Jim Bishop: Indiana wants me? Lord, I can go back there
This is something I’ve not done in years – heading to a professional conference. For any number of fairly valid reasons, I simply haven’t gotten away from my workplace to take part in these types of gatherings.
Some that I’ve attended proved of little help to my ongoing work; others I couldn’t relate to, listening to speakers with large support staffs and/or unlimited budgets and other resources – not all that pertinent to those of us in one-person shops.
But here I am, in my last year of gainful employment, returning to the Elkhart, Ind. area, a place that was special to my wife and me from 1967 to 1971 when we took on our first “real” jobs after college graduation. I worked as writer-editor with our Mennonite Church’s Voluntary Service program; Anna taught first grade in the Elkhart County School System. Those four years in Northern Indiana were notable for horrid weather and lack of scenery, but afforded warm and wonderful people in abundance.
I admit – a primary reason for attending the meeting is my hope to reconnect with some folks whom I haven’t seen in more than 40 years. I plan to stay an extra day following the conference in order to visit Belmont Mennonite Church, the remarkable congregation that took us in and loved us unreservedly.
The conference itself is designed for persons largely who do communications work for church and other non-profit organizations. I’m quickly reminded that another reason I don’t “do” meetings like this is my inability to sit for hours at a time and then proceed to “graze” at buffet tables laden with yummy fare.
I am meeting a host of people at this communications gathering that I’ve known in name only for some time. Most can’t believe that this is my first time to attend the annual meeting of this communications group. I feel a slight tinge of regret similar to wishing I’d somehow made special effort to attend the funeral of an old friend or relative even though it would have required considerable travel and sacrifice to do so.
The biggest temptation I’m facing, with a Wi-Fi connection available virtually everywhere – so to speak – is to flip open my laptop during the sessions and send a couple email messages that I really need to attend to, check my office and home messages and a couple web sites to see if they’ve picked up my latest news release. I feel almost a slave to this technology, like it’s controlling my life instead of the other way round. This also became a recurring theme in the conference.
At one point in our meeting today, as my mind wandered again, I sent a news release to Sheldon Good from Mennonite Weekly Review, who was seated next to me, and in a few minutes, he was reading it and indicating interest in a story on the person who would be a guest speaker on campus next week.
As I talk informally with other participants and listen to more formal presentations from these, my colleagues in communication, I have mixed feelings about being at this stage of my career. On one hand, I want to be part of the “next big thing” in this fast-changing communication technology landscape. On the other, I feel like it’s time to exit, stage right after nearly 44 years in the business, celebrating those things I was able to accomplish for the common good, acknowledging that which I simply wasn’t able to achieve and offering counsel, if wanted, to those who are just now picking up speed in this quickly-changing arena.
Back at the hotel after Friday’s sessions end, I sit at a table at the hotel’s indoor pool and send communiques to my family from my laptop while listening on-line to my “Friday Night Jukebox” 50’s music show on WEMC-FM (www.wemcradio.org), then swim laps in the indoor pool before soaking in the Jacuzzi. Life’s cares seem to evaporate for a few fleeting moments.
Sunday morning, I check out of the motel where I’ve stayed and motor directly to a church camp near Sturgis, Mich., to take in the rest of a retreat that the Belmont Mennonite Church of Elkhart is having there. It would be my first reconnection with this group since leaving Elkhart the summer of 1971. Would anyone remember me?
It felt so different being there, and why not, after 40-plus years? The majority of those present are “new” since we attended, and most had no idea who I was, and that’s okay.
Near the end of the informal worship service I had opportunity to say a few words of reflection and was surprised to find myself getting choked up as I expressed appreciation for the way we were so warmly received and nurtured. Another euphoric moment was discovering that a newsletter that I started there in 1970, Intersect, is still going strong today.
Sunday afternoon I had some free time that proved a remarkable trip down memory lane. Tony Krabill of Elkhart, a former WEMC-FM station manager, gave me a tour of WVPE-FM, public radio, where he works. I checked out Mary Feeser Elementary School just north of the Indiana Toll Road, where Anna taught first grade four years.
I stopped at 513 Garfield Avenue in Elkhart and saw the first apartment we lived in for $75 a month, including utilities and cockroaches. The present occupant was outside on a warm fall afternoon and let me view the interior, which had been completely redone and didn’t look half bad. What memories.
Sunday evening, my Belmont contact, Marian Hostetler, invited about a dozen people from the Belmont congregation who weren’t at the retreat to come together, and we spent three hallowed hours reflecting on both the transcendent and traumatic times in our lives.
Now flying the friendly skies of United somewhere over Ohio on a Monday afternoon (and knowing that this column should have been in my editor’s hands by now), I sit back, breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for the experiences of the past several days and realize anew what a fortunate son I am.
But it’s time to come back to earth . . .
Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at email@example.com.