Retired clergy call Lakeview Village home, continue lifelong explorations of faith
People of all different stripes call Lakeview Village home. Among our residents there are doctors, attorneys, teachers, artists, businessmen, writers and engineers, to name a few. Mixed into this cornucopia is a small community of retired clergy. With their paths to ministry uniquely their own, what better time to share the stories of these former pastors than the Easter season?
From Athletic Fields to the Altar
Ken Hennix grew up in rural America, an athlete’s athlete who aspired to be a coach, and, accordingly was studying physical education in college. One day a girl caught his eye.
“This Russian kid knew a girl I wanted to meet, so I asked him to introduce me. He refused. He said I wasn’t good enough for her,” Ken said.
Instead the Russian offered a trade; Ken would attend church service, and the Russian would introduce him to the girl. It was Ken’s junior year of college.
“I went to church and understood I was a sinner, and I needed forgiveness,” Ken said.
Thus began the process of a gradual change in Ken. The girl dropped out of the picture, but perhaps her purpose in Ken’s story had been served. Ken enrolled in seminary in Chicago.
“It wasn’t a big emotional experience,” Ken said. “It just forced me to think about who I was and what I was doing.”
Ken married, “the finest girl there ever was” and was a pastor for 15 years in Illinois, Michigan and Oklahoma. He then took a teaching and coaching position at Bacone College in Oklahoma, where he served as a missionary to the Native Americans. He was then posted to a fundraising position at Central Seminary for several years.
Once his stint at Central Seminary came to a close, Ken was in his late fifties and assumed most churches were looking for younger pastors. He lived with his wife Jean in Kansas City at the time, and she unexpectedly lost her job.
“I told her, we can just retire, you can try to find another job, or you can go into business with me,” Ken said.
Thus, Ken and Jean put his fundraising acumen to the test and started Hennix Philanthropic Services to help churches raise money. Ken traveled a lot and his wife stayed home and answered every phone call and kept things organized.
“She was a great organizer,” he said. “We were a great team.”
“It was exciting. Most of the people I dealt with over the years made the biggest gifts they ever had,” Ken said. “Giving more than you think you can makes you happy. People would call me Reverend Hennix, but after they made a large gift, I became Ken.”
A tale of two Als
Al Pope and Al Hager
Al Pope and Al Hager go way back. Both Methodist ministers, Al Pope met Al Hager during seminary while in Kansas doing summer field work and Al Hager encouraged Al Pope to return to Kansas after seminary.
Al Pope didn’t initially set out for seminary. He earned an undergraduate degree in engineering from Cornell. While at the university, Al was involved in the Wesley Foundation, the Methodist student group. It was as a member of this group that he started to ponder the eternal question, “How does God want me to spend my day?”
As he pondered, we went to work for DuPont as an engineer then served in the Air Force. When he returned from the Air Force, he went to seminary in Boston. After graduation, as Al Hager suggested, Al Pope moved to Kansas and became the full-time associate pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church.
“Engineering never hurt me,” Al said. “I learned a lot as an engineer that translated [to being a minister].”
Counseling was a big part of Al’s ministry, and one aspect that he enjoyed most.
“I had opportunities to be with people in their normal routines and also times of great joy or great stress and hardship,” Al said. “It’s a privilege to be allowed to get close to people in those times.”
Being a minister brought all kinds of satisfaction, enjoyment and challenges Al said. For Al, it is a life-long vocation. He still fills in as the minister at Lake Quivira’s small interdenominational church, and he is a member of the lay chaplains at Lakeview Village.
Al enjoys being active, and occasionally plays the piano during dinner at Northpointe.
“I play songs of the 1940s,” Al said. “I play three songs early, then I wait for the 6 o’clock dinner bus and play three more songs, so everyone has a chance to listen.”
Al Hager grew up in Oklahoma and studied Psychology at Oklahoma City University, while Europe was at war. He volunteered for a military program that allowed him to complete basic training, and then go inactive to attend college. While attending classes, Al was a Sunday school teacher. This was the beginning that led to a more serious career in ministry.
In May 1943, he was called to active duty. Al had misgivings about going to war, and struggled with the idea of shooting men he had never met in combat. He started pilot’s training, but was transferred to paratrooper school in preparation for the invasion. The training involved jumping from just 200 feet, so they would reach the ground faster. Al, like many others, suffered an accident and was sidelined from training. Instead, he came to the aid of the Chaplain he had gotten to know during a bible study. The pair ministered to other injured soldiers.
Al transferred to Seattle, Washington. A few weeks after he arrived, President Truman ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war was over, and Al was relieved. He had also decided to attend seminary.
First, Al returned to Oklahoma to finish his degree. Then, he did post-graduate work while he waited for his future wife Dot to graduate. The next fall, Al started seminary at the University of Edinburgh.
After seminary, the pair returned to the United States, and, after a year as a chaplain in Honolulu, settled in Prairie Village, where they helped grow Asbury United Methodist Church, a new congregation whose church hadn’t been built yet. Al stayed at Asbury until he retired.
Without the ministry, Al would have pursued psychology. “It would not have been the same,” Al said. “No way.”
It takes a Village
Dr. Bob Meneilly
Bob Meneilly’s journey to the ministry started when he was just 12 or 14 and started attending youth conferences and getting involved in his home church. He always planned to attend seminary following his graduation from Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois.
After graduating from seminary, Bob moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Kansas to start a new congregation in an up-and-coming J.C. Nichols development, Prairie Village.
“New homes were being built everywhere, the war was just over, so men were home and families were getting re-established,” Bob said. “We were in the heart of all of that.”
Starting a new congregation is very difficult, but Bob recalled a comment from the Board of American Missions when they elected to set him to the task.
“They said to send me – ‘he doesn’t know it can’t be done.’” Bob said.
Being a minister was, “everything I wanted to do, it was fulfilling and gratifying,” Bob said.
Bob especially enjoyed being involved in the larger community, whether it was providing commentary on sexual education in public schools or enabling African Americans to live in Prairie Village or constructing a facility to help the poor find employment and a better way of life.
During his 47-year tenure at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Bob became known as a community activist and drew the attention, negative and positive, that goes along with activism. Still, Bob maintains he was a product of the times more than anything else.
“It was that time in history,” Bob said. “I was in the right place at the right time. People were not as concerned about denomination as they had been. At one time, 20% of the congregation was Roman Catholic. They were there because they liked the community feeling of the church.”
Still, a sermon he gave in 1993 was published in the NY Times in August, drawing national attention–and ire–toward Bob. As a result, the MainStream Coalition was founded to advocate for mainstream, common sense, responsible and compassionate ideals.
When reflecting back on a career, the high points certainly stand out. But Bob’s ministry got off to a somewhat inauspicious start.
“It was my first time serving communion. [My wife] Shirley and I set it all out the night before. Well, it was very warm in the room. The next morning the congregation discovered that the grape juice had fermented some overnight,” Bob said. “They joked it was the best communion they’d ever had.”
Focused on Love
Jim Kenney decided in his early 20’s that he was not going to do anything for longer than he enjoyed it. He stayed true to this personal axiom throughout his life. He was a physicist, then an accountant and the co-owner of a music store.
“Ginger [my wife] said she would never have married a minister,” Jim laughed.
Jim’s circuitous route to the pulpit really started in Independence, Kansas, when he was running the music store. He was also volunteering with the youth group of the local church, and enjoying every minute of it.
“The people in Independence were stuck in the 1920s, and when the children left that environment, they didn’t do well out in the world,” Jim said.
To try and help expose the youth to the wider world, the Kenney’s took them on a trip to Kansas City.
“We went to the Golden Ox, and we had to tell them to save 10% for a tip. They were shocked; they didn’t know about tipping,” Jim said.
After the trip, Jim and Ginger, and their family, decided to give the seminary a go. Off they went to Princeton Seminary, where Jim’s faith was further formed in an unexpected way.
“Our last semester our professor told us, ‘I don’t want you to be too parochial, go to some other churches and check them out,’” Jim said.
So Jim and Ginger visited a Quaker meeting and were enchanted.
“The Quakers don’t have pastors out East, they have unprogrammed meetings,” Jim said.
So, Jim was ordained and spent the next 20 years as a Presbyterian minister, but visited Quaker meetings whenever he could.
Perhaps it was the Quaker belief that religion is about the Holy Spirit tempered by the wisdom of the community that appealed to Jim most.
“We have become intellectually focused rather than faith-focused. Love is supposed to be the center of faith, but neither the Nicene Creed nor the Apostle’s Creed contains the word ‘love’,” Jim said. “[Love] is what I’m championing at the moment.”
It’s difficult to teach love, Jim concedes. “When my eldest son was 12, he said, ‘Dad, what is it like to fall in love?’”
