A chat with Steve Hollaway | Block Island Times
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?A:I was born in Japan, where my parents were missionaries. I spent almost all my childhood in Tokyo, going to Japanese preschool but attending the American School in Japan. We moved back to the States at the end of seventh grade because my mother had been placed in a mental hospital for severe depression and migraines. I went to high school in Nashville, where my parents and siblings all settled. I left the south to go to Princeton University, then went into a doctoral program in English at Duke, then switched gears and trained for ministry back at Princeton Theological Seminary. I started working with the University Chapel and with Baptist Campus Ministry while I was a student, and for a dozen years I focused on campus ministry at the University of Alabama, UAB and U of A Medical School, Birmingham-Southern College, and Columbia University in New York City. I was 36, with my second child on the way, when I became a church pastor in suburban Madison, N.J.
Q: Can you tell us how you came to preach on Block Island, and when?A:I came to Block Island in 2009. The church had decided to enlarge its search by advertising in a national magazine, The Christian Century, one of my favorites, and Becca saw a classified ad for a church on Block Island. She’d always wanted to live near a beach and this seemed to be a chance. I looked at the profile of the congregation and thought it might be a fit. We did a phone interview, and soon after flew here from Cincinnati to visit, and a couple of weeks after that the deal was done! I had never been to Block Island before coming to interview, and barely knew anything about it. I knew someone who got married here, and that was it.
Q: What role or roles do you think a church plays in community life?A:I think a church can be a Third Place, especially in a small town, a place where people can hang out that is neither work nor home. It’s a place for building judgment-free relationships with people different from yourself. A church can empower people to serve the community in existing channels, but it can also be an incubator that encourages new initiatives to serve the community. Part of my role has been entrepreneurial—not to market the church but to notice needs that are not being met and find ways to meet them. A church also serves as a reminder that the materialistic and hedonistic life is not all there is. It points people to mystery, to spirit, to what you can’t understand, and to the depth of beauty in other people. The church should also be a voice for justice—especially for the poor, the stranger, children, and the vulnerable. Partly because of my own interests, I’ve also seen the church as a booster of the arts and creativity in general—increasing the amount of beauty in the world and increasing our likeness to a creative God.
Q: What are your overall thoughts about your time on Block Island?A:I don’t think I’m ready to give a full answer to that. I am glad that we have made some progress in addressing the needs for awareness and treatment of mental illness. I’m glad the coffeehouse exposed people to good music and good movies, and provided opportunities to make friends I would not have had without it. I’m glad we opened a place for international students and provided meals for them, which has led to many friendships and learning about other nations and cultures. I’m glad I got to preach the way I wanted to and share my sermons online in several ways; I do not think I have backed off from saying things that needed to be said.I am disappointed that we did not make real progress in addressing substance abuse issues—from alcohol to heroin—and have not seen an end to young adult suicides by overdose, even though I made efforts toward that end. I think the culture of denial and the tribalism that refuses to rat on another islander are powerful forces contributing to deaths. I will always think of Block Island as a very small town, with the caring that comes from intimacy but also with a terrible lack of privacy and a dark scourge of gossip. I’ve mostly received laurels in recent years, but being on the receiving end of some rotten tomatoes and comments in The Times in earlier years made me sensitive to what’s faced by people who rock the boat.
Q: Retirement seems such a silly word, because people always seem to find something to do with their time. What do you plan on doing in this next phase of your life?A: I have three writing projects in the works: a book of poems; a half-finished memoir of my thirteenth year of life when I was coming of age in Tokyo at the same time my mother was sliding into mental illness and being shipped to America; and a book derived from the themes of a group of my sermons, at the urging of Jim Wallis, whom I’m going to ask for a foreword. We also want to travel more — both catching up with family and college friends, and seeing places like Shanghai and Japan in September. Becca’s going to be pursuing her many art endeavors, and I’ll be supporting that, as she keeps me focused on writing. We hope to find a good integrated church in Baltimore, and we hope to advocate for social justice in an unjust age. Interview conducted and edited by Lars Trodson.
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