TRUMP – The Final Straw

Hot off the press in 2020:  “The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity”   Ronald J. Sider, Editor.  I decided to mention in first, just in case any reader doesn’t make it through to the end.  It helps any preacher to know she or he is not alone.  If I read the book, it would just provide material to make this “unpreached sermon” even longer.  

Sermon Title:  “Thou Art the Man”  (Nathan to King David in 2 Samuel 12:7 KJV)

Theme:  Speaking Truth to Power

If I were not retired, I would have to decide whether or not to comment on the Presidency of Donald Trump from the pulpit or in church newsletters. And the scales would be tipped heavily in favor of commenting  on it, based on what the Bible has to say about corrupt kings, emperors and assigned political leaders within the Roman Empire, with specific reference to the Herods. Lest you don’t remember, one King Herod allegedly ordered the killing of some children in Bethlehem.  Merry Christmas.  Fox News would have had some commentators telling their listeners that somehow the children deserved it.  And some of the listeners would have believed it.  For whatever reason, FOX NEWS does not focus on complete and accurate information.

For me, the final straw occurred when President Trump held up a Bible for a photo op in front of a church near the White House on June 1, 2020. In context, Attorney General Barr utilized massive force to push back peaceful protestors so that the President could walk to the church and get his picture taken with a copy of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Gratefully, the Episcopalians objected, but nary a peep out of the right-wing Christians who currently hold up the base of his political power. Nary a peep out of most Republican Senators with the exception of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

True to form, Trump and some of his administration tell lies about the event, but the event was filmed by television crews, so history will get it right, even if FOX NEWS and the President and his followers, whoever they might be, get it wrong.

If I were preaching a sermon, I would probably have to prepare the congregation with a lot of philosophy about “freedom of the pulpit” and the prophetic nature of a significant part of the Bible.  I am painfully aware that most Christians leaders in Germany were silent about the abuses of Hitler until it was too late to change the course of history. At some point, the choice was to be silent or to be silenced permanently by execution.

Perhaps this cartoon by David Horsey in the Seattle Times says it all: (Sept. 12, 2020)

Young woman: “I DON’T LIKE ALL HIS RUDE TWEETS, BUT I’M VOTING FOR TRUMP BECAUSE HE SHARES MY VALUES.”

Young man: “VALUES?! TRUMP CHEATED ON ALL THREE OF HIS WIVES! HE ILLEGALLY PAID OFF A PORN STAR HE HAD SEX WITH!

AS TENS OF THOUSANDS OF US GOT SICK AND DIED FROM COVID-19, HE PLAYED POLITICS AND DENIED REALITY!”

“HE’S GUILTY OF RIPPING OFF TRUMP UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AND STEALING FROM HIS OWN CHARITY! HIS CRONIES KEEP GETTING SENT OFF TO PRISON AND HE’S UNDER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS!”

“HE SUCKS UP TO VLADIMIR PUTIN AND DOES NOTHING WHEN RUSSIANS ATTACK AMERICAN TROOPS AND UNDERMINE OUR ELECTIONS!”

“HE CRUELLY TAKES MIGRANT KIDS AWAY FROM THEIR PARENTS! HE PRIVATELY CALLS SOLDIERS KILLED IN BATTLE SUCKERS AND LOSERS! HE CAMPAIGNS ON FEAR AND RACE BAITING! HE’S AN AMORAL NARCISSIST WHO LIES, LIES AND LIES SOME MORE!”

(Young woman) “OKAY, SURE…BUT HE SHARES MY VALUES.”

(Young man) THEN GOD HELP US ALL.

One biblical approach would be to look at King David being reprimanded by a prophet for causing one of his soldiers (Uriah) to be killed, so he could take Uriah’s wife as his own. He had already lay with her and she was pregnant. The prophet, Nathan, condemns the King for these actions, getting David to react to a story of injustice about a rich man who had taken a poor man’s lamb. King David said: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” And Nathan said “You are the man!” And indeed, he was. (2 Samuel 11-12)

Flashback:  Who spoke up to protest representatives of Saudi Arabia killing and cutting up a newspaper reporter?  They got a pass from the current administration.  We may never know why.  All we hear is the refrain:  “Fake News!”  Back to the sermon…

There are prophets in our land, but King Donald is not listening to them.

