Friday, April 19, 2019

The Family moves to Akron 1970

When it finally came to move, we had to get two moving vans.  I drove one and Patricia or Gifford drove the other.  I had previously found and bought a house on Storer Avenue in Akron, Ohio. At the last minute we could not find the cat, and after a long and fruitless search we had to leave without him. So we left Connecticut about 1:00 AM or later for the 600-mile treck.

We had gone a good part of the way, but got too tired and had to stay at a motel to rest, continuing later the next day.

When we got there we had plenty of help unloading and moving in by all the saints who pitched in. It was good for us all to be together again this time in Akron instead of Connecticut.  I had gotten practically a "mansion" having large white columns in front; it was a brick house with a brick garage.  It had two stairways to the second floor which had 4 bedrooms and two baths.  The third floor had a normal bedroom and complete bath, plus a large area used by Patricia and Yvonne for their bedroom.

The hot water had no tank, but was instantaneous gas-heated hot water located in the basement. The house had a fireplace on the main floor, a half-bath, a sun room, a breakfast nook off the kitchen, plus the normal dining room and living room. Also a study area.

Patricia and Yvonne found jobs and went to work.  Tom, Shirley, and Mary started school.  The church in Akron purchased a building that had been a synagogue. It had a parking lot in the rear.

I had found a place to locate the business within a mile or so of our house, and moved all my equipment in with the help of the saints..  I had a contract with a nameplate manufacturer in Massachusetts to design and build a step-and-repeat machine to produce an 8.5" x 11" negative full of nameplate images.  So I hired a secretary and technician from among the saints in the church.  I had to advertise locally to find and hire a mechanical designer.

A sister in the church, Betty Leal, was moving from Bogata, Columbia to the United States, and I signed for her for the Immigration Service so she could stay.  She moved in with us and became part of the family, sharing family duties along with the rest of the kids, becoming good friends with Patricia and Yvonne, and also going to work.

All the saints in the church were members of one or more service groups.  I joined the Moving Service, helping saints move in from various parts of the country.  I also provided the church secretarial service, compiling the (ever-changing) address and phone list.

We met many times during the week for a full church life.  One memorable thing we did on occasion was to have gospel marches.  There was a trumpet and drums, and we all wore white gospel robes for the march which was quite impressive.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

1970 Move to Akron

As mentioned, I was in my own business.  I would keep track of my time on the calendar, to charge different clients.  The month of January was nearly filled with “O’s”, representing Overhead, time lost just day-dreaming of the church, and not being able to work.

About mid-month I received a newsletter from Akron, advising of the arrival of the first of the families moving there, looking for houses.  I thought, am I really going to just sit here and miss it all?  Finally, the Lord provided a business trip for me to go to Ft. Wayne, with a stop in Cleveland.

I recalled that one of the brothers with Witness Lee visiting us the prior month was Titus Chu from Cleveland.  So when the plane stopped in Cleveland, I called him, and he said “Oh praise the Lord, brother, we’ll be right down and pick you up!”  I said “No, no, I’m just on the way to Ft. Wayne, but on the way back I’ll stop.”  And that is what I did.

Brother Titus prevailed upon me to stay for three days.  We went to a Lord’s Day meeting in Mansfield, Ohio, and then accompanied saints as they considered a building suitable for meeting, and searched for houses.  The search for houses continued during a rainy Monday in Akron.  As we were driving around the streets with closely-spaced houses I asked Titus “Where do the children play?”  The answer was “In the street.”  This was rather the low point in my entire visit, and a blow to my soul life which we term “the old man”.

When it came time to go home, Titus asked me what I was going to do regarding Akron.  I asked him what I should do.  He said “I don’t know what you should do.  The Lord knows what you should do.  You know what you should do.”  And immediately I was clear.  I should move to Akron.  At that time the way we were meeting in East Hartland, Connecticut was considered by brother Lee and Titus as the church in East Hartland.  For me to leave there without the approval of the leading one(s) was considered comparable to a sister who left her husband to move to a locality where there was a church.

I flew home and walked into a meeting in progress at our house and said that our family was moving to Akron.  Marjorie immediately started crying, and our pastor bounced right up and said “Now just a minute, you have a responsibility here!”  Later Marjorie said that her tears were tears of joy, because she had felt that I had not been following that close with the Lord and this was an answer to her prayer.

The situation ultimately resolved itself.  I remember visiting Akron again, driving the New York Throughway, singing to myself the hymn “We have a Most Glorious King”.  At one point in a visit to Akron I applied for and got an Ohio driver’s license.  To do that I had to turn in my Connecticut driver’s license.  To me this was a reality check, and it really hit home.  In the spring I moved into the Brother’s House in Akron.  Marjorie stayed behind until the end of June because our second daughter, Yvonne, was graduating from high school then.  I rented a building for the business in Akron.  I had several employees, but none wanted to move to Ohio.  Since I had several projects going, I had to do some hiring in Akron. 

After I had rented the building for business but before I had moved in, the church in Akron was having a mini-conference, and I volunteered my business facilities for it, and we rented chairs.  The phone was already hooked up, and in the midst of a very moving hymn somehow Bill Barker and I were on the phone.  I know it had an effect on him, because the next day, totally unplanned, he hopped a plane and was there with the church.

I hired some saints to continue my several projects, and I was also helped by other saints, in particular, Jim Young and Bill Barker.  So my business continued in Akron instead of East Hartland.  I sorely missed my family.  I can’t tell you how many times I flew back to Connecticut during those months. 

I told everyone I was moving to Akron to “die”, meaning that I was dying to self, for the Lord’s interest on earth.  The situation in Connecticut that I was leaving, was for the “natural man” nearly ideal.  Consider that all the meetings were in our home (in a 24’ x 32’ attached heated and well lit garage).  My business was also in our home.  The location was out in the country on a hilltop in northwest Connecticut with clean air.  On any cloudless night you could always see the milky way.  One spring, just outside my office window there was a large apple tree in full bloom, early.  Then there was a drop in temperature, and that tree stayed in full bloom for a whole month.  Of course I hated to leave all this.  Our family physician said sarcastically, “I presume you are moving to Akron for the air pollution”.  (In those days, pollution was bad.  Earlier that year the Cuyahoga river in Cleveland caught fire).  One night in Akron at the Brother’s House the smell of rubber from the tire plants was so bad it woke me up, and I was wondering how much worse it would get before an evacuation was called.

But the joy of meeting with all the saints far outweighed all these distractions.  Though all our children had come to the Lord, one by one, still they were restless and ready to go off in different directions.  When the family moved in June 1970 our oldest son, Gifford Jr., had already left home, gotten married, and had a son of his own, Gifford Neill III.  So we had to leave them behind.  Our oldest daughter Patricia was away at college at John Brown University in Arkansas.  Our youngest son John was six months old.  The hardest part of the move was to pick him up off the clean grass at our home in Connecticut and bring him to Akron.

The church life was pure joy.  Except for the one left behind, all our children were initially captured by it.  Even Patricia, when she came home from Arkansas, came home now to Akron.  She held out against the church life for exactly one week.  The most enjoyable times were when we gave hospitality to saints coming to Akron for conferences.  Other times of great enjoyment of fellowship included the Moving Service, where some of us brothers helped families move their belongings off moving vans into houses they had just bought.  We were forever having saints over for the evening meal, and all our friends were in the church.

Erie Conference, December 1969, Part B

On the third day of the conference, things went as previously described up until noon.  At that point I was more tired than hungry, so skipped lunch and headed for a nap at the bunkhouse.  As it turned out, I missed a critical impromptu meeting.  Sometime before the afternoon meeting, Bernie came into the bunkhouse with an expression on his face "like death warmed over".  I do not recall our conversation, but it was obvious something was up.

Going in for the afternoon meeting, the atmosphere was totally changed, perhaps you could say "electric".  There were testimonies of saints getting ready to sell their houses, quit their jobs, and move to Akron, Ohio for a strong testimony of the Lord.  Sisters would get up, sometimes weeping, yet with strong determination, giving their testimony totally for the Lord's move.  It appeared that most of the saints that were scattered over the northeastern U.S. were all going to move to Akron.  It certainly was more than exciting.

The evening meeting was the last meeting of the conference.  Sometime during the conference, at least once, maybe twice, we sang "We Have a most Glorious King", and changing the word "work" to "church".  This hymn, which I had never before heard, stayed with me.

