Living God’s Gift

I am certainly not unique in calling John Glenn my hero. His courage, patriotism, integrity and modesty inspired me. He was a decorated Marine pilot in WWII and the Korean War, test pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator. I well remember his first successful American earth orbit in 1962 in the tiny Mercury space capsule and how it literally lifted the nation’s spirit, the New York City ticker tape parade and reception in the Kennedy White House. I was, and am, in awe over his return to space on the space shuttle Discovery for nine days in 1998 at the age of 77. And I remember what an effective Senator he became, a centrist Democrat who was a master of the now lost art of cooperation across the aisle and collaboration with his Republican Senate colleagues. When he ran for President I seriously considered requesting a leave of absence from my ministry in Columbus, Ohio to work for his campaign. I still think John Glenn would have been a great President.

One of the very real privileges in my life was to know him and his wife Annie. When I was the pastor of a downtown church in Columbus, I was invited to become a member of the Board of Trustees of Muskingum College, a Presbyterian liberal arts college in New Concord, Ohio. John Glenn and Annie grew up in New Concord, attended Muskingum College and both of them were members of the Board of Trustees. That remarkable Board, in addition to the Glenns, included the CEOs of Ford and Goodyear and the Vice President for Labor of General Motors all of whom were Muskingum graduates and classmates of John and Annie. They all loved Muskingum – and, with not much help from me, raised a lot of money! He was a United States Senator at the time and to my surprise and delight they both attended a few board meetings. He knew everyone, of course, patiently sat through all-day meetings, was obviously well informed about the college and personally engaged in board business. I met them both, sat with them at Board lunches. They attended worship several times at the church where I was the pastor, Broad Street Presbyterian of Columbus, Ohio, were attentive and generous and kind as they greeted me after the service. At Mrs. Glenn’s request I visited her mother in a Columbus retirement community. The Glenns were life-long Presbyterians and attended National Presbyterian Church in Washington DC where John was an Elder.

His love for and attention to that small Ohio college and its mundane affairs as he was, at the same time, helping formulate national defense policy, negotiating an international arms reduction treaty, tending to the huge issues of our nation was, for me, an inspiring example of the highest and best of responsible citizenship, authentic patriotism, faithful stewardship, and living God’s gift of life to its fullest.

Thanks be to God for John Glenn’s good and well-lived life. He was, and always will be, my hero.

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