“I was stumped. It’s not easy to articulate. So I said, ‘Just wait, you’ll know.”
The grandson of a minister, who idolized his grandfather, Dick Weaver saw the ministry as his birthright.
“I adored him,” Dick said. “From my earliest memories, I wanted to be a minister. It was just what I was going to be.”
In his youth, Dick had perfect attendance at Sunday School and received his first bible at 10.
“It was rather natural,” Dick said. “I was very involved in the church and the church Boy Scout troop, though truth be told, I probably preferred scout camp.”
When the time came for college, Dick went to Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, “where preacher boys went to prepare for ministry,” he said.
The college drew students from across the country, and it was, Dick recalled, almost like church camp with praise and worship, rallies and fellowship. Dick was majoring in bible with a minor in English. But it was in that academic community that his Sunday School faith collapsed.
“It was like grains of sand slipping through my fingers,” Dick said. “And it was gone.”
It turns out, most students at Phillips University don’t go on to seminary, but Dick persisted.
“It was because of my grandfather, and because I felt strongly there had to be something to ‘this,’ Dick said. “I was on a mission to discover what that was.”
Once Dick started preaching in seminary, his passion for theology started to come back. He drove 50 miles into the hills of Kentucky, and found preaching positive and uplifting.
Dick began trying to answer the question, “What is the Christian message that will really be mine that I can own?”
He discovered the theologian Rudolf Bultmann and found his message relevant to the modern world.
“Jesus made it possible for us to approach our lives as a gracious gift, and that became my message,” Dick said.
He took his message out into the world thinking that his success in ministry would be based on his success preaching.
“There is a lot of administrative responsibility to ministry,” Dick said. I started a new congregation once. After four years, I had worked myself to death. I made 100 calls a week and ignored my family.”
He thought about quitting. In fact, he did quit, for a year.
“When I returned as a pastor, I paced myself more,” Dick said.
He was the pastor at established churches that already had infrastructure in place to handle church operations. That helped.
His strong connection to his grandfather likely helped as well. The man in whose footsteps he followed was able to watch him preach. Dick sent him his typed sermons, and his grandfather wrote notes in the margins and sent them back.
“We remained close the rest of his life,” Dick said.
Ministry and Dick Weaver were deeply entwined. Dick said he spent seven years outside of his education formulating his faith.
“It’s impossible to comprehend [my life] had I not gone to seminary,” Dick said. “My entire life was ministry.”
John Young was raised in a conservative family in a rural, conservative town where conservative theology dominated.
“God was watching, and he would punish or reward. It was very frightening,” John said.
He was terrified of hell.
“I went to church camps and conferences, and when I was there it was easy to believe that God liked me. But in my daily life, I didn’t feel I measured up,” John said.
He would do things he wasn’t supposed to, and lived in fear of God’s wrath for his indiscretions. He did his best. He played the piano at church and revivals.
One day, his minister told John that he should become a minister.
“No one else had said that,” John said. “College wasn’t on the table. My older brothers never considered it.”
John went to four years of college and then seminary. In his second year of seminary he was failing Consistent Theology. He went to talk to his professor.
“He said I wasn’t thinking for myself; that I was just writing papers based on what I had read and not on what I thought,” John said.
He gave John an assignment. The professor wanted him to write three pages worth of questions that he had about faith and theology. John didn’t have any questions. He sat at his typewriter. Timidly, he typed, “Is there a God?” He thought he would be struck down by a bolt of lightning.
The exercise opened up his mind. He felt that after four years of college and two years of seminary, he had just started learning. He started asking himself what he wanted to do in life. But he was already trained to be a minister.
“My theology continued to evolve,” John said. “But I believed and do believe in Christian principles of love and kindness.”
His evolving theological views were the source of internal conflict for John, because he felt like he wasn’t being 100% honest.
“I regret that I wasn’t totally open with people,” John said. “But who is completely vulnerable? You’d get cut up.”
Despite his internal struggles, John ministered to his congregation. He provided counseling to people who were in crisis. He helped people save their marriages.
“There are people who still tell me that our counseling saved their marriages,” he said. “And they are grateful.”
Today, John happily attends the Unitarian Church, where his personal views of theology are shared with the community. He feels free.
“I wouldn’t want to change anything,” John said. “I love where I am today. I’m an accumulation of all of my experiences, so if I changed my experiences…”