The segment will broadcast on 99.5 KKLA at 7:30 a.m. PST.
“Not so long ago, there was a boy who lived with three cousins and four siblings in a three-story house. The attic was converted into a large bedroom where they slept and played and wondered about things larger than themselves. In that house the boy learned about God, about love, divorce, violence and, much later, reconciliation. There he began his quest for truth that would lead him around the world and finally to a life-altering experience at a place not so far from where he began.”
So goes the story of Jerry Camery-Hoggatt ’75, professor of New Testament and narrative theology for nearly 30 years, and 3-year chair of Vanguard University’s religion division, 1-year Director of Vanguard University’s Grad Programs in Religion. Camery-Hoggatt has sterling academic credentials, but he is also a riveting storyteller, a published author of scholarly monographs, commentaries, memoirs and fiction, a performer of story concerts and a pioneering professor who teaches the gospel as odyssey rather than as outline.
“[Universities] package most of what they do in outline form, but most people come to their religious beliefs in story form,” Camery-Hoggatt says. “I try to write prose that people who’d never pick up a theology book can read comfortably, that engages them in theological reflection. I use story as a vehicle for achieving that.”
Camery-Hoggatt’s life is as dramatic as the stories he tells. As a boy, his childhood was overshadowed by his parents’ divorce, which left the Pentecostal, church-going family with a shameful stigma. Former church friends crossed the street to avoid them. Camery-Hoggatt was so shaken by this that he began to question God’s existence. He posed a theological question to his pastor one Sunday, and the pastor replied, “We’re Christians. We don’t ask those kinds of questions.” Perplexed, Camery-Hoggatt graduated high school and left home, joining Up With People and touring the world. Deep in his heart he was searching for answers.
One Easter Sunday he found himself in an old Russian monastery in Stamford, Conn., attending a midnight mass. There, seated among the immigrants who whispered to one another in their native tongue, Camery-Hoggatt witnessed a scene of reconciliation that stirred his soul. At that moment he decided he would ask again the question of God. If God did not exist, then nothing mattered; if God did exist, then nothing else mattered in quite the same way, he thought.
He returned from touring and took his spiritual journey to Vanguard, where he says he was welcomed despite his spiritual doubts. Wary and questioning, he attended a prayer meeting one Wednesday night in the old Coat of Arms room above the gymnasium, and when the Communion elements came by, he refused them. He didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Then something strange happened: The fellow sitting next to him put an arm around his shoulder, pulled him close and began to cry. “I feel how lost you are,” the fellow said, “and I’ll pray that God will find you and take you home to him.” At that moment, Camery-Hoggatt had an epiphany: if that person could care that much for him, God could, too. He stood up, walked to the front of the room, took a paper cup and the almost-empty pitcher of grape juice, walked back to his seat and said, “Pour this for me.”
“At that moment I knew I had become a Christian and would be a Christian for the rest of my life,” he says, weeping at the recollection.
He also found his professional home at Vanguard. That very semester he discovered biblical studies under Dr. Russ Spittler and Dr. William Williams, and the subject was “a hole into which I fell and I never climbed out,” he says. He abandoned pre-med and threw himself into study of the New Testament.
To read more of Jerry Camery-Hoggat’s biography Click Here
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