Today is February 21 and we're here at the Central Baptist Church in Westfield, Massachusetts, interviewing Rev. Lois Pinton. Gwynne Langley and Taryn Miller are doing the interview. So why don't we get started. First of all, if you could say when you first met the Phillipses?
Okay, I met OG in the fall of 1982 and he was leading the CPE program at Boston City Hospital that I was enrolled in that fall. And CPE is Clinical Pastoral Education. And I didn't meet Miriam then until the summer of '83. At that point, I knew I was entering seminary and was hoping to do my field education at Shiloh, and I assisted in volunteering at Vacation Bible School that summer.
She was doing everything that OG wasn't. She pretty much handled the educational arm of the church then. Which meant that she would organize the Vacation Bible School. A lot of other people were doing the footwork. But she was in charge of that, she was in charge of education, she was in charge of the women's group, in a sense. She did the newsletter for the church, she worked a lot with American Baptist Women, and that was on many of the regional committees. She may have been on the board of directors at that point, I'm not sure, for the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts.
Well, I, in my mind he was very dignified and compassionate and caring person. I guess I knew I was going to seminary, I thought I was going to seminary, and I was in a bit of upheaval in my own life, had to decide what was happening next. It was a spiritually tempestuous time.
So I saw him as the director, he had his doctorate, and he was in charge of the Clinical Pastoral Education program there at Boston City for the group that I was in, and then I knew he was at the Tewksbury Hospital doing the same thing. And I was kind of intimidated because, you know, I didn't know... this was a whole new world for me. But soon after you find out that he's very down to earth. As I said, very compassionate, very exacting, but a whole lot of fun. But the dignity! There were times when I would go to the church... I first went to Shiloh and saw him as the pastor there, it was a whole different atmosphere, and again I was kind of taken aback. But he was still the same old ordinary person when you sit down to talk to him.
Clinical Pastoral Education is training for chaplaincy. And so we would meet, we met at Boston City Hospital my first quarter with him. We would meet for group sessions and talk about what we were doing in visiting with the patients on the floor. We were all assigned to one or two different wards to visit as a chaplain. And it was, again, we walked in, got a badge that said, "you're the chaplain on the floor." And I thought whoa, wait a minute, I've never done anything like this before in my life. But then in our group sessions, we'd meet Tuesday evening and all day Saturday. In our group sessions we would talk about what our visits were like and what kinds of things were helpful to patients. And begin also to understand what it means to be ill and infirm in all the physical, mental, psychological and spiritual aspects.
The residents at Tewksbury, there were some who were... we didn't call it Alzheimer's then, there were two wards that were kept locked. And the other wards were chronic care, and they had no place else to go. Could not afford nursing homes, it was state care.
It had been a poor farm, and some people...it had been a more generalized hospital. In the '50s when he first came there, there was a section for unwed mothers. And there were also children's wards. And some of those who had been there as children at the time were still there as middle aged women when we got there.
I started up in Tewksbury in 1984. I did two quarters at Boston City and then up to Tewksbury in 1984. At Boston City my first assignment was the high risk maternity and intensive care and neo-natal unit. The next year I did one semester on children's ward, and then one semester on the geriatric/neurological ward. And also the orthopedic ward. So I did everything from women from Hughes Air Force Base who would come down to Boston City if they were hardest to deliver and the result was a premature birth, through the children's ward which was probably the hardest for me, since my children at that time were 9 and 13.
And the orthopedic ward was basically alcoholic men from off the streets. Their bones were brittle, they were hooked up with all kinds of rods sticking through their legs and arms and shoulders and that type of stuff and they were lucky - they got three months off the streets of Boston and they ended up at Boston City Hospital. They were lucky they got beat up so badly that it took that long to heal. The psychiatric neurological, geriatric neurological ward, were again people who were dealing with the early stages of Alzheimer's and a variety of other neurological difficulties. It was a... it was a wide ranging education and experiences that I was able to have.
We were divided into groups and he directed, was supervising other students who were supervising. Because they had 3 or 4 quarters of CPE and were ready to lead their own groups. So he would come into our groups and he would listen, and he was there to see how the group leaders were doing and also to respond to our concerns.
Because this was obviously emotionally very difficult for all of us to be working with people who were in such difficult places in their lives, we needed a great deal of encouragement and comfort. One of the things about OG is that he would come into a group and would sit down quietly, just sit in a chair and we would carry on, and he would close his eyes, and pretty soon you would think he was sleeping. And you know, everybody would kind of smile, maybe snicker. And pretty soon he would open his eyes and he would tell us everything that had been said and point out the issues and kind of nail us. [laughter]
And it was after my first two quarters and I got in to being a supervisor with myself it was always fun to watch the new students because they would do the same things we did. He would come in, and we'd know, that at the right moment he would lift his head and tell everyone the way things were, and everyone would snicker and laugh, and say yeah right you're time's coming, because pretty soon, he's going to open his eyes and tell you exactly what you said.