And then there is the story of Naboth’s vineyard. King Ahab wanted it, so Queen Jezebel arranged for him to get it. She arranged for “false charges” to be made against Naboth and he was stoned to death. Elijah informed the king that “in the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (I Kings 21)

Where are our Nathans? Where are our Elijahs? Are they being beaten on our streets by a few bad police, who are emboldened by the words of the President of the United States. Law and Order without Justice does not exist!

The guideline that I believe ministers should follow, under current law, is never, ever to tell people who they should vote for.  So I shall just comment on what has been happening under the leadership of the current President.  My colleagues in Germany were silent until it was too late.  As Martin Niemoller wrote:  “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.  Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

I lost track of the times in my ministry when some people asked me to shut up.  But none of them were as important as the issues we are facing today in America and in our world.

One of the most difficult opinions with which I have had to deal as a pastor is that a preacher should not bring “politics” into the pulpit. While I can understand our reluctance to be lectured on partisan politics, the Holy Scriptures that we refer to as The Bible is filled with political positions.  How we treat the poor is one of them.  The prophets were not reluctant to confront power that was abused. Nathan’s confrontation of King David is a classic example.

This idea that we should be silent fits the designs of power abusers, but don’t claim that your position is supported by the Jewish or Christian Bible.   Prophets, Jesus and preachers have all correctly spoken the truth to power. Sometimes it gets some of us killed or fired, but this is about power, not about biblical truth.

So accuse me of being partisan and I will listen. Accuse me of being wrong to comment on abuse of power or stupidity or immorality and we can talk about it, but I will not advocate silence.

Here ends my self-justification for talking about Donald Trump.

Where to start?

Column in THE WEEK dated Nov. 22, 2019 (page 6)

Heading:  Trump admits to misusing charity.

President Trump admitted to misusing his charity’s fund last week and agreed to pay $2 million in damages. Settling a lawsuit with New York State, the president acknowledged using Trump Foundation funds on his businesses and to buy an autographed Tim Tebow football helmet and a $10,000 portrait of himself that was hung at his Doral, Florida, golf course. The foundation raised 2.8 million at a supposed veterans fundraiser in 2016, which Trump illegally diverted to his campaign. Trump agreed to disperse the foundation’s remaining $1.8 million to eight charities and follow restrictions in future charitable work, such as submitting to audits. Trump himself has donated little to his foundation in recent years and donated nothing from 2009 to 2015.

Column in CNN.COM by Jay Parini reprinted in THE WEEK dated Dec. 13, 2019

Was Trump chosen by God?

Was President Trump chosen by God to lead our nation? asked Jay Parini. In a recent interview with Fox News, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he believes — and told Trump personally — that the president is “the chosen one.” sent to achieve the Lord’s will. This belief has spread like “a strange virus” among other evangelical Trump supporters. They contend that God often uses imperfect men to achieve his aims, such as the biblical King David, an adulterer. As a practicing Christian and son of a Baptist minister, I nonetheless find Trump to be an odd choice to further Jesus Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, and selflessness. Jesus asked us “to curb our anger, not even to hold a grudge.” He insisted that “one cannot serve two masters, God and money.” and that “we should treat others as we wish ourselves to be treated.” Does this sound like Trump? He embodies rage, vengeance, greed, dishonesty, and cruelty. Proclaiming Trump as “the chosen one,” moreover, implies that all world leaders are chosen by God, including Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Ayatollah Khamenei. True Christians know that our world is “a deep mystery,” and that only the arrogant think they know “what the Divine has in mind”.  (end of quote)

One of the charities misused by Trump was designed to help children and yet he used it to help himself.  Children!  And yet he is praised.

