California Dreaming

John DeckenbackBy John Deckenback, Former Conference Minister, Central Atlantic Conference
(from God in My Life: Faith Stories and How and Why We Share Them, Maren C. Tirabassi  & Maria I. Tirabassi, eds.)

(You can also listen to a recording of this piece here.)

We left Santa Barbara early in the morning for what seemed like a day-long journey into very strange country to the south. Since moving to California from New Jersey I had not traveled far from my adopted hometown.  I was fourteen or fifteen when a church friend and I arrived in the parking lot of a Southern California UCC church to climb aboard the ramshackle bus that would groan, rumble, and eventually die on its way up mountain roads to Pilgrim Pines.  In the end we off-loaded and helped push the bus up the hill into the camp.

There, teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds joined together for a week together with crafts, Bible story, volleyball, more volleyball, skits, and swimming. We hiked up the mountain and closed out our days at Vesper Point singing as we watched the bright orange sun set through the haze of southern California’s smog.  It was there for the first time that I met kids from Watts and heard the words “civil rights.” It was 1960. 

At the end of the week I was invited back later that summer for UCC Youth Fellowship leadership camp.  Through leadership camp and other similar experiences my faith and self-confidence grew.  Without really knowing what I was getting into, I joined the conference’s youth cabinet, which met throughout the year in Pasadena.

Looking back from today’s perspective I am very grateful that my parents and various group advisors saw something in me that showed potential.  I hope that today as a conference minister in the Central Atlantic Conference for the past fifteen years I have lived up to their expectations.  They gave me marvelous gifts.

“California Dreaming”, by John Deckenback, from the book, God in My Life: Faith Stories and How and Why We Share Them, Copyright © 2008 Maren C. Tirabassi and Maria I. Tirabassi, published by The Pilgrim Press in 2008, pages 27-28.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

Reflection Questions:

What experiences shaped your own faith formation?

Who recognized “something in [you] that showed potential?”

In whom have you seen potential and encouraged to dig deeper into ministry opportunities?
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