He was very supportive. As I said, there were two things: compassion and support, and very exacting. He did not suffer fools gladly and he wasn't going to let us go out and make life worse for people who were already in a very difficult place. We came with ideas, you know, theories and little experience as chaplains. And what does it mean to be really sick? I mean, you know, you could get sick or maybe in the hospital for something, but to be really ill?
And so we learned through our discussions and through his direction. He would do role plays with us. He would have us... he would take the part of the patient or the chaplain and he would have us do role plays. And after we would have our foot in our mouths he would stop and say, "okay now, let's go back and look at what happened and what was going on and how you were feeling and what could you do." That's how we learned. Got thrown in and did it, and then came back and reflected on it.
Now I had experience working as a social worker for two years at the Jewish Memorial Hospital on Townsend Street in Roxbury, so I knew the area and I knew this sort of hospital work. But it's still different. So even if you come with a body of knowledge, you're still doing something different. And sometimes, it's what am I doing? What do I have to offer? I'm not a nurse - I can't give a transfusion. I'm not a doctor - I can't you know, diagnose and come up with a treatment plan. I'm not a social worker - I'm not here to make arrangements in the community. I'm not a technician - I can't draw blood. What do I do? And basically it's be there. You be there. You hold a hand, you listen, you offer a prayer and people respect that.
I always feel like I'm stumbling around not knowing what to say. And this is the thing: when he came to our program, "tell us what to say, tell us how to do this. Tell us what you do for this, this, and the other thing." And there isn't any prescription. Here are some things that other people have done, and this is what happened to me, and he would always tell us of the time when... you know, people always want to show the pastor their scars, so. He was... he went to this woman and she wanted him to see her scar, so she lifted her Johnny and she had an incision on her stomach, and he was so taken aback. He got her to put the Johnny back down and cover up, but he forgot the Lord's Prayer. So it was like. [laughter]
And what he said was you learn to see and not to see. Because of course you walk in, people are on the bedpan... you never know, you knock, you enter slowly, you learn. Sometimes you don't even ask what exactly is wrong - you may not want to know. But you go in. And as he said, sometimes you stumble across a situation that's embarrassing for you and for the patient, and you see and you don't see. So I did six quarters of CPE with him over the course of four years. Five years if I count the one I didn't take credit for and supervised for him up at Tewksbury. And it just was a learning process. And it's still learning. You never stop.
Well, I had not applied to seminary until towards the end... they had extended quarters so I started in the fall of '82. I was looking around at a variety of different seminaries including as far away as Louisville, Kentucky. And I decided to go to Andover-Newton based on my association with OG and with the other students that were supervising, that he had been working with.
And then, I wanted to do field ed. at Shiloh. I lived in West Somerville at the time and I could walk over to Shiloh as I did. And I felt that I would like to try... first of all it was close to home, but second of all it would be a unique field education experience in that I would be one of about maybe half a dozen white people who were there on a Sunday morning.
And I would learn how to be a Baptist, because I hadn't been. I grew up Lutheran. I joined the United Parish in Brookline and had been a member there about ten years when I realized my call to seminary. But I'd still been Methodist when I'd been at United Parish. But through a Baptist minister at the United Parish I felt that when I realized I was called to ministry, the polity and the atmosphere in which I felt I would work best would be the American Baptist Church. So I was in that direction when I met OG and that kind of finished off my decision to be American Baptist. And then my time at Shiloh was, again, four years of working at the church and learning to work in a different culture and a different ethnic group than I was used to working in.
Andover-Newton is Baptist and UCC. I believe that Andover Theological School was. It started up in Andover back in the early part of the 1800s, end of the 1790s was the original Congregational seminary. And then Newton Theological School was the Baptist seminary. And somewhere in the early part of the 20th century they combined forces and united on the campus in Newton.
He had lot of students up there. It was a big hospital. There were close to 1000 patients, so we could have, there were 200 through the year's time because we would have four quarters throughout the year, and some would stay the year 'round and do a full year of it. But you know we always had a huge group meeting there.
And Dr. Bellinsky, who was in charge of the program at Andover Newton when OG was a student in the '50s kind of urged him along, and one thing led to another, and he went on to become supervisor and was certified as a supervisor so he could direct the program on his own.
When he was first at Shiloh... he started as a student there and then stayed when the pastor who was at Shiloh left and finally became... was called to be their pastor. And what the church could pay was very little, so he needed another job. And the chaplaincy fit right into it. He was paid very little at Tewksbury, for that matter, being a state hospital, but he worked... both of them complimented each other very well. And he then introduced the CPE program up at Tewksbury and got that started.
Um, The school required CPE. CPE started at Mass General in the '20s or '30s. The guy who started it, I don't know if he was bipolar or what, but he would, every once in a while his students would take him over to the psychiatric ward to admit him because he'd go off the deep end... I should know the history, but I don't.
At any rate, it was the beginning of putting, you know, of learning by doing, and putting the clinical, you know the speakers would come from the various disciplines in the hospital, so that one would learn the medical background. And the pastoral, of course, was what the pastors were doing in their groups. That's how one learned. It takes, in order to be endorsed as an American Baptist Chaplain, I needed at least four quarters of CPE to get an enthusiastic endorsement.
So the school was the one. They had sites at St. John's, and OG was instrumental in getting the program at St. John's in Lowell started. That was way back when, too. So he directed both, the one at Tewksbury and St. Johns for a while, until one of the nuns became a full supervisor and then she took over the directorship at St. John's.
There was one at Mass General, [pause], the University Hospital, Boston City, I believe at Deaconess, all had CPE programs. Deaconess was more aligned with Boston College, Boston University, rather, their school of theology. So that the broad picture was the seminaries, but OG got Tewksbury going and St. John's up in Lowell. And it was a thriving program.
He had students from all over the world. In fact, in the late '80s he and Miriam took a trip over to Moscow, on a mission trip. And they were going to the circus in Moscow. And all of a sudden they heard a voice from across the sections, saying, "OG! OG! Tewksbury!" He had students from all over. Here's a picture of our class. A Rev. Mongul from Kenya. We had a nun, I'm not sure if it's that one, from England. We had people from India... [pause] This gentleman was of Armenian background. He was a US citizen by this time, but he was a pastor who had grown up in Armenia.
We haven't gotten together. This was the late '80s and I'm trying to think... Jean Bucher, one of the women, I supervised her at one quarter, she moved now from Massachusetts. But I did see her a few years ago. We get together for our biennials. Tim, was also a field student at Shiloh, and he took a pastorate down in Pennsylvania. Rusty Appettis, was up in New Hampshire and I don't know where he's pastoring now. But I saw him, I think it was in Syracuse, New York when we had a biennial.
So, periodically I see these people, those who are American Baptist, anyway. The program came to a close in I believe 1988 or '89 as OG was getting close to retirement age. He was... let's see, 90 now, 91 this year, 90 in '04, so in '94, he would've been 80. So he was, yeah, he was getting close to... Not that he ever really retired until he couldn't any more. He just kept going. Even after the program closed at Tewksbury he'd still go up there and visit some people.
The old buildings, maybe I could get out there and take you up. I'd love to do that. As you drive into the old entrance, which is where our CPE program was, this building behind here. This was the Annie McDonald House. This was where Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher, lived and trained. The hospital started in the mid 1800s and the... Annie McDonald was Annie Sullivan's teacher. And this was the house, then, for a while it was the house of the director. So it's this big old wonderful building.
And they had cottages around the campus. 900 acres of farmland, and of course when it opened as a poor house, they farmed. That's how they got their food - they grew all their food. They had cows... they still had this when OG came, some vestiges of it. You could still see the old greenhouses when we were up there and the stalls where the dairy farm had been. And there is in the woods somewhere, I don't think I ever found it, a place where they buried the residents who would die there.
Anyway, the new building was built in the '60s and it's just a hospital building, but you could still see these old cottages around and they house various things. There's a state police training barracks on the grounds. And there's I think, the alcoholic center. And there's still housing, or there was when I was there, for some of the doctors and nurses. And so it's a fascinating place.
This is what it looked like. It had been a Methodist church. This is the new building at Holton and Bower. It had been a Methodist church, and so they had a communion rail. The choir sat up in back there, the platform, or the pulpit, whoever... Rev. Phillips, plus the deacons, plus whatever students were assisting with the service would sit up there.
When, in the middle of the service, there would be a prayer time. And when they had prayer, people would come forward and kneel at the altar rail. And the whole church would kind of walk forward, and those who could would kneel and the others would stand behind them and we would all hold hands and lay hands on each other.
It was a wonderful, wonderful time of prayer. And then Rev. Phillips would kneel down on the platform next to the pulpit and pray. It just really, you know, it brought everyone together as one body, and it was an amazing thing.
When we had what's called pastoral prayer, you know everybody... He would take prayer requests and everyone would respond to whatever was requested with "Lord, have mercy." And then he would recite the first verse of "Come ye disconsolate where ye languish. Come to the mercy seat." And I forget the rest of the words...
"Fervently kneel. Here bring your wounded hearts, and earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal." It was just an amazing time. And then... "Come ye disconsolate where ye languish, come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel. Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish. Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal." And we were healed.
It was... when one would go to church at Shiloh, maybe it would last two hours, maybe it wouldn't. You know, an hour and a half, two hours. You just never knew. Time was not passing. You'd come in and begin to sing. The choir, and everyone would sing along. It was none of this, so and so can do a solo, that's fine, whatever. But as soon as you get to a chorus, we're all going to sing along. And it was just one of those amazing things.
Whatever had been depressing you, by the time you were done, the two hours, it was lifted. And prayer meeting in the middle of the week would be another time to get you through, back to Sunday again. When we left, we would always sing a verse. It's going to take a while for me, because the first line...