I started this sermon long before the editor of the conservative Christian magazine “Christianity Today” had an editorial criticizing President Trump. Immediately Trump tweeted one more lie. He labeled the magazine as a liberal magazine.  Believe me, every time I have read it, it was not liberal, but conservative. The liberal magazine is called “Christian Century”.  Full disclosure – I am a financial supporter of the “Christian Century” magazine.

The list of Trump’s outlandish, but popular (with 49% of those who vote) views or actions are getting bigger and bigger. For every claim, there is a counter-claim.  Our opinions are influenced by who you choose to believe.

It seems to be a FACT that Trump likes to belittle anyone who criticizes or opposes him.

On November 30th (2017), under a headline “President keeps stirring the pot.” (Seattle Times) we are informed that he disseminated on social media three inflammatory and unverified Muslim videos, he took glee in the firing of a news anchor for sexual harassment despite facing more than a dozen of his own accusers and used a ceremony honoring Navajo war heroes to malign a senator with what some would call a derogatory slur, “Pocahontas”.

“Donald Trump likes to declare that every good thing that happens while he’s in office – job growth, rising stock prices, whatever – is the biggest, greatest, best ever. Then the fact checkers weigh in and quickly determine that the claim is false.”  (Paul Krugman, Seattle Times, Nov. 30, 2017 “We are being scammed, bigly”)

A mailing from the Natural Resources Defense Council (2017) lists Trump environmental policies that they oppose.  This includes withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, approving the Keystone XL pipeline and sacrificing our public lands to oil companies and mining interests that are consistently putting polluters and profits before people.

The list is very long:

-heartless and counterproductive Muslim ban

-the barrage of racist and/or corrupt and/or unqualified staff appointments and Cabinet nominees

-the unhinged tweets attacking anyone who opposes his agenda

-the constant, constant lying  “Trump’s presidency so far has been one shock to the system after another.”  (Al Franken)  page 2 of “Al Franken Giant of the Senate” (now in disgrace over pretending to grope a woman while she was asleep for a photo op.  He has apologized, long after the fact and he resigned from The Senate.  Note that Donald Trump never apologizes, at least not up to this point.  He attacks and denies and FOX NEWS gives it all coverage.

-his family and personal record of racism in New York housing projects, as well as attacks on some youth who were found innocent of certain crimes. In his mind they are apparently guilty.

-his inappropriate remarks about women and his obvious unfaithfulness to at least two wives and perhaps all of his wives.  We may never know.

-his so-called locker room talk about sexual matters that degrade women.

-his financial “deals” that hurt others

-the fiasco called Trump university where misrepresentation cost students millions of dollars.

-his record of bankruptcies that again hurt others, while protecting his own bottom line.

-his insistence that former President Obama was somehow ineligible to serve as President by being born in Kenya, when all facts say otherwise.

-as I write these notes on November 24, 2017, he recently talked to some military personnel, bragging how he alone had made the world safer from Islamic extremists known as ISIS. The headline screams “Trump to troops on holiday: ‘We’re really winning.’”  My first and gut reaction is that our so-called President is lying….again.  He states that more progress has been made under his watch than had been made in years of the previous administration.  Why the need to put down others, while building up himself?  He does it over and over again.  And we know that some of it has been proven to be demonstrably false. 

He attracted more people for his inaugural festivities than others.  FALSE

He got more votes than his opponent.  FALSE

He appointed people to positions of power who wanted to undo environmental protection rules; public education support and rules that protect public health.  TRUE

Example:  Coverage in the Seattle Times November 28, 2017

Article by Froma Harrop, Syndicated Columnist titled “Of course, in Trump’s view, defender of the little guy must go”

At issue is the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was created to protect consumers from financial rackets.

“Trump paired his decision to defang the bureau with one of his habitually batty claims, that ‘financial institutions have been devastated.’ In the fact-based world, bank profits and stocks are soaring.”

He brags about the F-35 stealth jet fighter because the enemy cannot see it.  Also FALSE.  It is designed to evade detection by radar and other sensors.

