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This interview happened on October 22, 2019 with Doug Bowen-Bailey talking with Bill Hardesty. This is the second episode of Peace Church’s podcast, “Peace in a Pod,” a series of conversations with members and friends of Peace United Church of Christ exploring their spiritual journeys and efforts to live out Peace’s mission of praising God, following in the way of Jesus, and building the beloved community.

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Podcast Transcript

>> Doug: Welcome to Peace in a Pod. My name is Doug Bowen-Bailey and I am part of a team who will be talking with members and friends of Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth, MN, exploring some of their spiritual and faith journeys. We look forward to the insights shared and hope that you will find something to inspire you and help you feel connected to Peace Church’s efforts to praise God, live in the way of Jesus, and build the Beloved Community.

Well, welcome to Peace in a Pod. We’re excited to be here today talking with Bill Hardesty, a member here at Peace Church and we want to start off with a question from Krista Tippett who’s the host of “On Being,” and she asks all her guests, and we think it’s a really powerful question:  what was the spiritual background of your childhood?

>> Bill: Well, as I think about this question, I have been able to kind of get in touch with some things that I hadn’t thought about for a while. My mother took me to Sunday school but it didn’t have a real impact on me. But my spiritual connection came from her teaching me about God and God’s love and mentioning that throughout my childhood and that love was represented in my home.

>> Doug: So you went to Sunday school but didn’t regularly attended church services?

>> Bill:  No. And I was always a searching person and I went to a Methodist college, Hamline University, and I wasn’t baptized til I was 21.

>> Doug: So, can you talk about your journey that brought you to Peace Church?

>> Bill: Well,  I had been very active in the Methodist Church and then dropped out

for many years because of some hurts and also some pain from a difficult divorce. And I was talking to Bob and Kay Stephens who were friends.   And they said, “Why don’t you try Peace Church?” And that was just exactly at the right time for me. It was in the fall of 1983.

So I came and immediately I felt welcomed and I saw several people there and talked to a few that I knew already. You know, I was seeking a community that could embrace me and love me and that’s what I found here in Peace Church.

>> Doug:  One of the things at Peace Church, we talk about living out the questions. It’s not necessarily a community that has all the answers but it’s more than we kind of live out the questions together. So I’m wondering what are some of the questions that you’ve been thinking about recently.

>> Bill:  Well, one of the primary ones for me and I think it’s very basic to everything that’s going on in this society,  in the world today, is the division in our society. The great heat in conflict between various groups which stems from folks not understanding where others have come from and what their values and what their difficulties have been in life.  Other ones are our response to climate change and war and violence. And as a 81 year old disabled person, a big question for me as what is my purpose for the remaining several years of my life and how can I daily live like Jesus taught us.

>>Doug:  You know, one part of our mission statement is “living in the way of Jesus.” With your experience and wit where you are now in your life, are there specific examples of ways that you try to take steps to kind of follow the way of Jesus?

>>Bill:  Well, I can mention a follow-up from the first part of this question and that is I’ve really been working on trying to understand others and not demonizing others and I found myself doing that along with a lot of other people.

And I recently read a book, “Strangers in my own land,” which was very impactful and I learned a great deal about the values and the struggles and the cultural life and economic life of people who have felt they’ve been left out in this country. Part of this learning is then speaking out when I see other people doing that or participate in that with other people in a group and I’ve been challenging other people to,  “Let’s look at how other people may be different from us but how we may relate to them in a more impactful and meaningful way.”

>> Doug: So that book, is it written by Arlene Hochschild, who’s she talks about going down to Louisiana?

>>Bill: Yes, she is a sociologist.

>>Doug:  Yeah I remember hearing an interview with her. She’s a sociologist from Berkeley.

>>Bill:  Yes.

>>Doug:  The thing that stuck out with me from that was she talked about how people have a deep story that help them understand the way they kind of navigate through the world. But what strikes me thinking about having been a member here at Peace Church with you for so long, is I feel like you have always raised good questions about access as we were going through different projects with the community in terms of making sure that as we were renovating, that we’re always keeping in mind how do we make it the most accessible for everybody to come in through the doors to be able to be a part of this congregation. So for me, I kind of see part of your deep story, I see that concern for just making sure that it is accessible, not only for you but for everybody.  I’m curious to know – kind of where did that, where did the roots of that come from? That concern to make sure that all are really truly welcome.

>>Bill:  You know Doug, I think it’s in my DNA. I recall as a very little child in the first years of grade school when bullies would pick on other people or people who laughed at the that kid or the girl that wasn’t dressed as well as some of the others, that I was always their defender and always tried to be their friend and I just seemed to pursue that through my whole life.

>>Doug:  I’m curious.   You’re part of the spiritual journey team and I’m curious to know both where have places been where you felt kind of a connection to a spiritual community and what are some of the practices that you use to support your own spiritual journey?

