By LINDA M. LINONIS
For the Rev. Dr. Nick Mager, this year has included a series of “lasts” at First Presbyterian Church, where he has served the last 11 of his 44 1/2 years in the ministry. He was honored on his retirement from the ministry Oct. 20 by some 200 who attended a service and reception in his honor at the church.
Taiz Prayer Services were a part of First Presbyterian’s schedule, and the Rev. Dr. Mager said he believed the worship provided a wonderful alternative because of its elements of silence, singing and chanting. The sanctuary, lighted by candlelight, glows and allows participants to get lost in the semi-darkness and in their reflective thoughts.
Dr. Mager said silence is so rare in people’s lives today, the Taiz service provides a quiet and reflective time.
He noted that the most treasured books in his library are ones by the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel. The Jewish theologian offered many insightful quotes about faith and worship. Dr. Mager said he always appreciated one about the meaning of the Sabbath. “... on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.” Dr. Mager said our busy lives have contributed to the loss of that. “We need to slow down,” he said.
Dr. Mager said his own calling to the ministry was a slow and deliberate process. At his home church of Beverly Heights United Presbyterian in Mount Lebanon, Pa., he said he had “early role models” in the minister and assistant, whom he admired. He noted the conservative church was a place where he became well-versed in biblical stories and his mother’s devoutness was another example.
While he felt an earling calling to the ministry, Dr. Mager admitted that he was shaken when his 13-year-old brother, Bruce, died of acute leukemia. He was 15 at the time and 69 now, and still remembers how he felt. “I was angry at God and my brother,” he admitted, noting he wondered why God let this happen and upset his brother was gone. But going through the grieving process, Dr. Mager said he came to realize “God is used to anger and tears” and he “felt God was calling me to help people in difficult situations.”
He followed family tradition by attending Virginia Military Institute, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1966. “I did feel that everyone is called by God to do something,” he said. “Maybe I was testing to see what I felt was real.”
He then attended and graduated with a master of divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where he found himself among some students who were conscientious-objectors and draft-card burners.
Dr. Mager admitted he identified God with a white, Anglo-Saxon Presbyterian who was a Republican and in management. He came to an epiphany, a “transformation,” he called it when he discovered and studied the rich traditions of Judaism and the works of Rabbi Herschel. “I realized Rabbi Herschel knew the God that I knew through Jesus,” he said. “It was amazing to me that different faith traditions could help me understand faithfulness to God,” he said.
That interest prompted his doctoral work at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to focus on Jewish-Christian relations.
Dr. Mager said passages from Scripture reflect characteristics of the ministry.
“What does the Lord require of you?” is a question to be answered, he said. “Walking humbly with God” is a challenge as is being kind, he said.
He noted “loving the people you serve” was key to his ministry. “They should be loved and valued,” he said. “Being open to new ideas” also contributes to a successful ministry.
Dr. Mager said First Presbyterian “is a loving and supportive congregation.” The church has made a commitment to remain in the city, he said, and that has resulted in “increasing diversity in the congregation.”
Dr. Mager said he and the congregation are pleased that the church plays a role in the community. Beatitude House has an office there and Latinas United Networking Association (L.U.N.A.), Kids Grieve Too and a Boy Scout troop meet at the church. Sojourner House had a recent event at the church and Youngstown State University international students gathered there.
“The church is committed to Wick Neighbors ... it was among founders,” Dr. Mager said. The church is connected to Protestant Family Service and Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and adopted Harding Elementary School.
Mr. Mager said he’ll miss the congregation and music ministry led by Larry Harris, director of music.
Retirement will give Mr. Mager and his wife, Debbie, the chance to visit five adult children and five grandchildren who live in Connecticut, Florida, Nebraska, Shanghai in China and the Buckeye State.