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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XLV — Farewells

Whether my call to Kansas City was, as some hoped and bravely proclaimed, a temporary thing; or as some secretly feared and denied, a permanent thing, the acceptance of the call clearly marked the end of a cycle. It could not be allowed to pass without special recognition.

The symbolical breaking of bread together is the time-honored form of such observances.

There must be a farewell banquet.

This one would commemorate my two personal anniversaries; March 30th, marking my physical advent into this world, and March 11th, my consecration to the ministry; but most of all, the culmination of twenty-seven wonderful years of working, praying, growing together in a ministry that had touched the lives of countless thousands.

We had had many memorable banquets. The one of only two years previously, commemorating the twenty-fifth year of the Los Angeles ministry outshone all the earlier ones. We had engaged the elegant Embassy Room of the Ambassador Hotel. Some of our committee members thought it was too expensive and would eliminate many of our less affluent adherents from attending. I disagreed.

“Our less affluent members, so-called, are among our most loyal financial supporters,” I affirmed, “they will want us to go first class. They would save up for it, think of it as something to remember and cherish for years to come; the ladies would welcome the occasion for displaying their best gowns, even getting new ones.”

Any qualms I may have had about this notion vanished when we had a phone call from the hotel management asking us to move from the Embassy Room to the larger Cocoanut Grove in order to accommodate the requests that were coming in. Even the difficulties of changing seating arrangements to adapt to the Grove somehow added to the excitement and importance of the occasion, and served to epitomize the many challenges and joyous overcomings of our years of growth and attainment together. Our gratitude to God and to one another gave an added beauty to the refurbished Grove, the dinner, the music, the speeches that followed. The public figure whom most of the diners had wanted to hear was the commentator, George Putnam. He topped all others when, surveying the crowd as he rose to speak, he remarked, “Not even Bob Hope ever packed the Grove like this!”

The farewell banquet was to surpass even that occasion.


Don Fedderson’s contribution was arranging for the banquet to be held in the Hollywood Palladium. When, in the program that followed the dinner, he was called on for remarks he was so emotionally moved that he could only rise, attempt to speak, and bow his head in silent acknowledgment. The list of speakers at the head table included the church board members, Mayor Sam Yorty and his lovely wife, Bette. In his remarks he said, “As you know, I called on your minister to give the prayer in my two mayoral inaugurations. The Los Angeles city limits don’t quite reach Kansas City, and I won’t feel like I’m installed in office without his taking part. But there’s one power that does apply, the power of subpoena. I’m going to subpoena Ernest to come back to take part in my third inaugural!” And he did. Norma was there, radiant in a black velvet ensemble and white fox furs, to be augmented as she arose by a sheaf of red roses; and inseparably a part of it all, though in another dimension, I think Franklyn was there too.

Doctor Cleveland of course was there, and when he was called upon for a few words, ruefully remarked that he was undoubtedly the most unpopular guest among the two thousand or so in attendance, as he tried to thank them for relinquishing their minister to serve the Mother Church of Unity to which the founder had so long ago appointed him.

It was a bittersweet occasion, a once in a lifetime experience which could never be duplicated. Several of my close friends such as Harriet Lee and Betty Bowman—Betty was a member of the board and had supervised an impressive coordinated face-lift of the church—were confidently asserting that the change would be of short duration.

Had I not always declared that California was my spiritual home? Indeed I had, and even now as I write these words, my feelings have not changed, except to add that I now suspect that this feeling is a carry over from some significant past embodiment; an incarnation of such import that it appears in the present as a soul memory.

I welcomed such brave assertions and wanted to believe them—but I did not get the hoped for strong inner assurance that I sought.

Man Proposes—God Disposes

How do any of us know for sure, when we are faced with momentous decisions, what is merely the self-serving urge of our aggressive human nature seeking recognition, monetary gain or some other worldly air, and what is a true leading of the Spirit, the prompting of that inner presence that I like to call The Knower?