In any event, towards the close of the last meeting, those representing different churches were asked to rise, including the church in Los Angeles, the church in Houston, the church in Toronto and finally, "the church in Akron".  I was sitting next to Bill Barker, and at the call for Akron, he got up!  I was totally taken by surprise.  How did I feel?  I felt the same as if there had been an altar call, and I, unsaved, remained seated.

Note: I'm only relating what I remember of events over 40 years ago, and I cannot vouch for precise times, dates, and sequences.  I have a feeling some are not quite accurate in that regard.

When it was time to go home, we gave a ride to a Chinese couple who were students at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  They had taken, as I recall, 24 hours to get to Erie via bus to NYC and Pittsburgh.  So driving home via Amherst took us a little longer, but essentially we were all on "cloud nine", and enjoying the Lord and rich fellowship with one another.  We stopped somewhere for a quick bite to eat, and there on the counter was a Christmas tree with its decorating lights.  It seemed so out of place, and seemed to belong to another world.  I think we all had forgotten it was Christmastime.

After dropping off the saints in Amherst, finally Bill dropped me off at my place in East Hartland, CT.  It was about midnight, and near the end of the year.  As I crossed the threshold of my front door, I knew my life would never be the same again, but I just couldn't say what would happen next.  For one thing, there was within me a very strong desire to meet with those saints in Akron.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Erie Conference, December 1969 (Part A)

The time got closer for the Christmastime conference in Erie, PA. I still said nothing, but I felt that someone from our group should attend. But not me, because we always had family over for Christmas, including my Dad, Uncle Dave Neill, Uncle Fred Blankenburg, and my sister Barbara Neill, if she was available. About the Sunday before Christmas, Bill Barker got up in our meeting and voiced his opinion that someone from our group should attend the Erie Conference. Of course this confirmed my own feeling, so I got up and voiced the same thought. Our minister, brother Stanley Albanesius pointing in turn to Bill Barker, and then me, said to each of us, "You have the burden that someone should go; you go." Someone said to him: "How about you going?" He said "Oh, I always go to these things." So actually he didn't want to go either. Another brother, Bernie Lamereaux stood up, and he actually wanted to go! Thus Bill and I were "forced" to go, and Bernie came along with us.

Bill drove, and it was an approximate 460 mile trip to a resort that had been rented about 10 miles outside of Erie. I believe we arrived about Christmas eve, and there was plenty of snow on the ground. There was a bunkhouse for brothers, with double-deck bunks, another bunkhouse for sisters, a large assembly hall with kitchen facilities, and also a hill for tobogganing. On arrival we entered the main building where there were a group of brothers sitting in a circle praying, and often saying "Amen!" together in a loud voice. I thought this quite unusual, and also thought it might bother some people, but not me.

The conference lasted 3 days. The pattern was as follows: Every morning we met in the main hall for Morning Watch, then moved our chairs over for Breakfast. After Breakfast we moved our chairs back over for the Morning Meeting. After the Morning Meeting, we moved our chairs again for the Noon Meal. After the Noon Meal, the young people typically went tobogganing, and the older saints headed for the bunk houses for a nap. At this time there were typically going on other individual meetings that I was unaware of. Later, there was an Afternoon Meeting in the meeting hall, after which we moved our chairs over for the Evening Meal. After the Evening Meal, we moved our chairs over for the Evening Meeting.

All these main meetings typically consisting in hymn singing, testimonies, and sharing by various brothers, especially Witness Lee, and sometimes others including Titus Chu. Brother Lee shared on Revelation. But he also shared a number of things that I could never forget. He said we are on the shoulders of the Brethren, who, in turn, were on the shoulders of ones who went before (Zinzindorf and the Moravian Brethren?). Then he said that if we did not bring the Lord back, he didn't know who would be on our shoulders. Another impressive thing he said was in reference to a number of young Chinese brothers. He said they were so busy pursuing their medical careers that the only way they could contribute was by way of money. He lowered his voice when he said "money", so that it sounded like a dirty word. It was clear what he meant.

It was a very intense conference, and at the end of each day we all were pretty well worn out. In the middle of the night, I remember the brother in the bunk above me calling on the Lord in his sleep!