When we... prayer meeting was very very informal on Wednesday evenings when I got there. I could play the piano, I never played in public because I was too nervous to play it, so it was just something I did for myself. Well, I made the mistake of telling him once, I mentioned it in some context at CPE. So the next Wednesday we got to prayer meeting, he said, "Well we have a piano player now for our prayer meeting." I would die.
I started with just sometimes playing the melody line, but I tell you now, I can sit down at the piano and play these hymns. I can play them even with other people around. And that was kind of a part of his way of giving people to it.
Because it didn't matter whether you were polished. Obviously, because he always had five or six students at the church, and it was time for your turn to preach, you got to preach. And it didn't make any difference how you stumbled. He was there to encourage you and assist you through it. And the congregation was powerfully present.
And there is nothing as wonderful as having a congregation that talks to you when you're preaching. Now, I know, I come, in my Anglo tradition, God forbid anyone say amen. You know, what it's like... Missouri Synod, I grew up, and you do not speak to anyone, period. But you get there, and you get to a place where you don't know what to say next, and someone says, "Amen. You preach it. You go ahead." And you know, sometimes the emotion would overtake you, "It's all right, take your time, take your time." I miss that. Obviously I've served white congregations since, and I miss that!
I loved having that back and forth. Because then you know, you know if you've got the congregation with you. And I look out, no one's here to hear this, I look out on some Sundays and wonder, is anybody out there? Anyone awake? Alive? You know, are you hearing what I'm saying? There are some people, you know, I can tell by their smiles or their puzzled looks or whatever, they are following along with what I'm saying and wondering where I'm going next, but sometimes... So yeah, that was, it was a marvelous experience at Shiloh.
And bless OG's heart, he set me up. He said, "Oh, you can go and visit Mrs. So and So." Great, so I'd call Mrs. So and So and she'd say, "Well, okay." And I'd go and we'd visit. And down the road, like six months or a year later, towards the end of my time there, she'd say, "You know, when you first called to see if you could come visit, I wasn't so sure I'd say yes you could come visit, because I, you know, have had enough from the white community." But for me, it was high praise that she said, "I'm glad you came. I'm glad we've had a chance to get to know each other."
But he knew when he set me to call on her, what her reaction was going to be because he knew his congregation. But for the most part, once I'd been there for a year, I was just surrounded with care. Midway through my husband divorced me. I remember sitting at the meeting with the deacons, the committee, to tell them I was going through a divorce and was really torn up about it. And finally Mrs. Robinson just gets up and comes over and puts her arms around me and let me cry. And they were just all with me. They were just all with me.
They said we know you've got a calling and we know you've got to do this. I don't think I would have wanted to do field at any place else. This was a congregation that was just so real. These were people, as OG said, who... one member of the congregation had a pet rat. Not a one you buy in a store, but grew up in a tenement where she played with the rats.
And others, they would start prayer meeting at five in the morning because they had to go to work. So they would all just let themselves in the back door of somebody's house and they'd gather around the kitchen table, and they'd start singing and praying, and reading the Scripture or whatever until the person finally came down, and they would have their prayer meeting.
They had funerals at night because of course, people couldn't get off work during the day. So most of the time the wake was held at the church, from 6 to 8, and then we'd have the funeral from 8 to 9 or so, and the collation afterwards and the next morning we'd go out to the cemetery for the burial, and whoever could. Usually the whole family would come, but the congregation would gather at night. And that was just a tradition from the time when there was no getting off work for a funeral. But the church adapted.
It was by necessity in the earlier years, but the tradition continued. I don't know if we ever had a daytime funeral unless it was a Saturday. Most of the funerals were at night. In fact, I liked having the wake and funeral right there. I thought it was helpful. And it was in a place where people, this was home. Shiloh was home. It was a good place to be. So, yeah...
[laughs] Ease? Are you kidding me? No, no, you were there. You, he had us there, he had us lined up, we hit the ground running. Each of us had an assignment to do. I worked with Sunday school because I had done that for a number of years. So for me, if there was any easing, it just that, yeah, I got assigned to something that I had some familiarity with.
But uh, we were there on Sunday morning. We each had a part of the service. I wish I had a bulletin. I was looking through my files to find one but I couldn't. But one of us would do the call to worship, one of us would do this, that or the other thing. As we grew in experience and experienced the congregation, then we could finally be allowed to do the pastoral prayer.
I guess in another sense the easing into, he would let us do it with him, or he would go with us at first, or we'd go with him. And then once he felt that we had... once he knew he could trust us, then he'd turn us loose by ourselves. And we knew that we were ready for that. That was the easing in part.
Basically, it was jump in and swim. You know, he'd been doing this for years. He, one of the things was, he'd graduated from seminary in '53 or '54, I forget just what. He and Bud Hawkins and another pastor... Bud Hawkins was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain that just recently burned down. Well, Bud was there for 40-some odd years. he'd just recently retired. Well, he and OG and another pastor made a pact with each other that they would stay at the first church they went to for their entire career. And they did.
