I’ve already written about my childhood pastor, Wilbur J. Kerr. But his successor at my home church also had quite a positive influence on my spiritual growth and vocational path.

Gerald Hertzog (“Gerry” I would call him nowadays) came to the Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott while I was in college. Our paths crossed almost immediately when it came time for me to go “under care” of the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley. That is church polity language for beginning the official journey toward ordination as a minister. Rev. Hertzog drove me to that first Presbytery meeting where I must have answered some questions and received the body’s blessing, and then found myself under the guidance and oversight of what is called these days the Committee on Preparation.

One thing I remember about that night was how fast I thought Rev. Hertzog drove! The rest of that night’s process is a bit of a fog now; after all, it was almost fifty years ago! What I do recall was that Gerry Hertzog was very supportive, and not only that night, but throughout my less-than-stellar academic career. He was always approachable, easy to talk with, and helpful in my securing college and seminary financial help from my church, both grants and loans.

I grew under his preaching when I was home for vacations, but when my family moved south, a good career move for my IBM-employed Dad, my trips back to Endicott were few. The Presbytery and Rev. Hertzog kept up with me through letters, from late college years through seminary. But that didn’t build a very close relationship between my hometown pastor and me. When my seminary education was reaching its last months, it was necessary to begin the process that led to ordination to my specialized call. Gerry Hertzog was again my advocate and guide through that process, even at a distance.

I guess I should backtrack a bit here, to the unfortunate occasion of my flunking out of college. I’ve already belabored that situation in earlier posts, but I do need to express thanksgiving to Rev. Hertzog for his unending support during those sad days. I had every right to question my call, but he never did. Being at home during that spring semester meant that I could be in church each week, and that is where I especially appreciated his worship leadership style and sermons. I suspect that he spoke to a few church folk to make sure I was welcomed back to church, even when I should have been finishing out my junior year. He made sure my transition at my home congregation wasn’t too awkward for me.

 Even as he pastored me on site, he had two other church youth in college preparing for ministry, so I’m sure he had his hands full when it came to encouraging us all to stay the course. (Or in my case, to pass a course or two!)

I know Rev. Hertzog must have been quite relieved when I passed my “ords” (denominational ordination exams) on the first try, something many of my seminary classmates failed to do. I even passed the standard exam in Hebrew, surprising even myself. I have to smile now as I recall the letter I received from Presbytery — not from Rev. Hertzog — expressing downright surprise that I had passed the ords on the first go-round. I think one line began, “Needless to say, you gave us some reason to doubt your success during your academic career…” or something to that effect.

Gerry Hertzog was also very supportive when my vocational track led me into a ministry in media, rather than a pastorate. He helped design a special service of ordination based on my unique call, and I remember well that special day in my life.

In later years, Rev. Hertzog would move from the pastorate to an administrative position heading up the presbytery that ordained me. Joan and I have kept in touch with him at Christmas each year since those days. And not long ago (but now as I think about it, too long ago…) we drove to his home to visit him and Evelyn, his wife.  The conversation was warm and welcomed, and it was as if we had been getting together regularly. We were probably both relieved to find that we share a certain, shall we say, liberality in our theology and social consciousness.

He’s a good guy, and one of the forty I’ve followed in friendship and ministry.

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