There are two buildings on the Yale University campus that were no more than 50 yards from the dorm complex (Jonathan Edwards College) where my wife and I stayed for my 60th College Reunion. Both of them played important roles in my life. Now I’d like to tell you about what happened in them in chronological order...
The first—and third—happening took place in Dwight Hall, named for another New England puritan minister and theologian like Jonathan Edwards, Timothy Dwight IV (1752-1817), who served for 22 years until his death as Yale’s eighth president. Besides offices, Dwight Hall contains Dwight Chapel. This lovely space in my New Haven days (1956-60, 1961-65) was the venue for both Jewish and Christian worship services. In my ultimately failed attempt to become a religious Jew, I would sometimes attend Friday-night Shabbat services there. During one of them, probably in 1957, I encountered the late charismatic rabbi Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (d. 2014), who had us skeptical Yalies dancing in the aisles within five minutes of his introduction by our chaplain, Rabbi Israel. But this is not the first significant event. Rather, it was my marriage to Hannelore (later Simone) Zimmermann of Munich, Germany, on November 30, 1963, a mere eight days after President Kennedy’s assassination. Needless to say, my Jewish parents were not delighted by my marrying a German Lutheran woman nearly nine years my senior whom I had known for just three-and-a-half weeks and hadn’t seen for four-and-a-half years. To be sure, we had corresponded by frequent long letters and had even both joined the same Sufi-related spiritual organization, Subud. But you could excuse my folks for thinking I was doing something crazy. Full disclosure: we stayed happily married for the next 43 years until her death from pancreatic cancer in September 2006.
The second event, also in Dwight Chapel, occurred the afternoon of September 2, 1966, the day after our first of two daughters, Marianna, was born. I was spending a quiet 15 minutes in the empty space prior to my meeting with The Rev. Richard Olson, Yale’s Lutheran campus chaplain. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice inside me, not my own, said I should be baptized with my daughter. “What?!” I thought. The Voice continued, “Take one of the books stacked up over there and open it at random. It will confirm what I have told you.” I walked 20 long feet to a pile of 1928 Episcopal Books of Common Prayer and prayerfully opened one precisely to the two pages dedicated to welcoming new adult Christians into the faith. I sobbed for a good five minutes after that and felt as if a heavy knapsack had been snipped off my back. I also felt like I’d been thoroughly washed clean, inside and out. After telling Pastor Olson my story, he agreed to baptize me together with my infant daughter. That happened on my wife’s birthday, March 4, 1967, in tiny Branford College Chapel, at the base of Yale’s iconic Harkness Tower, just across High Street from the back of Dwight Hall. As a result, my older daughter became my sister in Christ, and I became a lifelong dedicated Christian, now an Episcopalian. So, this is my tale of two buildings that unexpectedly, dramatically, and positively changed my life.