Bud Hawkins just recently retired a few years ago and was made pastor emeritus right before the church burned unfortunately, or fortunately, but, and then OG stayed at Shiloh the entire time of his ministry, in terms of post-seminary.
I think he felt that, for him, once he got to Shiloh, it was a small church. But he realized that this was a church that if the pastor didn't stay and develop it, it would be students and there would be new pastors all the time and it would never really have a chance to grow.
Well, I know that he rode his bicycle. We heard that already, and his cap. Oh, and his accent. What a trip! There are several things I want to tell you about his pre-Shiloh... He would tell us stories of Jamaica, and before he arrived.
He was there for the people. Like I said, he was at prayer meetings at 5 in the morning, then he'd go off and work at Tewksbury, he would be up all night. People would come call any time of the day or night. And he would be up, he and Miriam both. Miriam would put on a teapot. They had parsonage tea, with the orange spiced... Constant Comment. I don't know the brand, but that was called parsonage tea. And she was always there to serve the refreshments. And he was there to counsel.
And they would work with young couples who had children and then would decide to get married. The idea was they wanted them in church, and they wanted them, if they could, to be married and provide stability to their family. They had one couple that didn't think they could get married because they couldn't pay this or couldn't pay that. So they brought them over to the Parsonage, set up candles by their fireplace, decorated the living room, invited a few people in, found a wedding dress, and there was the wedding.
So those... he wanted to stay there to see that church grow. And then of course through the '50s, the race relations, and Martin Luther King was at BU, and Miriam knew Martin Luther King, and got together I guess, with some of the young adults from the churches of Boston.
So they were there in their community to bring some sanity, to work with the schools, and to bring the, Shiloh was, for those years that OG and Miriam worked, an integral part of the American Baptist Churches in Massachusetts.
Now in the last few years since that, the newer pastor was there, he led them to being dually aligned, which is not unusual for Black churches. They are dually aligned with the National Baptists, or the Progressive National Baptists, and the American Baptists in many churches.
But Shiloh for the longest time was not dually aligned. It was strictly American Baptist. And they wanted to work with the denomination to bring integration, to bring understanding of racial differences. And they put their hearts into that. That was a big piece of their work throughout their entire career, but certainly at the beginning.
I forget some of the details, but it seems to me that when their children were young, they were first at a school that was quite a distance from their house. And they, one day the, I don't know if it was Miriam or Peter, walked home and they were appalled. So they got their neighborhood school established, and it was, at least when I was there, kind of a magnet school for the Medford Public Schools.
Yes, they worked in the community. It's strange that two American Baptist Churches are a block and a half apart. And actually, this... I don't know all that went on at Shiloh, but I know some of it. And that led many members of Shiloh who shared the vision that OG and Miriam had instilled down to West Medford Baptist,
has integrated that congregation, actually saved the life of that congregation. Had about 25 members at most at the end of the '80s, beginning of the '90s. It wasn't until people started going there that it, I think, turned the corner for that church.
Through the CPE, through the council of churches in Medford, there was always an openness to working with the entire community. The Council of Churches sponsored what was called the University of Life during Lent. It was sessions every Sunday evening on a variety of topics with all of the churches participating. And Shiloh as well. And often Shiloh hosted that. we'd come together for worship with choirs leading from different churches, and then we'd break up into a variety of interest groups. And they called it the University of Life because it was basically sharing from one's own experience in life. And that lasted 4 or 5 weeks through the season of Lent.
More than I know, because it was, and it may still be going on for all I know. Certainly before I came, and during the time I was there, and up until when I left Massachusetts for Rochester, New York in '92, as far as I know it was still going on.
And I kept in touch with OG and Miriam, in fact they came out to Rochester for my installation as chaplain that year.
Was that your first church, the one in Rochester?
No, I was at First Baptist Church in Cambridge in Central Square for five and a half years. That was my first church out of seminary. I was pastor there. [pause] And I continued with CPE for a little while after that, and then I was taken up with the work at the church.
I still lived in West Somerville, so I was back and forth to their house all the time. And they were, you know, I just happened to get a picture of Miriam and OG at my daughter's graduation from high school.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, he was always smiling. He was a person who would, we'd get down in the dumps or we'd get too serious and he'd come into a group, you know, people were at each others' throats, and he would come in and say something... he'd just totally take us off in some direction. we'd think, this is frustrating, this is our group, blah, blah, blah. But he would jolly us along, pretty soon we'd all be smiling and laughing, and he'd say, "you know, you can't be so serious all the time."
This is Robert Furey, he's down in Stoughton, a member of a congregation. My Unitarian friend, Meredith Anderson. Davis... He was representative of the region. Joe Donnell was the dean of the seminary. My two daughters, Heidi and Daria. This is Ruth Robinson, she was the one who wrapped me in her arms the day I was so upset over the divorce.