People often ask me. I believe that the urges that are the response to humanly motivated desires will shift with what seems expedient . . . self-serving, whereas the leadings of Spirit will persist, remain steadfast in the face of apparently adverse appearances. A homely incident from my childhood comes to mind.

As a small boy I was fascinated by the gyrations of a little compass that came from the ten-cent store. My grandfather saw me playing with it. I had found that the needle which should always point to north could be made to swing all round the dial when I placed a knife blade over the dial. “Let me show you something,” my grandfather said. He took down from a shelf a handsome box of inlaid wood. Removing the cover he disclosed a compass of obviously fine workmanship. “Now, try moving the needle with your knife blade,” he invited. Confidently I did so. The needle quivered, but try as I would, I couldn’t make it leave true north. I “saw the point.”

No more could I change the inward prompting within me that, despite contrary arguments from my human nature and from trusted associates, remained steadfast; it was something that I must do. And from many past experiences I had found that humanly motivated desires will shift with the winds of expediency; those that come from a higher source will not change.

My human nature rebelled even so; not that I denigrated the invitation to return to the ministry in Kansas City. I felt that it was a great compliment.

It takes only a moment to say, “Yes, I will.” It took several months to work out the manifold details that such a commitment involved. No one on the church staff or executive board raised a voice (for which one part of my innermost self hopefully listened) to say, “You can’t leave us!” What I did hear on every side was, “I wish you wouldn’t go,” followed in the next breath by, “But of course you must.”

There were numerous previously made commitments that must be fulfilled. One of them was some lectures in the Escondido area. The telephone company reached me with a conference call placed by Doctor Cleveland that included personal greetings from members of the Temple board assuring me of their welcome and cooperation. Could I arrange to be with them for New Year’s services? I couldn’t.

It turned out that I wasn’t able to leave for Kansas City until the end of April.

Meanwhile it was as if Someone with Authority had said “Scat!” to my associate workers.

Gill Edwards confessed that though she had loved being my secretary, now that I would no longer need her, she would direct her teacher’s credentials toward seeking a ministry of her own. Ron Potter became a candidate for the Sacramento opening and was accepted. Marietta Ide became minister of the Unity church in Butte, Montana. Even John Hinkle’s leaving Sacramento to serve Christ Church, which later I was to rue, seemed like part of a wave of change that began back in the Kansas City church.

After the Palladium banquet any further obsequies would have been an anti-climax. Doctor Cleveland suggested that we meet at the airport and make the trip to Kansas City together on a flight scheduled to arrive there at eight in the evening. I was to learn later that he had a special reason. Checking in, we found that there would be a half-hour’s delay, then another, and another. Carl tried to phone his wife, Millie, in Kansas City. There was no answer. She had no doubt already left for the airport preparatory to our arrival.

It was midnight when we finally arrived in Kansas City. Carl and Millie had arranged for all the twelve church board members to greet us on arrival, and they all had responded, but, as the hours passed, the group had dwindled, until only Millie had stuck it out. They all had early commitments for the next morning.

The Promise of Springtime

The Clevelands dropped me off at The Kansas City Club where I felt at home because of my long-time membership during what I thought of as my previous Kansas City incarnation, the more so when next morning I was greeted by Dean Thompson and other members of the staff whom I remembered. They helped me make arrangements for members of the church board and their spouses to be my guests at a get-acquainted dinner in the roof garden dining room. The Clevelands and Meyers’ took me to luncheon at a pleasant place out in the country.

The sun was bright and warm, the rolling hills were still white with belated winter snow, with occasional patches of green showing through. Curls of smoke rose lazily from the chimneys of farmhouses scattered here and there. The promise of spring was in the air—for our Unity church too, I prayed.

