When I was 9 I accepted Christ at Mount Gretna Evangelical United Brethren Church Campground in the Furnace Hills south of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. I had heard a story of personal peace in the life of a visiting missionary and wanted that for myself. That was in 1959, and pretty much everyone I knew near my age was “accepting Christ” then, which meant they were prophessing their belief that the God of the Hebrew Testament was the only God, and that Jesus son of Joseph & Mary was His son.
About an hour after lights out, all alone in my bunk, I felt a presence that was at once calming and strengthening. I reached out and simply knew that presence as God.
I grew up living just 2 doors from our church, 29th Street EUB in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I sang in choirs, led the Youth Fellowship, and even represented my church on a 10 day Youth Conference at Estes Park, Colorado. Then, I graduated high school.
I had begun even in my later teens to doubt the existence of a God who could allow the Vietnam War to destroy the lives of some of my young friends. And besides, what was up with the Bible? Seemingly filled with contradictions and fairy tales fine for children but hardly a book I could base my life on. I wrote it off as an interesting blend of history and fantasy.
By the time I was married, 1969, and had two kids, 1974, I had pretty much come to disbelieve everything I’d ever heard or read about my faith. I still belonged to, and attended, church. I even taught Sunday School but that’s easy to do if you simply follow the little guide book and teach it as history instead of as truth. Now I was learning to be a businessperson. I was learning how to make money, and nothing in the Bible or the church seemed able to help me do that. But I worked with people who knew differently.
Laverne had heard me rant against his faith almost endlessly and never lost his ready smile or his conviction that Jesus had not died in about 33 Common Era, or 33 Anno Domini, as he liked to say. Mitch shared personal stories of how he came to know Jesus as real. Jere told me of his own doubts and belief. Leo laughed and Thelma smiled me through conversations I was finding myself initiating, not them. And my wife Mona…she prayed.
In spring of 1976 I was alone and in bed again. I NEEDED to decide if God was real or simply a story we used to quiet children through nightmares. I made that decision, and came full circle to the same place I’d been when only nine. I met the presence of Christ once more.
That was 33 years ago. I’ve never been without God’s presence in my life since, except when I’ve chosen to leave Him behind for a while. He is with me just as my wife is beside me when we are sitting at our favorite reading spot on local Scott’s Run Lake. He has gotten me through some tough times with depression, anxiety, business failure and success, and now we walk together as Pastor and Parent. In 1997 I left business and became a United Methodist clergy person. I have a new congregation of about 200 in Douglassville, Berks County, about 1 hour from Mount Gretna, where all of this began.
Some would say I simply made decisions to accept the norm of the society I grew up in, but trust me, the Bible belt was dropped around here years ago. Some say I’m just another evangelical bigot who can’t allow others to worship the god of their faith, but I’ve seen the same seeking light in the eyes of a local Muslim or Hindu that I see in the people who attend my church.
I’m Ken DeWalt, and I believe there is a God. And we, each of us, perhaps even all of us, are seeking together our creator, our purpose, our God. And God is seeking us.