Which I do my very best to keep everything in. This is a record of marriages, baptisms... I have more funerals than anything else... pastorates, the record of baptisms, I have more to add. New members, funerals, as you can see. Record of marriages.
I picked up a lot when I was down in Roanoake. See, I never used all of it, never will use all of it. I never recorded the sermons I delivered. I have them in my file cabinet. I keep thinking I should throw them out, but I don't. Also in Here you can put, there's someplace where you can do your bookkeeping or whatever because you have to keep track of your expenses. But anyway, this was the gift that she gave me.
And this was afterwards, downstairs in the basement. The baptistery, by the way, at Shiloh is down in the basement because it was a Methodist church. They didn't have one, and this was the only place they could really fit it in was down in the basement. This was giving the benediction. The candidate who was ordained gets to give the benediction at the end of the service, when one is official or whatever at that point.
OG, there's a place in Tewksbury where you order these, and he took me to be measured and fitted for it, and in fact, the woman there who would help him... he always brought people over there to buy robes... wanted to get married and she asked him to do it, and he asked me along. So she was married in her back yard in Bradford, part of Haverhill.
Behind the door is a crucifix. That came out of Tewksbury Hospital when we broke up shop, so to speak. It, we had to clean out the office when the program was ending. And that is an extreme unction kit. You take the crucifix off and inside there's a little vial of holy water, candles, everything you need... would have needed as a Roman Catholic way back when, including instructions on how to receive the priest, and you know...
But the one I remember, the text was Jesus turning water into wine and he told them to go out and fill the pitchers, the water pitchers to the brim. And that was his theme. He took that phrase, to the brim, and he talked about living life to the brim. So again, very down to earth. But very colorful.
He would bring you into it. He wasn't flashy. Some of the students, some of my colleagues, the guys, there were three when I first started CPE, Will, and Earl, and Jim. And they were always trying to throw their handkerchief up, spin it around and catch it. This is something Black preachers do. As when you get into the sermon and you get excited. you're mopping your brow, and you get really into a place where the spirit hits you, you throw the handkerchief up, spin around and catch it. So they were always practicing this. So when they could do it...
His focus was, everybody is loved by God. There's a video, I don't know if anyone's got it. There's a video of OG, an interview done with OG at Tewksbury Hospital where they're asking him about his philosophy of pastoral care,
And he uses this example of a man who would come to him and tell him all of the awful things he had done, and could God forgive him? Of course God would forgive you. Man would have to come to him every couple months or whatever and go through the whole thing all over again. He said no matter how times I have to tell a person that God forgives them, that God loves them, I could tell them that God forgives them and God loves him. And that was his overriding theology. That you are loved by God, every individual is a unique person.
It was, you know, when you set up groups of people, and you say, you know, this is our group, and we have this little group for this amount of time and what's said here stays here and all confidentiality stuff and everything.
And you know, you would stay together as a group, and every once in a while he would say, "Okay now we'll have half of this group go over and be in that group, and half of that group go over and be in this group." And you'd start all over again.
And his point was simply, yeah there are all things about boundaries and what not, but simply we're in this together. And we need to be open with each other and we need to be able to share with each other. That was his overriding theology.
In terms of, I mean, the language he used was scriptural, biblical, what you might call conservative. But there was not a conservative bone in his body. He was as liberal as the Unitarians, what can I say? In terms of accepting people.
He'd go to these meetings, honestly, I'll tell you, this dignified man, okay. we'd go to the council of churches meeting in Medford and we'd all be sitting around on Saturday morning planning this or planning that.
And he was doodling around on his paper or whatever and we'd get out in the car later, and he'd say, "you know that woman with the glasses and the red hair or whatever? She looks like a fish. I got her down as a fish. Now that other guy, he was more like a bear, and then there was someone else that was a fox. You know, real foxy, canny." He was sitting there in this meeting assigning animals to each person who was participating.
Ever since then, ever since then, how could I not be guided by that. It was like, you know whenever it gets really dull and people are annoying I sit there thinking, well, that one looks like a fish and that. [laughter]
It took me about three years to figure out that Jackass was Jackass. That's his Jamaican accent, "Jackass say the world is not level. The donkey that carries the burden knows that the world is not level, that the path is bumpy and uneven."
And that was... you know, He knew. He knew. He could read people. . He could walk into a room and would know prejudice before he could open his mouth. And he spent a whole lot of time puncturing bubbles, big heads, like that. And if he didn't do it right there in some very polite way, he'd do it when he'd get outside.
And they walked everywhere. He would walk for miles. He would go off sometimes to the woods and fast. He would go to a stream and he would, if he wanted to find out what he should be doing, he would go for a day and fast. I mean, he would take bread with him, but... And at the end of the day he would dip the bread in water and he would eat it and that would break his fast.
He was very much influenced by the Roman Catholic Church as well. He was open to all denominations. He was a sacramental person. When the priest at Tewksbury would bring the crucifix around on Good Friday so the Catholics could have their service first and then we would come by after that. He would serve us communion and he would kiss the cross as well.