Doctor Carl, as his friends called him, recounted to me as he was driving, how from the time of the Meyers’ resignation, he had had a strong feeling that I was to be their successor—that it was “foreordained.” L.E. also claimed a fore-knowledge and was pleased that I had accepted. Several executives from Unity School had asked if they could attend the board meeting that would vote on new leadership. When my name was broached the Village visitors raised the question of my age (I was sixty-nine), and of my health (I had successfully undergone major surgery) and that I would not accept in any event. But when the board members voted, eleven of the twelve voted for me. If I had known of these mixed feelings at the time Doctor Carl had visited me in Los Angeles I wonder if I would have been so quick to say “Yes, I will!”?

The next few weeks were a time of adjustment, meeting old friends, finding new ones. I had visited the Temple, as it was and often still is called, before its completion when I took part in the memorial service for Charles Fillmore, held in Fellowship Hall before the sanctuary was completed, and again later when L.E. and I had exchanged pulpits, but now it was like seeing it for the first time. Shelby Purdy, about to terminate years of service, stayed on to help me until Lloyd Felter would replace him. He helped me find temporary quarters in a Plaza hotel and wanted to show me through the edifice of which he and all its members and friends were rightfully proud.

“Sometime, real soon, Shelby,” I said, “but for the first time as its minister, I’d like to enter the sanctuary alone.” Reluctantly he agreed.

“Are You Ready?”

How like and yet how different coming into this place of worship was to be from the day nearly half a century ago I had entered the church in Galveston and had heard a deep voice ask, “Are you ready?” It had of course been my host coming to pick me up, but it had seemed like the voice of the Lord of Hosts to whom I had answered, “Yes, I am ready.” It had been an affirmation. It still was.

I stepped through the door Shelby opened for me, into the subdued light of the narthex, and through other doors into the handsomely appointed sanctuary with its plush opera seats, carpeted aisles, imposing chancel and choir loft and organ console. My gaze reached upward to the U-shaped balcony, and the one stained glass window above the choir loft, proclaiming the one word, LOVE.

I sank into a seat near the doors I had entered.

A flood of memories surged through my mind and emotions. I thought of how Charles Fillmore had appointed me to follow him as minister of this congregation which I had left (with his agreement that it was “a leading of the Spirit”) to establish the Los Angeles ministry. I thought of the mixed feelings that brought about my return, the emotionally charged atmosphere of unrest of which two dedicated persons seemed to be the center, but were perhaps only a part of the changing order of the times.

I had not sought this assignment; it was to fulfill a spiritual commitment. Was I equal to it? A passage from Scripture flashed through my mind: “I do nothing of myself . . . the Father within me, he doeth the works”; and the words of John Ring so long ago, “You can if you want to enough,” and that Galveston prayer, “O God, make me a good minister!”

Journey’s End?

It was twenty-seven years since I had been resident minister of Unity Society. I was grateful for the people I had known back in the late thirties who were still active members of the congregation. Many of the young people of my young people’s group were employed in Silent Unity and other departments of the School and/or teaching in the ministerial training program or classes at the Temple, such as Lloyd and Rae Felter, Lillian Smith, Dorothy Smith, Maxine Korfhage and her husband, Ray Frye. Maxine had often sung for the Master Classes and for The Friendly Voice radio program, and had succeeded Carl Frangkiser as director of the excellent Temple choir, assisted by Mabel Toussaint as organist and Pauline Deniston as guest soloist.

I was especially delighted to find that Christiana Cronemeyer, who had been and still was prominent as a teacher of old and young as in those early days, and was now church secretary.

She scarcely seemed older, and was an invaluable help to me as I was becoming adjusted to living in the manse, getting acquainted with the elaborate membership involvement. Christy knew everybody, their names, their families, their backgrounds.

“It’s great to know you will be working with me, Christy,” I remarked, “but I have some qualms about taking on this assignment. There’s an old saying that you should never go back to something you have left.”

Her characteristic response was, “Why, Ernest! You are not going back to something. You are coming home!”

Maybe that’s what I had been trying to do all these years.

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