Perhaps on the second day of the conference, a group arrived (after driving through the night) from Houston, Texas. They shared that they had been scattered all over Texas, but had quit their jobs, sold their houses, and all relocated to Houston solely for the purpose of creating a strong testimony for the Lord in one place, i.e., Houston. Essentially, by this corporate move, they began meeting simply as the local church in Houston according to the New Testament pattern, such as "The church in Ephesus", for instance. By this means they also avoided partaking of divisions such as mentioned in Corinthians where the "dividers" were saying, "I am of Apollos", or "I am of Paul", or even "I am of Christ". Footnote: Along this line, Martin Luther said, "I pray you leave my name alone. Do not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians." John Wesley said, "I wish the name Methodist might never be mentioned again, but lost in eternal oblivion. Charles Spurgeon said, "I say of the Baptist name, let it perish, but let Christ's own name last forever. I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living."

This testimony of the Houston saints was very moving. That evening in the bunkhouse, I asked Bernie if he could picture me selling my house and moving to another locality. He said "Yes, if the Lord was in it." I told him I never could picture such a thing until this night. In fact, I used to take people through my place in East Hartland where we had a large family and a business with 6 employees. People would ask me, "What would you do if you ever have to move?" I would always reply, "Ha ha, I'm not moving." But the Lord hears every word we speak.

This is a big subject and I've run out of time. Hope to continue shortly.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nov. - Dec. 1969

My life changed forever during these two months. About 7 1/2 months after the birth of our first grandchild (Gifford Neill III), our seventh and last child arrived, John Peter Neill Nov. 4th, 1969. It was over nine years since our previous one, Mary. So Marjorie was already now a grandma, and now a mama once again! This one was especially "on purpose". She wanted to find out what it was like to have a baby this time again after being saved. She also, so to speak, "gave him to the Lord".

Gifford Jr. had already left home and was living in Winsted. Patricia was away at college at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. My dad and uncle Dave were still living next door, up the road towards the center of town.

I think it was within the previous year that Bill Barker and his family moved to a nearby town and started meeting with us. He had found us through the Stream magazine, asking them who were subscribers, and they gave him the name and address of our minister's mother-in-law. Earlier, our minister, Stan Albanesius had got us copies of the Hymnal from the Stream publishers, with many of the hymns written by Watchman Nee, Witness Lee, and John Ingalls.

Some time prior to this, I had gotten and read a book by Watchman Nee entitled "The Normal Christian Life". I was very impressed with the book; having the strong impact that all believers are actually one. In one instance, Watchman was on a trolley in Shanghai, and met another believer who asked him: "Who are you affiliated with?" Watchman's response was: "I'm affiliated with you!" I was very impressed with this thought, and actually used it myself in a similar situation.

At that time the Stream magazine was written by Witness Lee in California, and covered the idea that basically all believers are one and should not be divided. Many of the hymns cover this same thought. Another thought accentuated was that the church is Christ's own body, and He lives in each believer. All this is of course fully covered in the Bible, but for some reason it hasn't been accentuated in Christianity as a whole. So the church really itself is the Christ in every believer, especially as we gather together (but I believe, even when we're apart).

In any event, we had been singing these hymns, and Stan had been preaching these things gleaned from the Stream magazine by the time Bill Barker and family joined us. He felt I think fairly well at home since he had been meeting with a similar group prior to moving to Connecticut. But it was all new to us, and sometimes Bill would use the term "church" that sounded like it had more significance than I knew.

Some time during the first part of December 1969, a friend of Bill Barker's invited Witness Lee to come and share with us. Witness Lee was to have, I believe, a conference in Boston after this. So Witness Lee arrived to share with us, accompanied by John Ingalls, Titus Chu, Dave Shields, and two other brothers. Basically he shared with us the gospel "in miniature" as it were, plus calling on the Lord, and taking the words of the Bible in prayer,i.e. "pray-reading" the word.

After three meetings, I thought I had heard it all, and brother Lee went on to Boston. But prior to them leaving, John Ingalls shared that there was to be a conference in Erie, PA during the Christmas holidays. And with a smile on his face, John Ingalls said "Down with Santa Claus!" I thought it was a rather strange time to have a conference, but I felt that someone from our group really ought to attend, but I said nothing at the time.

