Saturday, August 23, 2014

Family History 13: A Young Family

1. My parents married in 1947. My oldest sister was born the next year. Their first years of marriage, they lived in a store building my grandfather Dorsey owned on Olney Street in Indianapolis. There were two three room apartments upstairs and, if you were looking at the store front from the street, my Mom and Dad were on the top left, and Vernon with Katherine were on the right. I guess there was no shower, bath, or refrigerator in each apartment, although there was a toilet, a sink, and a stove.

My Dad first worked a couple years for his older brother Vernon, a pie/cake business, I believe. Then my Dad drove a route for Tasty Bread, which required him to get up at 2 in the morning. I guess he fell asleep and drove off the road once. He'd go to sleep when he got home as late as 4 in the afternoon. But that was also about the time that his Dad's meat market would get busy. He'd ask Mom to get Dad up to help and sometimes she could hardly wake him. As my Mom told one pastor, "All he wants to do is go to bed." While they were living over the store, they went to Dorsey's church plant.

In four years they had three girls. I'm not sure how long they were married when my Dad took a chance on a different job with General Motors. Initially, it would be a pay cut. But it had a potential future that could take him further. He would go to work for GMAC, then called MIC (Motors Insurance Corporation). He would become an insurance adjuster, which fit his book keeping personality.

My mother would raise the girls and later teach piano on the side. At one time she had over 20 students. She was a member of the Indiana Music Teacher's Association. My three oldest sister would become the "Schenck Trio" in their teen years and would sing at various Pilgrim Holiness churches. There was one instance where one of them had trimmed bangs and a pastor was uncomfortable with her singing--because she had trimmed her hair.

My mother tells a story about struggling over how to dress the girls in relation to standards. She felt like the Lord gave her Philippians 2:12, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." She felt like God was saying that she shouldn't worry about what others thought but do what her judgment and conscience thought was best.

That reminds me of some stories from her earlier years as well. There was a story I think I've mentioned earlier of a church leader who thought children shouldn't play with dolls (that was at Kingswood, Kentucky). But as a young girl, she felt like she shouldn't listen to fictional stories on the radio like Ma Perkins. She felt like she was misappropriating her time, getting too involved with them.

2. They lived four years over Grandpa Schenck's store. Then they moved to Evanston Ave, right before my third sister was born. My Uncle Paul followed them there, not far from where Northside Pilgrim Church was (which later became Trinity Wesleyan on Allisonville).

Uncle Paul must have loved Mom a lot. After he and his young wife got married, they soon moved in a curtained off place in the kitchen area of my parents' apartment above Dorsey's store. He and Aunt B. moved where Mom and Dad moved several times. First to Evanston Ave, then to Crestview, and finally to a magnificent house and yard (I always thought) not far from Preston Ave. The exceptions were the year Mom and Dad moved to Evansville and the three months Mom and Dad lived in Anderson. Of course they didn't move to Florida in 1971. I wrote much of the story of this period after my father died, so I need not repeat it.

I mentioned last week how Paul followed them to Indianapolis the night of their wedding to give them money for their honeymoon. He gave my Mom her first bike when she was twelve years old in Greenwood. He put it together using parts from several bikes. (She hit a fence her first time) He went to a pawn shop in a torrent of rain the day before Mom graduated to get her a watch.

My Dad went up to General Motors Institute to take some classes during the 50s. At one point he took a Dale Carnegie course that made a big impression on him. Tricks to memorizing things, for example (Dale Carnegie's memory pegs, IRA memory formula). Somehow, Dad got me going down this line and I'm not sure where I came across a system I used throughout high school and college to memorize lists and numbers (make the numbers into words 1 is t, 2 is n, 3 is m...).

There were other slogans from Dale Carnegie that I found almost as impressionable as he did. Randomly, I was telling my daughter yesterday about KISS, "Keep it simple, stupid."  Another quote that came from Grandpa Shepherd was, "A man convinced against his will is of the same mind still." They're like Keith Drury's Strategetics. Common sense. Memorable.

Dad traveled a fair amount in those days, assessing vehicle damage at car dealerships. He knew dealerships and dealership owners all over Indiana. In fact, my youngest sister, born in the late 50s, always teased him about the fact that he was away in Michigan, as I recall, when she was born (perhaps doing his first training with GM). She always considered my Uncle Paul her surrogate Dad because he drove Mom to the hospital.

