[I write this series with the hope that someone who once frequented the controversial youth center I staffed a generation ago might happen on this blog through a web search. The summer of 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Spanish Castle, an ecumenical, interracial ministry of an organization once known as Bon Air-Southampton Youth, Incorporated (BASY, Inc.). I’d like to see a Spanish Castle reunion sometime this year.]

As my seminary studies moved me toward graduation and my first call to the ministry in the  Presbyterian Church, I needed to augment a part-time position I was about to accept as a “minister of electronic media” in Richmond, Virginia. That ministry involved my local weekly rock radio show, as well as any other media opportunities I might create in the Richmond area. But the organization that sought to “call” me to that broadcast ministry had a very limited budget, and the call they were set to extend in the spring of 1969 was only for 3/4 time.

As that ad hoc group and I were trying to find a way to earn me a full-time wage, a fledgling youth ministry was forming on Richmond’s southside, more precisely in a suburban area called Bon Air. Earlier, as a first year seminary student, I had been assigned to “shadow” the pastor of the Bon Air Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Richard Perkins. It was an assignment designed to introduce would-be pastors to the work of ministry in a local congregation. We seminarians were to visit Session meetings, tag along on pastoral calls, worship occasionally at our assigned church, and write up an interview with the local pastor about his (and it was strictly a male thing in the late 60s!) daily work.

So I knew something of the Bon Air area. And I got to know it more intimately when someone realized that I would be available for work that would supplement my media call. The emerging ministry in that neighborhood had even less funding than the new media ministry I would be establishing, but the commitment of several Bon Air area churches would be sufficient to hire me on something close to a quarter time. Thus, my youth-oriented radio program was about to bring me face-to-face with part of my audience.

How the two new organizations (media ministry and youth center) met each other, I don’t recall. But they did negotiate for my time, and their shared contracts allowed me to be ordained to full time ministry in June, 1969.

(For the record, this youth ministry portion of my work would be operated under the auspices of a larger pre-existing ecumenical organization known as the Bon Air-Southampton Interfaith Council.)

Soon I would meet the counter-culture teenagers who turned an empty house into a creative, but controversial meeting space that built community among the young, while moving the neighborhood to hire a lawyer to close us down. See, the rest of the story is far more engaging than this opening chapter!

Tune in tomorrow.

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