Reprinted with permission from the January – February 2009 issue of The Fourth R.
‘Wannabe’ scholar/theologian finds intellectual stimulation, spiritual nurture at Westar
Rod Rippel has been interested in the life and meaning of Jesus since he was a young boy. He read Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus in high school. He thought about studying religion, but decided to pursue chemical engineering at the University of Missouri.
He spent 10 years in corporate life, and though he was successful, he found the work less and less satisfying. He and his wife sought out churches, looking for a good fit with their values and interests. They found the Ecumenical Institute, which was then part of the Greater Chicago Federation of Churches.
They made a commitment to the institute’s work of lay theological training and community-building from a Christian perspective. The Institute began with seven families living communally on the West Side of Chicago. For the first year, Rod supported several families working as a development engineer while the others concentrated on the educational mission of the Institute and on community reformulation in a 16-block area in inner-city Chicago. A model for the new ecumenical parish and local church of the 20th century, their community-building work encompassed economic, polity, and spiritual issues.
Rod stayed with the Ecumenical Institute nearly 10 years. He and his family not only worked in Chicago, but also in Australia, Taiwan, and Detroit. Following his divorce in 1975, Rod went to work for the city of Detroit, working in industrial waste management and eventually heading the division. Several years later, he married Pauline, a former nun. In 1982, they bought a motor home and struck out for the west, settling La Mesa, east of San Diego, California, where they live today.
Rod worked as an engineer with the City of San Diego and eventually headed the industrial waste unit for the city until his retirement in 1997. Now he spends his time making wine, playing senior softball, and working in local political campaigns.
He also has returned to his early love of Biblical scholarship. He found Westar in 1998 and has not missed a meeting since. “The intellectual stimulation is so important to me,” Rod said. “As a ‘wannabe’ scholar/theologian who got derailed into chemical engineering, Westar has given me a way to indulge a life-long interest and be of some help in sustaining this innovative venture. Attendance at the Westar meetings has become a primary form of spiritual nurture for me.”
“I give because I want to help ensure that the work of religious literacy continues, and finds new avenues to benefit the church and society.”