Based in Richmond, Va, Catherine is a freelance writer specializing in stories about the arts, parenting, health and wellness, aging, and fascinating people.

Men help each other find their calling

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In the book Halftime: From Success to Significance, author Bob Buford compares life to the game of football. As he explains, your success in the second half of your life depends on your halftime strategy.

That idea guides a group of retired men who gather twice a month in locations around Richmond to plot out the second halves of their lives.

Gordon Prior ran a busy dentistry practice for many years, often working 50 to 60 hours a week. When he retired in 2001, he thought, “Wow, I’m going to have all this free time.”

A man of faith, Prior wanted to make the most of that time, and figure out what God had planned for him in this second half of life. “I thought there were probably other people with the same thoughts,” he said.

Providentially, perhaps, one of Prior’s dental patients was Buddy Childress — a local businessman who created Needle’s Eye Ministries, an interdenominational nonprofit organization that has ministered to Richmond’s professional community for the past 40 years.

Prior and Childress prayed about how to move forward, and in 2002, they and two other men met to discuss the book Halftime. Through that meeting, they ended up developing the group Second Half — a small group ministry that is part of Needle’s Eye.

Learning to open up

Fast-forward 16 years, and now between 150 and 200 men ranging in age from their 50s to their 90s meet every other week at four different locations: St. Giles Presbyterian Church (the original group), West End Assembly of God, Covenant Woods and Urbanna Harbor Yacht Club.

Meetings typically begin with a large-group opening prayer, and then a testimony from a member that typically involves a story about their lives, or a discussion of how they discerned their second-half calling. The large group then splits up into smaller groups, where they discuss a study book and share prayer requests.

“It’s a pretty well-known fact that women are more skilled at the art of communication than are we men,” said William Hogate, one of the original members of Second Half. “However, the retired men of Second Half have turned that notion on its head.”

As he explains, the small groups use their study book as a jumping-off point to discuss how it relates to their own lives, giving them a chance to reflect on what they have done and still hope to do.

“Sharing thoughts and feelings with other retired men has never been the stated objective for Second Half,” said Hogate. “But it has become a natural part of the culture of the group.”

Hogate worked a number of jobs before retiring, and he came to Christianity later in life. He kept coming back to Second Half, though, because he liked the group’s mission, which he explains as being “to seek a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, and try to understand and to follow His plan for the rest of our lives. We also seek a deeper relationship with each other through Christian fellowship,” he said.

Those deeper relationships have provided an invaluable source of support for the members, especially Prior, whose wife of 62 years passed away just months ago.

“The group has given me such support and strength during my grieving process,” Prior said.

Retired physician John Harlar has also found it helpful to talk to other men about how they cope with this stage of life. “It’s unusual for men to have meetings like this, where you come together and share your innermost thoughts, fears and needs, especially in a group setting,” he said.

Sharing their stories

Harlar has learned through Second Half that everyone enjoys sharing their experiences. “The best way to get to know someone is to ask them to tell their story,” he said.

The group members do that when they talk in their small groups, because sharing their experiences helps the men figure out how to approach their own lives and how to discern their own calling.

“Sometimes the people who are the least likely to speak up have the most relevant things to say,” Hogate said. They also find ways to connect and share stories one-on-one outside of the group.

“Gordon sets the example, and is an incredible leader,” Harlar said. “He has probably invited everyone to coffee.”

While meeting together, they have discovered that they each have different gifts. Some may be especially good at calling on others in the hospital, while others, like Hogate, have a knack for spreading the word about the group.

One member, who recently passed away, had found his second calling helping to teach history by portraying Abraham Lincoln in schools.

“We are all trying to find out what gifts we have, and how to utilize them in retirement rather than sitting around watching TV,” Hogate said.

While the conversations they have help them figure out God’s plan for the rest of their lives, the camaraderie they share encourages them to follow that calling.

“When you have people who hold you accountable,” Harlar said, “that’s a great asset.”

All faiths welcome

The men of Second Half focus on deepening relationships through Christian fellowship, but they welcome anyone who wants to join their group, regardless of faith.

“For the most part, we are Christians,” Prior said, “but we don’t try to convert members.”

One of their members is Leonard Levenberg, a self-described “Jew from Brooklyn.” Levenberg, who worked in the medical diagnostic field and in the heating and oil business, first participated in Needle’s Eye Ministries at the encouragement of a friend.

About five years ago, Levenberg got to know Prior, whom he describes as having indefatigable enthusiasm. When Prior asked him to join his small group, Levenberg couldn’t say no. “How do you say no to a guy that enthusiastic?” Levenberg asked.

Although Levenberg was apprehensive that they would try to convert him, the group at Second Half surprised him.“They were welcoming,” he said. “They had different ideas, but they didn’t try to change mine.”

Nonetheless, after a couple of years of polite debate, he did convert. Levenberg now serves the group as their health advocate, updating prayer request lists and reporting to the group when members become sick.

Helping others

While fellowship and prayer are important facets of Second Half, finding opportunities to serve has also played an important role.

“We never set out to be a service organization like Kiwanis or Ruritan,” said Prior. “But there are so many things being done.” One member, for instance, developed a program to visit nursing home residents who don’t often get visitors.

Members of Second Half also take turns visiting St. Giles church member Chris Tompkins, who became a near quadriplegic — with only limited movement in his hands and arms — after a bike accident almost 10 years ago. The group members have set up a schedule for two men to visit Tomkins five days a week, and to stretch and massage his fingers.

“Chris is so loving and appreciative, and has so much wisdom,” Levenberg said. “You end up feeling wonderful after spending time with him.”

For Harlar, the biggest benefit to the group is that it helps him realize life does not end when a person stops working.

“So many people become depressed in retirement, perhaps because they didn’t accomplish all of their goals,” Harlar said. “In the second half, we can do things that may be even more important than our careers.”

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