Personal Notes from Mike
  • Jie is in Chicago for a few days, visiting a friend from her Middle School (Nanjing) who is traveling in the U.S.
  • We got a chance to see Mindy in "Oklahoma" at the Virginia Theater (in Champaign) this week.  It is the first play she has been a part of since she graduated from college (with a theater major.)
  • Congratulations today to my parents, John and Esther, who celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary. 
  • It turns out that Mattoon has a used book store...a pretty good one. Mindy and I checked it out last Monday morning, and I came home with The Illustrious Life and Work of Warren G. Harding:  From Farm to White House, the Memorial Edition.  Many of you know that I collect biographies of presidents.  This book was published right after President Harding died suddenly while in office, in 1923.  Eight presidents died in office, four were shot, four died of natural causes.  (Although, getting shot seems to be more and more "natural" these days.)  When a president died in office, memorial biographies where often published right away.  I have memorial books on McKinley (shot,) Garfield (shot,) Kennedy (shot,) and now Harding (probably a heart attack.)  I don't have the original memorial editions for Lincoln, Harrison, Taylor, or Roosevelt...yet.  Let me know if you see one!

August 7, 2016
Mommy:  Where Do Pastors Come From?
When I was about 10, my mom decided I needed to know where babies came from.  So she gave me a brochure and told me that if I had any questions that I could ask my father.  I read the brochure and decided instead to bypass my father and talk it over with my little brother Jim and my younger cousin Gary.  (I always preferred conversations where I was the authority, not the one in the dark.)  Jim and Gary were quite amazed at my information.  I can't recollect how many other people I told, but for a time I was quite the expert around Dalton City.
It is in that spirit that I now address my readers on the topic, "Where Do Pastors Come From?"

Like the various species in the animal world, it depends on what kind of pastor you mean...what denomination.  (I can only speak for United Methodists.)  Nearly all United Methodist pastors come from License to Preach School.  Oh...a few pop out of seminaries, fully formed.  But thousands of small churches can't wait for a pastoral fetus to complete four years of college and three years of seminary.  So we rush the process, tossing the embryo into License to Preach School, and in just two weeks, SHAZAM, we have a pastor!  

I myself became "official" through a license to preach school. When I was a freshman in college, Immanuel Church in Olney, Illinois needed a pastor of youth and children, so they hired me.  I didn't have a license while there, but I was heavily supervised.  Then when I was a sophomore in college, a little church in Madison, Illinois needed a senior pastor.  So I went to License to Preach School, and VOILA!  At the ripe old age of 19 I was preaching sermons, conducting weddings, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and cranking out monthly newsletter.  I did finish both college and seminary, but my "License" gave me an extra 9 years of service before I became fully ordained. 
Do not suppose that because the License to Preach School is a mere two weeks that it is easy.  The 26 students (25 from Illinois, 1 from Missouri) who graduated from this summer's class had to read 25 books before the classes started.  They also had to write and submit 26 papers (ranging in length from 1-8 pages each.)  Many of them were not accustomed to reading "technical" books or writing scholarly papers.  

And there was more:  they had to take a comprehensive psychological exam, appear before district committees of ministry to answer a battery of questions, and then undergo criminal and financial background checks.  Only after all that did we even let them attend the two week school.  

While at the school they had to endure eight different instructors and pass all eight classes.  They were worn down by ten grueling days of lectures, workshops, tests, and performance reviews. I know about them because I was one of their instructors.  

Most UMC pastors come from License to Preach School.  So, if pastors come from License to Preach School, where does LPS get them?  Back in my day recruits came straight from high school or college:  fresh-faced, naive, and bushy-tailed.  But that was then.  

These days most new pastors are already grizzled veterans of some other career.  They show up on the first day of LPS already weather-beaten and "used." Only one of this year's students was NOT second career.  

The rest had worked at Sears, or Anderson Bakery and Deli, or Tasty Treats, or Pacific Press Technologies, or Chaddock School, or Kohl's warehouse, or Wendys.  Others had managed Christian book stores, restaurants, funeral homes, insurance agencies, tire shops, and computer stores.  One was a county clerk, one was a farmer, one was a truck driver, one was a bill collector.  One made ends meet by working in a factory, one by mowing lawns, one in a coal mine, one on a garbage truck, and one as a church janitor.  One worked in a newspaper office, one sold paint, one was a paralegal, one taught college in China, one was a civil engineer, and one a Marine.  Among their lot you could find police officers, daycare workers, IT experts, hospice workers, bailiffs, and human resources officers.  

These new pastors are tough and tenacious.  They know more about the world "out there" than I do.  They are both street smart AND experienced in the Christian faith.  They are good-hearted and they are all dedicated to the pastoral office.  BUT...they've all been in a wreck (called "life.)  They have been "fixed-up" by some mysterious act of God.  They all have a story to tell of how they were flattened by life.  The fact is, all our new pastors are actually retreads.  

Every person in that school had been through failure, frustration, and fire. But, nevertheless, God wanted each of them to become a pastor.  Everyone of them had the intelligence to question God about this nudging.  But then life dealt some pivotal travail or tragedy...leaving them with no "out." Pastor it would be.  And License to Preach School they would endure.

Where do pastors come from?  Some people think pastors come from the freshest, purist, most pristine specimens to be found in the human race.  Not so.  Pastors, ALL OF US, come from the broken parts department of the human race.  We are all sinners, AND we have all had our hearts broken.   We have been around the block more than a few times.  If you perchance heard us preach our first sermons, you would ask for your offering back.  We are the "fixer-uppers" among the human race. 

This year's group reminded me!  So when I met them, I tried my best to share my stories, compassion, and joy with them.  They are my new colleagues.  I hope their churches will love them and nurture them in their growth. 

We may look like the ones "no one wants to adopt," but we have a future.  We are going on to lives of perfection in love.  We are chosen by God to seed the world with grace and possibility. We are going on to assemble people to be the body of Christ, and we are especially adept at including marginal people.  We are going on to take a front row seat as our parishioners live out their storied lives.  We will run the race and fight the good fight until that distant day...when we return to celebrate what we have seen:  stories of lost souls infused with abundant life...from Christ Jesus.

Where do pastors come from?  From God-knows-where!  God recruits them, a God who takes ONLY broken sinners, a God who then forgives and heals...and sends forth to proclaim the good news and nudge the world.  Thanks be to God!  --Mike 
 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS