, he appeared nightly on KTLA-TV. He had a resonant, commanding voice, fine appearance, and a fortright way of presenting current issues. He was also a fine horseman, and even in the annual Rose Parade, famous for its fine equestrians, he was outstanding. His silver-bedecked chestnut outshown all the other mounts.

One evening on TV he spoke eloquently on an American trait that seems to be on the wane in these days of paternal government—the early creed of rugged individualism. He recalled circumstances in his boyhood on a farm, where families took pride in making their own way, stood together, helped others, had little money, few luxuries, yet never considered themselves either poor or abused. I thought I would love to have him address our congregation. Hesitantly, because I had heard that he was the highest paid personality on the local scene, I ventured a call to the studio to ask if he would speak at our Sunday morning service. His secretary took my request, told me he would be in his office at three o’clock and she would ask him to call me.

At one minute past three he was on the phone. He would be glad to speak for us. He gave me his subject and said that he would need thirty minutes, and would be at the church fifteen minutes early.

No other guest has ever received such a response as he did on that Sunday morning. People broke out in applause, gave him a standing ovation when he concluded, and I stood with him at the door for an hour after the service as people filed by to wring his hand, voice their thanks, some of them with tears in their eyes.

He refused to accept a fee.

I thought of him and of Mayor Sam Yorty as we were making plans for the twenty-fifth anniversary of our Los Angeles ministry.

© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.