>>Bill:  Well, I would say that worship is significant for me through the music, the sermon, the prayers the participation of children and other small groups here at peace.  Like I’ve done some significant books studies that have really brought me close to other people and a small group and I felt very spiritually connected also on some of our teams that I participated in.  Certainly the Dismantling Racism team in the past and also currently the Spiritual Journey team is one that makes me feel very connected spiritually to others.

>>Doug: You mentioned about kind of presence of children in worship. I’m curious if you found- what thoughts you have on to the nature of Peace Church being an intergenerational place? Because it seems to be in our society, we’re so often segregated by generations. That it’s young people hanging out with young people and you know there aren’t that many opportunities for people to mix between the generations.  So I’m just wondering what that opportunity to have a place like this means to you.

>>Bill:  Well, it’s important and I have found myself trying to cultivate friends from all generations. There is a family that had children and one of their children was born on my birthday. And they have moved away but we are still in contact and see each other a couple times a year and that connection came through sharing birthdays at Peace Church. I try to reach out to people and particularly children. I ask children their name and, depending upon the context here at Peace Church try to get to know young families. And I made some friends with a couple of younger families currently.  Last Sunday, my wife and I went out to lunch after church with one of those families. I would like to see more intergenerational activity where several generations would participate in a certain activity or an event or a way of celebrating each other’s stories together.

>>Doug: So I asked you before about kind of some spiritual practices: what you do to enhance your spiritual journey? Are there any resources or practices that you would recommend to other people as they’re thinking about their own spiritual journey?

>>Bill: One important spiritual practice would be is reflecting. You know, we all lead busy lives and I think we’re task-oriented and in the past I have viewed reflection as kind of a waste of time,like daydreaming you know. And you want to be productive and produce something, but I found as I become older that it’s deepened my faith and spoken to me on, in so many ways, when I reflect, either on something I’m reading or in nature, I’ll sit outside and watch animals in my backyard for hours at a time, like those squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits and deer.

The resources that I would recommend, I really like the Daily Devotionals that the UCC Still Speaking provides, and I also get a daily devotional  from Sojourners which is more social justice kind of oriented.

I also reflect on what is my purpose and what does the reason for me living the last many years. Because I’ve exceeded my expected life expectancy particularly with the medical problems I’ve had and so it’s important for me to understand that and also something I reflect on that’s just sometimes overwhelming as my love for others and my gratitude and forgiveness and desire to connect with others on a deeper spiritual meaning.

You ask about recommended practices.  I like to read, although I’ve had some difficulty doing that in the past few years but currently I’m reading a book by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer,  Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus. And there are just so many good books out there, you can’t even begin to read them all.

>>Doug: You raise there, you know, kind of that big question of why are we here, which I think is a really significant one, and what’s the point of continuing on, that is a question that changes as we age.  I think in the midst of all of- that one of the things that all of us have to come to grips with is how do we find life and hope, you know, in light in the midst of our daily life. So I’m curious to know where you find hope and where you find inspiration in life?

>>Bill: Well, we talk about stories. I feel great hope when I hear people’s stories and connect with them on a deeper level. And I see God in everyone and I understand that all of life is connected. We’re all part of the whole. Everyone is on their own spiritual journey and that everybody has value and worth.  You know, I believe that God’s desire is for this to be a just and peaceful world and for us to live in that world in a happy, healthy, sustainable way. And amidst all of the conflict and difficulties in our society, I see people with great energy working toward that in both individuals and groups and communities. And I see some movements that are being started that are very hopeful. So my hope comes through my faith. If you looked at what’s going on in the news every day, you wouldn’t be very hopeful.

>>Doug: So are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share? One thing I really appreciate is that you here have shared part of your story. And I think that that’s good be thinking about kind of your striving to seek understanding and to look for ways to promote that justice and peace – that you’ve had a lifetime of that. So I’m really grateful for you sharing your story and I’m just curious if there’s anything else you’d like to, any other final thoughts?

>>Bill:  Well, there’s lots of people in this community that I don’t know and I have a thirst for knowing as many people as I can and connecting with those people that I don’t know. So when you see me, I’m usually at the 10:30 service, or have ways of connecting with me, I would like to hear your story.

>>Doug: We are really grateful for you taking the time to sit down with us and be a part of this podcast series and we hope that this can be a way that other people can start to share their stories too.  So thank you for being a part of this.

>>Bill: Thanks for including me

>> Doug: Thanks for listening to Peace in a Pod.  We are grateful to Bill Hardesty for taking the time to talk with us.

Music in this episode includes songs composed by Steve Horner and performed by Jim Pospisil on the piano and Nathan Holst on the violin.  Frost Bowen-Bailey performed Amazing Grace on the french horn.

We hope you have enjoyed this conversation and that it inspires you to live out Peace Church’s mission of praising God, following in the way of Jesus, and building the beloved community.