But when he left Jamaica, he worked in the banana fields, and you know, he said he could eat a whole hand... just start to eat and throw away the peels. But he'd made up his mind that he was going, finally he left on a banana boat to Panama to go work in hospitals. David told you that?
But he worked in a hospital in Panama. He worked with soldiers in the military hospital. And he would get up in the morning, he'd swab the floors, he'd empty all of the bedpans and the sputum cups, he'd change all of the beds and he'd clean up all the patients, and by 10 in the morning he was taking a nap.
Then he met this missionary, Brother Bell, who was a Southern Baptist, and so Brother Bell was the one who convinced him, saw in him the potential for being a minister, and convinced him to go to Marshall, Texas to Bishop College.
Brother Bell invited him for Christmas dinner at his house just before he was to leave. But when he got there, Brother Bell's wife, Sister Bell, was of the Southern persuasion. They were white, of course. And so she set his place at the kitchen and OG just left.
But they provided his way to Bishop College. He thought they were going to provide a scholarship too. But when he got to Bishop College, all they did was provide his transportation up there. So when he got to Bishop College to enroll and he had no money and no way of earning any, so the president of the college, he talked to the deans, then he talked to the president.
The president of the college said, "Well, they'd have to see." So the president of the college had black linoleum. He said, "you see that white strip around the room? It used to be white, dull gray now. You get that white and we'll see what we can do" And he gave him a toothbrush and he worked, I don't know how many days it took him to get that white linoleum white. And from that, the president saw his determination, and they found scholarships.
So while he was at Bishop College, he would... no one, none of the other black students had been to Jamaica, they thought he was straight from the jungle. So he told them, yeah we sleep up in trees. They said, "Have you ever seen a mule?" he'd say, "A mule? A mule? Noo, we don't have mules in Jamaica."
Because he was from Jamaica, he would go downtown, he would go to the white stores. He would walk in, he would order soup, he would order shoes. He would go the store and get a hat. The rest of them are saying, "Oh my God, oh don't do that." they're back at the school, they're hunkering down to have crosses burned on their lawns because we don't do that. But as soon as they heard his Jamaican accent, they would know he wasn't an American who was black. So he could get by with it.
While he was down there, just to [unintelligable] and a whole lot of stuff went on down there. He graduated with honors, he got his bachelors degree there, served as dean of men. And he organized the Macedonian Church.
I guess this was in the '40s. At any rate, wind of his... he didn't take a salary for himself, he just paid expenses. I guess someone in the community gave them, it was cold, and finally someone in the community gave them a stove so they had heat. Well, the FBI caught wind of the fact that he was not taking a salary and yet he was doing all this work. So they assumed that he must be a communist.
So the guy comes out, I wish OG could tell you this because it loses a whole lot in the translation. So the guy comes out, sets up his typewriter, tip-tap... and he says, "What is your name and where do you come from and why won't you take any salary?" And so OG started talking, and pretty soon the guy wasn't typing any more. He was fascinated, listening to OG tell him all about the children and how they would give their pennies, and how they would do this, do that, and that was why he wasn't taking a salary or anything. And the guy and packed up his suitcase and shook his hand. "Reverend Phillips, it's an honor to have met you." [laughter]
The experiences that man has had. And he would regale us with these stories, in between sessions at CPE and sitting over dinner at the parsonage. The stories he told. There are just too many... they come to mind at different times. Something will happen and different stories will come to mind.
But then he up to Andover Newton and got his BD, and then got his Master of Theology at Boston U. And then his MDiv, Not his MDiv, his DDiv from Andover Newton again. And he did all that. He went straight through. He never stopped.
He was going to school, he was serving at Shiloh, he was working at Tewksbury. The man never rested, and Miriam was the same way. If that woman ever got four hours of sleep a night, that was a lot. She was up doing the newsletter.
When I was at Shiloh, she had been working on her Bachelor's degree at UMass, and then got her Master's in Creative Writing. And she started writing a book, I don't know... all about the life of a pastor's wife. And she had stories to tell as well.
Yeah, she went to Third Baptist Church in Haverhill. And she made... some white kid was bothering her in school and calling her names. And she kind of dragged him by his ear home to his mother and told her what he was doing.
She was determined. Talk about a capable wife, that thing in Proverbs 31, Miriam did it all. I mean, she took care of... they had foster children. OG's off doing all this other stuff of course, Miriam's at home taking care of the house, taking care of the kids, taking kids with her.
She would... there's a hill, we'd go the back way through Belmont to get to Andover Newton to avoid all the traffic... and there's a hill that goes up from Trapelo Road, it must be, where the streetcar goes, a steep hill that goes up just before you go into Watertown, I believe. And she said she had the kids in the back seat because she was going over to do whatever she was doing at the seminary for the American Baptist Churches, and the kids would be in the back. And they would be cheering her on, "you're gonna make it, you're gonna make it. This car is gonna make it up the hill," and they would and back down again.