It is sad when my automatic response to anything said by this person in authority is to doubt his veracity.  Years ago I used the story of the young boy who cried WOLF when there was no WOLF.  However, when a real WOLF came, no one paid any attention to him.  We have a President who cries WOLF when there is no WOLF.  Hopefully, the WOLF does not come on his watch.  (written 6/6/2020)  Given the reaction to the murder of a black man in Minneapolis, I am hearing the howling of a WOLF.

Nov 6, 2017  Christian Century article “After the glass factory” by Amy Frykholm

Racism “is coming back. The ones that would hide it, saying it behind your back, are bold enough now to say it.”  That was written in 2017.  Now in 2020, the nation is dealing with street protests fueling by racism in all of its forms.  Trump did not create racism, but he has encouraged it, over and over again.  It may be true that there are good people who are racists, but our President should not have said it in the midst of national pain.

A sister (Hollie) agreed “Now you have Trump saying, ‘Make America great again,’ which we say means ‘Make America white again.’”              story from Lancaster, Ohio, home of the Anchor Hocking Company, a major maker of Depression glass.

I get lots of material from the Skagit Valley Herald which insists on publishing a variety of views on contemporary issues.  In other words, they print things that compliment the President and they print things that attack him.  You make up your own mind.

August 17, 2017  Letter to the editor

Delusion, denial and dysfunction

“Let’s agree that at the minimum, he displays poor impulse control. This lack of emotional maturity is a most common element found in a broad range of relationship dysfunctions, including divorce, child abuse, obesity, addictions and murder/suicide.

His lack of emotional development causes him to go off script and tell supporters at one rally to “punch protestors in the face.” You might notice that he never apologizes or owns that he made a mistake.

He apparently doesn’t see the connection between his words and a white supremacist driving his car through a group of protesters.”  (Hal Pullin of Mount Vernon, WA)

The Bloomberg News supplied this list on September 28, 2019:

“(Trump) has abused his power, degraded his office, obstructed justice, undermined the Constitution, impeded legitimate oversight, defied court rulings, enriched his family on the public dime, ignored inconvenient laws, asserted nonexistent privileges, declared spurious emergencies to justify his whims, and otherwise acted like a would be tyrant almost from the day he entered office…”

Reflections on scriptures that I might share with Trump, if I had the opportunity to do so.

-A soft answer turneth away wrath.

-In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.

-Love your neighbor as yourself.

-The sky is falling. (not scripture)

-what he does is offensive to my understanding of the faith.  I wrote these words before he desecrated the Bible by holding it up for a photo op on June lst.

THE WEEK, January 12, 2018  page 6  quoting Brad Stephens in “The New York Times”

Two central conservative truths, are that “character counts” and “culture matters.” Yet Republicans are now pretending that Trump’s character – his constant lying, his crude bullying, his racial bigotry, his monstrous narcissism – are mere distractions

The Seattle Times, Feb. 28, 2019  Headline  “Cohen turns on Trump: ‘He is a con man…he is a cheat..’ he is a racist…

(undated 2019 in the Mt. Vernon newspaper. Article by Aisha Sulton quoting Sarah Kendzior of St. Louis, on what she is telling her children:)

“I’ve flat out told them, ‘This is not normal. This is not how the government is supposed to work.’”  We’re in a turning point in American history.

“It’s not normal for the president to be retweeting white supremacists or tweeting racists taunts. It’s not normal to have a president who has lied more than 10,000 [update April 2020 18,000 false and misleading claims; during the coronovirus he has averaged 23.8 lies per day] times in office, many times about things people easily can see and hear simply aren’t true.

“It’s not normal for an American president to dismiss a foreign threat to American democracy, and, in fact, openly encourage that foreign interference in an election.

“None of us have ever seen a president behave like this before.  And it’s unsettling to the majority of Americans who don’t support this to understand how others can go blindly supporting him as though what he was doing to favor their agenda was somehow good for our nation and for our world.”

So I am not telling anyone else how to vote (if this were in a sermon), but I can assure you that I will not be voting for Donald Trump for anything and I will be able to avoid his next reality show. (As I did his first ones.)  Hopefully the world will be safer when he is back doing his thing on television…without the perks of the presidency.