To be continued.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Little Known Fact

My Dad (Tom Neill), my sister (Barbara Neill), and I lived in California for the better part of two years. My Dad in Santa Monica in the early part of the 20th century, my sister in Santa Barbara in the mid-20th century, and myself in San Marcos in the early part of the 21st century. As far as I know, my mother never went west of the Hudson river.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hartland VI

It's been a long hiatus and in the meantime, I've sold the place in Streamwood, IL and temporarily moved in with Tom & JaeHi in Goshen, IN.

Where was I? Oh yes. I got involved with the Congregational church in Hartland. Over the several years we had a number of ministers. One was rather bad, and after him it seemed to me that we needed an "antidote". I wound up as one member on a committee to find another minister. We got the Connecticut Congregational central office in Hartford to send us resumes of potential ministers. I have to say that some of them looked like THEY needed help. But we noticed one who, to another member and myself, looked somewhat promising. The other member pointed out one line on the recommendation: "Not very much happened during this mans term at this church except perhaps in the hearts of 5 or 6 members". She said: "Look, see what this says! This means that he brought them to the Lord!" I myself, though a dormant Christian, thought that sounded pretty good. So we took steps to hire the man.

The Congregational church system is very liberal. Their philosophy is that each church is run by the congregation, whatever the congregation wants, that's it. So one congregation can be Modernists, and another can be gospel preaching.

As we interviewed Stanley Albanesius, he shared with us that he had some reservations about infant baptism. But we wanted badly enough to have him as our pastor that we neglected to inform others about this reservation, and ultimately it came back to "bite" us, or rather bite him. (Sorry, Stan).

It was due to Stanley Albanesius that I was revived from my dormant Christian condition, and indirectly also due to him that our whole family ultimately accepted the Lord Jesus as our Savior. For several, including Marjorie and some kids, it came about this way. Evelyn Hohloch was a strong believer in the church there, but never one to be "pushy", nor one who would ever do any "organizing", etc., but very quiet and reticent. Yet she had a strong burden from the Lord to rent a bus (which she did), for a round trip to Boston to a Billy Graham Crusade. Stan was thunderstruck, and thought the bus would never be filled, but it WAS! (Thank you Evy).

The gospel was preached faithfully by Stan every Sunday. But this was against the wishes of many of the congregation. Ultimately, it came to a head, and a vote would be taken. I confess that I am an optimist. Stan was a pessimist by nature, but he called himself a "realist". I thought he would win the vote, but Stan thought otherwise, and so together we made plans for that eventuality, if it should happen: On the occasion of Stan coming out on the short end of the vote, I, by pre-arrangement would get up in that very meeting and announce that next Sunday there would be a meeting in my garage with Stan preaching, plus all the Sunday School classes would continue to meet (I believe with the same teachers) in our house and office rooms over top of the garage. He lost the vote and I made the announcement.

The next Sunday there were more meeting at our house than at the Congregational church in the center of town. We continued to meet regularly in our garage and house from 1963 to 1970. My Dad and Uncle Dave came to one of those first meetings, but didn't return. On rare occasions the whole church would have a "love feast" at our house. Twice there were weddings, and at one of those weddings there were 99 people in attendance.

I heated the garage with electricity, having made a special deal with the power company so it would not be excessively expensive. I had had heating elements embedded in the concrete slab of the garage, and also a temperature sensor in there as well. This, combined with a timer to apply power at off-peak times did the trick. The thermal time constant of the slab was rather large, so we could get away with this arrangement.

During this time I continued to use the garage during the week for electronics production, having at peak, 6 employees plus our kids. Every Sunday we would move things over to make room for the church meeting. Also, on Wednesdays, Ethel Albanesius had an after-school children's bible study, and she led many of those kids to the Lord during those years in our garage.

Having a small business, there were "fat" years, and lean years. Both were rather memorable. I had started out consulting for Regent Controls of Stamford, CT, Wendell Caroll, Pres. Once I had obtained my Masters Degree in EE, in 1961, he wanted to have all 5 of my days, but I wanted to cut him down to no more than 3 days. So finally we parted ways, and I went out and in about 1 week had obtained about 4 or 5 new clients.

After a year or two of this I gradually drifted also into some electronics production, with the goal of making more money. My Dad tried a bit of the production work, but didn't like it. My Uncle Arnold was visiting, and tried it a bit also. Marjorie wanted no part of that kind of work. I have a photo of her and me on this subject wherein our facial expressions tell all. You will get a kick out of it if ever I get around to posting it.

Time to quit.