But let me tell you that woman was powerful. The ministry was theirs together. He could never have done what he did without her. Of course in the black churches the pastor's wife was always called the first lady. She had innumerable things to say about that. Neither one of them did pomp or circumstance or position, status. They were there to work, to do the work that the community needed. To care for people and to make this world to be what it ought to be.
Miriam had in that house, there were boxes and boxes and boxes of these kinds of articles, of all the things they had done. And this is basically you're looking at the El Salvador thing. This is the new church, when they got the new church.
I must've been in Rochester and couldn't get back for it. They dedicated it. I don't know if it's down in Medford Center, but they named something for her. It would've been mid- to late- '90s because I think she was just off the board at that point. I don't know if they had moved to Winchester or not, but... I'll continue to look through my stuff and see if I come up with anything else. Because I know I have a newspaper article about that but I just don't know where it is at this point. I'd forgotten about that actually until we started talking.
Because of their involvement in the church, in the churches, the housing, schools... in a sense I would say that their influence was far reaching. I think they also... their influence in the American Baptist Churches in Massachusetts and the region was far reaching because they were involved there and at the seminary.
Those were kind of their public, what they did publicly. Personally I think the people they touched. Anyone who needed a friend, anyone who needed a listening heart had it in both of them. And the number of individuals... As I said, Moscow, they go to Moscow, there's someone yelling at them.
And then they moved to Winchester to the assisted living. And I visited with them a couple times there. I guess the last time I visited them there would have been in 2001, because my mother had moved out to be with me in Connecticut then and I took her up so that we could visit with them. And then shortly after that, they both went I guess to a nursing home in Lexington, and from there Miriam was transferred to a nursing home in Stoneham.
Just, finally, you said he just threw you out there whenever he got the chance, in seminary, or when you got to the church. Do you think it was because of all his past experiences in working with others like yourself and people along the way to build your own confidence? Because it almost seems, you know, you get thrown out there, you're just kind of like out to the dogs, it just builds you up, you know?
That's exactly what it did. I mean, it, he could tell. As I said, you know, as I reflected, it was like, well, the way that... yeah. It was like my piano playing. For all the years that I took piano lessons all through high school I never wanted to play in front of anyone else. Here I am, 37 years old, or 40 or whatever I was when I got there and he's saying, "Oh, by the way, we have a piano player." But now I can sit down and I...
I have confidence. And I don't care if I make a fool of myself because they didn't care. They were so thrilled to have somebody who would even pick out the melody line to provide music for their prayer meeting that it was like, "Oh, maybe I can do this." So I just kept... you know.
I mean, yeah, he could read people. I mean, they could both read people, but OG was the one I worked most with in that sense more. He knew when we were ready. And even if we didn't feel like we were ready, he knew it.
I remember the first time. I wanted to preach, I wanted to preach, I wanted to preach. And then I got there and I got cold feet, and said I don't think I could do it. It was a Wednesday. He said, "Okay." So he preached that Sunday. Of course for him, preaching was like sitting there and conversing with someone.
But he was, you know, he knew how to... he would also say to us, "Now, while we're here we're doing this my way because this is my church. This is my way. But when you get to your church you will do it your way. I don't expect that you will continue to do things my way for the rest of your life. But this is a way, and if you learn this way, then you'll know." And truly.
When I got to a church and I was planning a funeral, it was like, "Oh, see!" I had my generic outline because we had done it. I mean, yeah, it was my first time alone, but I knew what to do. I knew who to contact, I knew what needed to be done. I knew how to do the service, I knew what to do at the cemetery, I knew how to get in touch with the funeral home. I mean, it was there.
He also had a counseling center up in Middleton and he was a pastoral counselor. He was a certified pastoral counselor and he was licensed in the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He did all this. He studied all this at Andover Newton, and he would go and teach the sessions. I didn't get into the pastoral counseling because I couldn't keep up with it. I had kids and a house, and you know... I just couldn't go that way.
But he encouraged people to do as much as they could do. He was just... he was 80 years old, I couldn't keep up with him. I was forty when he was 70, I couldn't believe he was as old as he was when I met him. He must've been going on 70. I would never have believed it. I thought he was in his late 50s, maybe. The energy was just incredible, and still is I guess, in a sense, where he is.
When I last saw him, he didn't know me. But he was going off to a day program and they would have him sit down and they would gather a group of people around him and he would lead the congregation because that's what he had done all his life. He was still leading in the day program. And when he'd greet us, and he'd always done that. When someone would come in, "OG, how are you?" "My friend! How are you? It's so good that..." He couldn't remember your name.
As though he remembered everything about them. And you would think he had, so even then... they had a young man who came from the Assembly of God church over in Somerville to help him at that point in his, kind of, daily living, getting dressed and so forth. And this young man said, "Well before we leave, we need to have a prayer first." And he'd gather and he'll be able to do that until his last breath. they're just amazing people.