Postscript: 6/20/2020   Now John Bolton, National Security Advisor to Donald Trump may have used words like “narcissistic pathological liar”, “more ignorant than we thought”, “corrupt, dumb and immoral”.   And this before the book is released for sale!  Bolton was among the dozens of people Trump has fired or encouraged to resign.  Trump must not be a very good judge of character, but he would spin the fact in another direction.  He is good/bad at that.

There been other Presidents who were immoral and who did bad things while in office.  Hopefully this nightmare will only last four years.  Stay tuned…

KING SALMON STORY

KING SALMON STORY

Document dated 10/1994

TO WHOM IT MAY OR MAY NOT CONCERN

At one point I could have honored you with a photograph of a 57 pound King Salon. However, I ran out of them.. You will have to use your imagination. In this photographic opportunity, I am feeling awkward in holding it because my right arm is less than 100% since trying to roll a rock that was too big to be rolled by yours truly. (2020: I do have a photo on my office wall. Perhaps it can be buried with me when I die?)

On Friday, July 29, 1994, I went fishing with Mike Hirai and two Volunteers in Missions from Maryland, Rick Reynolds and Ray Barrett. On an earlier trip (without me) Rick brought in a 148.2 pound halibut, which made him very happy. I average one trip per summer, but I am ahead of that this year.

However, one of the fish that struck the hook and line on our boat was brought in by yours truly. We soon knew it was a King Salmon and we knew that is was big. It took at least 20 minutes of reeling for it to get to the boat, as it “ran” at least five times. When it was in the boat, Mike weighed it and it was 57 pounds. The winner of the Salmon Derby in June this year wa 52 pounds, if you want some point of comparison for Sitka waters. When we lived in Kenai in the 1960’s, Kenai River Kings could reach 97 pounds. Today (2020) they are much smaller.

Some have suggested that I am no longer my usual humble self. Still others feel that I was never bothered by humility. Whatever the case may be, I was teased a great deal about how I would handle this feat in worship.

(a joke) Sunday I lamented the fact that there were not 57 people in church. In a feeble attempt at humor, I suggested my sermonizing should focus on Jesus feeding 57 people or talking about the 57 sheep that went astray. Others suggested that Jesus had 57 disciples, walked 57 miles, spent 57 days in the wilderness, etc. I was driven to it by the teasing of the Maryland work campers whose jealousy knew no bounds. Fortunately, one of them got the 148.2 pound halibut earlier in the week, or they might have treated me like Jonah and thrown me overboard. (end of joke)

The captain Mike Hirai was very proud. It was the 3rd largest King Salmon ever caught on his boat. He tried to get me to have it mounted, but I resisted.

Perhaps I should have resisted joking in worship There are some SERIOUS fisherpersons in our congregation that have yet to catch the ‘big one’ and they obviously had some feelings on the subject of a casual fisherman (and a preacher at that) getting one that they would like very much to catch, thank you very much. I will not mention it every Sunday. I could not suggest it is their punishment for fishing on Sundays during the derby??? There are some sins it is safer not to mention.

Barbara was able to obtain 32 pounds of filets from the fish, which will be saved for the Seafood Dinner our church sponsors on Alaska Day, October 18th. (2020 update: People asked the source of our fish and I was able to tell the story, over and over again. It was a good day.)

I survived going to Harvard as a Merrill Fellow in 1989 and talking about it very little. Now I can die a happy man. I attended Harvard and caught a 57 pound salmon. What more could a person want or do in life? And soon I will be 57 years old.

2020: When I shared this story with a friend he shared that a fishing friend made this comment: “Boy, I’ll bet the guy that caught that will be hard to stand for awhile.” What an insight. Now it is 26 years later and I still enjoy telling the story.

TOP TEN SPIRTUAL EXPERIENCES

TOP TEN SPIRTUAL EXPERIENCES by John J. Shaffer written 2020

(Note: as usual, hard to stop at 10.)

No. 1 Calling to Christian Vocation during college 1957.

The top one occurred in College when I loaned my car to a classmate at a retreat (East Bay Camp) near Bloomington, Illinois. It was a foggy night and I could not sleep while my car was at risk, so I stayed up until he returned at 4 a.m. and during that lonely vigil I had a religious “experience” that gave me the foundation for a decision about my life-work as a “minister”. It seemed very real and vivid at the time as a sense of calling etc etc.

(I have reflected on how my life might have been different if I had not had 4-5 hours alone to reflect about “life” as I waited for the safe return of my ” beloved” car. If I had “kept” that 1955 model, I might be a bit richer (or poorer maintaining it), at least in net worth. At least I could show it off.)

No. 2 Personal Committment to Faith in 1949-1950

When Pastor Sidney Guthrie preached at a revival at my home church (Ludlow Methodist Church) at the age of twelve, I made my commitment to the Christian Faith. Strongest memory was how pleased and affirming several older women were upon that occasion. Lots of affirmation remembered. Also learned that liberal theology could also be evangelistic.

The greatest humor came when I had a revival at Ninilchik with a liberal chaplain preaching. The local Baptists were upset as they thought they had the lock on revivals. And of course he was saying different things than they would say. LOL.

No. 3 My Baptism in 1938 by Walter Teesdale

It is rare, in my experience, to have continued relationships with those I have baptized, but in the ministry, there are opportunities for continued contacts. So the pastor who baptized me loved to remind me that he had done so at each stage in my own spiritual journey into ministry.

No. 4 Association with Dr. Harrell Beck in the 1980’s.

In the 1980’s, at Vancouver School of Theology (British Columbia) I had the privilege of being in a continuing education class with Dr. Harrell Beck, Professor of Old Testament at Boston School of Theology who liked to point out that one of his students was Martin Luther King Jr. He claimed he didn’t need to publish. His students would carry on his work. His lectures were inspiring. He renewed my interest in being a life-time learner. And he deepened my own convictions, as he shared his convictions. In March 1981, while the minister of the month at Hana, Hawaii, I decided to preach what I actually believed and found it very liberating, as well as effective. When one 80 year old woman shook my hand at the door and proclaimed: “Young man, you have just preached me back into the church,” I knew it was a life-changing moment for me. And thus, very spiritual.

No. 5 Juneau-Douglas Lay Witness Mission in 1971.

This is a bittersweet memory. I was serving two churches: Juneau and Douglas. There were problems and a Spiritual Life Experience known as a Lay Witness Mission brought healing and many life changing experiences. I had never seen anything like it before or since. My fellow liberals were upset to the point of boycotting the services, but when I shared some of the life changing experiences, they backed off in their criticism. Sadly, that spirit was destroyed shortly thereafter when the Juneau Church was “taken” by the State of Alaska to build a courthouse and the decision-making process stirred up old problems and resentments. But for a short period, I felt very close to paradise.

No. 6 United Methodist Church of Chugiak

A small group of lay persons and myself participated in a small group that proved that “love” could unite us across theological differences. The group had an avowed atheist and a simple fundamentalists and yet we did not have rancor or division. We shared our faith with respect for one another.

No. 7 Tustumena United Methodist Church (approximately 1965)

After my sermon, most of the adults gathered to discuss my sermon. I participated, but did not speak unless directly asked a question. One Sunday, a layperson was enraged and attacked something he had heard me say. Everyone in the group assured him that I had not said what he had heard. I often wondered what would have happened in a more traditional church where there is no opportunity for feedback and potential dialogue. This experience was never duplicated.

No. 8 Connexion Groups at Stanwood UMC after I retired. (2008-2016)

My successor created classes that shared and studied together and I was allowed to lead one of the groups. It was a profoundly meaningful group. I also participated in another group where I was not the leader. Everyone had the opportunity to share deeply and personally. I enjoyed the experience and it made my retirement years more tolerable.

No. 9 Class of heretics (my title for them) at Federal Way UMC (2020)

A well established group of 10 allowed me to sit in and participate. I was careful NOT to be the leader, but again, with a wide variety of participants, there is acceptance and tolerance that would be a good model for the wider church.

No. 10 Men’s Group at Manito UMC in Spokane.

Led by Dr. Robert Stevenson, there was not a great deal of variety, but deep sharing. It was helpful to me personally; DISCIPLESHIP Bible Studies were helpful to me in three churches: Sitka, Spokane: Manito and Stanwood. It was also helpful to many others. Great program for its time.

Honorable Mention:

Attended a conference in Ontario in 1958 with one of the leaders being Buddy McGhee (now deceased). He had such deep spiritual insights and was extremely helpful to me at that point in his life. All I can say is that I was impressed; At a time when I wasn’t in any of his classes at Illinois Wesleyan, I decided to help Dr. Paul Hessert as he was self-building a house. Our conversations were very helpful to me personally and professionally. I don’t know how helpful I was to him. Mostly I pounded in nails in the floor and helped raise some of the walls he could not raise by himself.

Dr. Hessert later came to a crisis of faith (he could no longer teach what he didn’t believe). Since I don’t believe much of traditional Christian views anymore, it would have been mutually helpful to have been able to pound a few more nails with him later in our lives. It was not to be. My last contact was waving to him as he left on a cruise ship in Juneau aka 1969-1974.

LOBBYING – ALASKA

LOBBYING IN ALASKA

When I was appointed as the pastor in the State Capitol of Juneau, I decided to do some lobbying for causes that did not have money to pay for professional lobbyists. I worked on issues related to prison reform and issues pertaining to the needs of children. No one was financing these causes.

When Senator Blodgett attacked me for lobbying in an illegal way, it was a pleasure to prove him wrong. I was a registered lobbyist.

I also selected one issue where the legislators were deeply divided. That was the issue of abortion. I provided some up-to-date professional material for each legislator.

When it came time for one essential debate in the State Senate, my name was mentioned often, either agreeing with my material or disagreeing with my material.

Even though I didn’t write the material, I was credited or blamed for it with comments like: “John Shaffer’s information is correct.” or “John Shaffer’s information is incorrect.” It was almost surreal to listen to the debate.

Senator John Rader once credited me with giving him the strength to reintroduce the bill which was finally adopted. A bit of pastoral care mixed in with lobbying. And I did it on the floor of the Senate, which no one challenged. He was sitting at his desk after one bill was defeated, so I wanted to give him some encouragement, not knowing it was soon to reintroduce the bill with enough changes to make it legal.

I still have some reflections in my files on those times, but I will not write them here at this time.

As others became aware of my skills in this area of lobbying, I would be approached for help. Some friends wanted some alcohol treatment legislation to be given a hearing, but powerful Senator Bill Ray stood in the way. I tackled him at an early morning hearing and he tried to brush me off. I persisted, we sparred a bit and he finally gave us what we were asking: a hearing. My friends got some $$$$ for their cause.

It helped to have friends in the legislature. When Sentor Blodgett went after me one time, Sentor Palmer rose to my defense. Heady times.

JAY HAMMOND

JAY HAMMOND – 4th Governor, State of Alaska, 1974-1982

When we moved to Juneau in 1969, Jay Hammond was a legislator. When we moved to Nome in 1974, he was running for Governor and due to mutual friends, we hosted his wife, Bella, when she was visiting Nome on his behalf.  Not often you can say:  “Please keep it down, the wife of the candidate for Governor is resting upstairs.”

The mutual friends were Bob and Sue Palmer and we shared some social times together.  Can’t remember who won the card games.When Jay became governor, after we had moved to Nome, Barbara was selected to be a Special Assistant for the Governor for Northwest Alaska. She was a liason for about 48 villages.

A highlight for me was her responsibility to greet the dogs and dog mushers when they arrived in Nome during the Iditarod Race. They often came in the wee hours of the morning. The fire sirens would wake us up and we would go down to Front Street. The first year I joined Barbara. The second year I made sure she was awake and I would go back to sleep. Once was enough for me. She would greet each musher with similar words to these: “On behalf of Governor Jay Hammond, welcome to Nome”.