My oldest sisters slowly shifted from the public schools of Indianapolis to the high school at Frankfort Pilgrim College. My Grandpa Shepherd died in 1963 and my sisters one by one went to live with my Grandma Shepherd and go to school there. The first two graduated from the college, the third had to finish at Hobe Sound Bible College in Florida because the college closed after the Pilgrim church merged with the Wesleyan Methodists.

I suppose it was a predictable outcome. The Wesleyan Methodist schools seemed to be better schools academically and were further along with regard to accreditation. They provided a spectrum of degrees while the Pilgrims mostly had Bible colleges. My Dad was on the board at Frankfort when it closed in, what, 1971? I know that decision pained him, but it was logical.

My Dad was a rule-follower. He made a good District Treasurer. I'm sure he was a thorn in the side of more than one dreamer wanting to spend church or district money in one way or another. He of course submitted to however a final vote came out and didn't make a fuss, but he took the Discipline, the rule book of the church, quite seriously, almost as if it were the inspired interpretation of Scripture.

3. Those were days of my parents finding their own conscience in our Christian circle as well. My Dad soon started being on local and district church boards for the Pilgrim Holiness Church. I suspect he was middle of the road as far as standards went back then. My grandfather Schenck would become increasingly conservative--or was it that everyone else just became increasingly liberal? Of course "liberal" in those circles was crazy-conservative to just about anyone today.

My family felt like Grandpa Schenck wouldn't come visit for a long time because he thought there might be a TV inside what was actually a rather large stereo we had. In reality, I don't think we had even a small black and white TV until the 60s. My Dad had clear rules on the TV even then. My sisters weren't to watch any shooting, like on a cowboy show. They tried to turn the volume down if the plot came to that point.

One time they didn't get there in time and my oldest sister ran to him before he could show up, pleading urgently that, "It was in self-defense!" We didn't watch TV on Sundays because my Dad thought he would end up spending all day watching football if he opened that door. As the last child, "one born out of season," these rules were a little looser by the time I came along, although still the default.

[I realize that what follows sounded quite harsh toward people and institutions I deeply love and respect. I hope any such readers will know that I grew up very fond of Frankfort Pilgrim College and have many good things to say about the entrepreneurial spirit of the Pilgrim Church, especially in its early days. What follows refers to the rampant legalism that was also an element in it, as well as to the absence of any individuals with advanced academic training in Bible. It is not a blight on the intelligence of the individuals involved.]

I have a love/hate relationship with the Pilgrim Church of that era. On the one hand, I grew up going to Brooksville Winter Camp Meeting in the 70s, where many of the church leaders of the 50s ended up. I idolized the P. F. Elliotts, the William Neffs, the Florabel Slaters and Daisy Bubys, the Roy Nicholsons, the Melvin Snyders and others. There were noble, Spirit-filled people in this era that I looked up to. They knew the content of the Bible through and through.

But they had little expertise in the historical context of the Bible and little if any real knowledge of biblical scholarship. How few if any real Bible scholars were around in those days! The Wesleyan Methodists had a few quasi-fundamentalist scholars (Stephen Paine, Wilbur Dayton). They could speak knowledgeably about textual criticism. But I'd be hard pressed to name even one real Pilgrim Bible scholar from that era. It's no wonder our twig of the Methodist tradition never produced a systematic theology.

The church was full of people who understood entire sanctification to be about what you didn't wear and what you didn't do. I don't completely blame the many people who left the church for the Nazarenes in those days. (Of course the Nazarenes had their share of legalists too.) I completely understand that Paul Rees, son of the putative founder of the Pilgrim Church, didn't go with the Pilgrims. And when you look at a Don Dayton, who is a true scholar (church historian), it is no surprise that he has only skirted the edges of the church for most of his life, generally viewed with suspicion. (of course he is a bit of a rebel too)

When I first came to IWU and went to the Society of Biblical Literature, another Wesleyan skirter expressed surprise that someone from IWU would be there. I completely understood what he was saying. How odd for a Wesleyan to be at a meeting of biblical scholars. I could give examples of how this general avoidance of real biblical scholarship is still present in the church today.

When I was at Asbury, there was still a little lingering tension between the seminary and the local Wesleyan church in Lexington. Apparently, a former pastor had more or less maligned the education at the seminary as something to be avoided, almost suggesting that Wesleyan students there leave it. There were several Wesleyans teaching there who predictably stopped attending the local Wesleyan church. Wesleyan professors at Asbury have predictably always tended to be "skirters" of the denominational mainstream (e.g., Don Boyd, Chuck Killian, David Thompson, Joe Dongell less these days).

IMO, Asbury has been an incredibly positive influence on the Wesleyan Church over the ages in terms of its thinking. It turned on the lights of so many to inductive Bible study, Wesleyan theology, and the historic practices of Christendom. True, some Wesleyans left the church after going to Asbury. The late twentieth century of the Wesleyan Church was full of bleeding, the gap was so great between its general thinking and just about any kind of real theological education.

But I digress. My father had a great heart. I always say that he was "strict," rather than being a legalist. For his own context, he was a moderate, which is where I think the ideal almost always lies. When a relative told him he would pray for his soul if he went with the merger of Pilgrims and Wesleyan Methodists in the late 60s, he did not lash out at the person in defensiveness. But he didn't give in to such nonsensical ignorance either.

There was so much ignorance in those days. So many Wesleyans took the wrong side of the civil rights movement. "Those law breakers," they thought of the peaceful protests. The issues have changed, but the attitudes of so many Wesleyans are the same. The issues of legalism and misplaced values have changed. But the attitude is often the same.

We mocked the earlier generation for worrying about sleeve lengths and whether a pastor wore shorts while mowing the parsonage lawn. We might think them ignorant for opposing the integration of schools. But we sometimes have the same attitudes as they did. Many still think of holiness in terms of what you don't do (e.g., drinking). And many still want to stick it to those rule breakers who snuck across the border.

What do you think? Are we still much of the same mindset, just with different issues?

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

4. A New Family
Joining Two Streams (my parents)
A Young Family

5. The Divisive Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
Harry Shepherd's Orphan Past (Elijah and Seba)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)


vanilla said...

Thank you, Dr. Schenk, for sharing your insights via this blog. I have been a reader for sometime—my bookmark reads “Quadrilateral Thoughts.”

Like you, I was raised in the Pilgrim Holiness Church, though a generation or more before you. There is no doubt that there was much “majoring on minors,” as my father used to say. Many could be described as “Pharisaical,” I am sure.
It seems that you paint the entire people with those broad strokes. Surely this was not your intent, for I know that you observed those saints with their Bible’s tear-stained pages before them as they sought God’s direction and will. There is more to the reading of God’s Word than mere study of history, languages, and anthropology. I do not intend to denigrate scholarship, it has its place, but care needs to be taken to avoid placing scholarship above God’s desire to speak to the heart. One who worships at the altar of human intellect has a puny god.

Those Pilgrim Holiness Bible schools whose scholarship was apparently suspect in your mind filled a niche and provided training for many called into God’s service who would otherwise have had no access to any biblical scholarship. The many who sacrificed to labor in that service should ever be honored—think, for example, of your Grandfather Shepherd, Daniel Ray Bursch, O.D. Williams, P.W. Thomas and a host of others.

One other note. Your last paragraph seems to suggest that many smaller Wesleyan congregations are trapped in a “bondage” of dated thinking, yet the large churches are “hardly Wesleyan at all.” Could “Christian” be substituted for “Wesleyan” in that statement? I hope not. I look forward to reading “another option.”

Praying for you as you guide the seminary, that it may ever prepare workers fit to the task.
David W. Lacy

Ken Schenck said...

It is always a difficult thing for me to hold these two things in tension. On the one hand, I deeply love and value people like my grandparents and I'm guessing perhaps your father was the Lacy who was district superintendent of Indiana Central when my father served on the district board? These were godly men and women, people who were truly and fully surrendered to God.

On the other hand, my grandfather's prophetic interpretations, no matter how much intellect and devotion went into them, were what I would call completely pre-modern. I don't fault him for this. Perhaps his interpretations did more to make people better people than the original meanings of those passages.

So I am torn betwixt two. I love and admire so many from that generation, yet the cold and uncaring truth is that they had almost no sense of how to read the biblical texts for what they had actually meant, IMO.

Thank you for the balancing...

vanilla said...

Thank you for your response. You pegged me correctly. My father was the superintendent at the time your father served on the DBA.