The Rev. Ernest Bodenweber
This week we continue our series honoring First Church’s 300th Anniversary; the following was written 10 years ago:
Something always seemed to guide the teenaged Ernest Bodenweber toward his life’s calling. His family’s church was just a block or two from their home, and much of their family life seemed focused around that church. Their minister, Dr. Harold C. Phillips, a world-renowned Baptist preacher, was young Ernie’s hero.
Another of his heroes was Harry Emerson Fosdick, minister of Riverside Church in New York City; Ernie began reading Fosdick’s books as a teenager, and soon had read every one of them. Two of his other heroes were his maternal grandparents, whom he would later describe as “very spiritual, very Christ-like people; very genuine, dedicated, unassuming Christian people.”
Young Ernie knew that he didn’t want to become a teacher, because that was the work his parents had chosen. His father recognized Ernie’s gift and love for music, and urged him to become a musician. Meanwhile, his mother believed he should become a doctor.
Even though Ernie did not see in any of these a reasonable career goal, he did spend some time as a hospital orderly and also tried his hand at social work; although he enjoyed the hospital environment, neither career path appealed to him. Through these experiences however, he began to recognize his own gift for ministering to others. Something was indeed steering him into a life in the ministry.
Ernest Bodenweber attended Cleveland Heights High School, and then pursued his BA degree at Denison University in Ohio. After graduating, he then attended Andover-Newton Theological School, achieving his BD degree in 1952.
Ernie was ordained that same year by the Hampshire Association of the Massachusetts Conference of United Church of Christ. He then spent the first half of his working life at three different Massachusetts churches.
He met Dorothy Tekel at a church fellowship meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, and married her in 1955. Sometime later, the Bodenwebers had two daughters, Jennifer and Joanna.
It isn’t often that someone’s name so accurately describes their demeanor—Ernie is first and foremost an earnest man. It was our good fortune that he eventually came to First Church, and spent the entire second half of his career (1969-1988) with us: he stayed, and he stayed, and he stayed, right up until his retirement.
Meanwhile, his wife Dorothy was also active at First Church, serving as Assistant Superintendent of the Church School; she also volunteered considerable time in the greater community. Dorothy died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1977, and the church grieved deeply for the Bodenweber family.
In 1982, Ernie married Muriel Beck, daughter of this church’s Deacon Harold Bone and Marie Bone. Today, Ernie and Muriel live in Derby. Ernie, who looks and moves like a much younger man, looks back fondly on his years with us: He remembers that he always felt the loyalty, support, love and acceptance of our congregation—and so it should be.