For some reason, Jay Hammond was very good at creating verses on a wide variety of occasions. Here is one sample he shared with me and it is also found in his autobiography with some changes.

THANKSGIVING by Governor Jay S. Hammond

Lord, when I was young I hadn’t much time for the likes of you.
The world was hung here just for me; roads ran clean out of view.

You were some stranger in the night whose face I seldom saw–
Except those times when I was scared, or when my soul rubbed raw

Upon the shards of broken dreams or promises unkept
And yes, Lord, I slipped at times, I guess, on tears that others wept.

But I was much too smart for you to hang onto very long.
Besides, I just could not believe that “meek” could outlast “strong”.

Yet at times when I’d most given up, or old man death came near me,
I’d take a chance and call your name, not sure that you could hear me.

Like the time I met you in a cockpit, when at 600 feet,
Some fighter knocked my tail off and pinned me in the seat.

You placed your hand on mine, Lord, and brought me home okay.
But somehow when I hit the deck again, you’d slipped away.

And once upon the trapline, when the dogs fell through the ice,
I just about near bought the farm, but, again, you paid the price

By taking time to haul us out. Did I thank you, Lord, or not?
Got so busy warming up my hide, perhaps my heart forgot.

Then there was that time, of course, when I’d broken both my pins
And laid for days out in the bush reflecting on my sins.

Sure was a hard learned lesson, Lord; guess some guys just can’t hear “Please”
So you gotta knock them off their feet to bring them to their knees.

Yes, I’ve been shot at, Lord, been kicked and cussed, and sliced once with a knife.
Yet it wasn’t till I turned to you I knew anything of life.

I guess I’m not too smart, Lord, or I’d have learned long in the past
That the trails I’d been traveling led to nowhere mighty fast.

How come a guy can live so long and all that time can’t tell
That he’s been standing in a valley alooking UP to Hell?

Maybe one’s brain gets cluttered up with junk which blocks the light
And makes it hard to see what’s really wrong or right.

So forgive my brain if it still has doubts for my heart has none at all.
I guess like a baby trying to walk, a soul first must learn to crawl.

Thus, it’s a wonder, Lord, you found me, for my soul was so darn small
I’d have thought you couldn’t spot it among others twice as tall.

Sometimes I marvel that you took the time to search the ranks
Of sinners till you spotted me–for that most of all, Lord, thanks!

(the end)

Jay Hammond was an environmentalist and thus he had lots of political enemies in Alaska. He often dealt with them with a dash of humor.

He wrote a book, which I recommend: “Tales of Alaska’s Bush Rat Governor” by Jay Hammond.  In fact, I have an extra copy, if anyone is interested in reading it.  Barbara  Shaffer’s name is in it….once….in the Appendix on page 331 along with all other staff members in the Office of the Governor.

In his first race for Governor, he won by 221 votes. I figured I helped him get that many votes in Nome. With a secret ballot, one can claim lots of things.  In the second race, he won the primary race by 98 votes, but in the final election, he won by 16,000 votes.

In my opinion he was a very good governor.   Here is a list of those who served as governors:  William A. Egan, Wally Hickel, Keith Harvey Miller, William A. Egan, Jay Hammond, Bill Sheffield, Steve Cowper, Wally Hickel, Tony Knowles, Frank Murkowski, Sarah Palin, Sean Parnell, Bill Walker, Mike Dunleavy.  Some were so bad that I think I could have done a better job.  But no one asked me to run.  I did run for the House of Representatives in 1968.  One can always speculate.  It might have been fun to run against Sarah Palin.  While some make fun of her, she did do some good things, like standing up to some bullies in the oil industry, but her overall track record left a lot to be desired.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HIS POETRY

Vetoes are falling on my bills                                                                                                                                   but I’ll let the Governor be free to have his thrills,                                                                                     I’ll run for the hills                                                                                                                                                         oh, vetoes are falling on my bills and I’ve had it…                                                                                          this time I’m through, and I’ll leave it to you to take                                                                                  the brunt of the reaction of the State                                                                                                                when they find that my bill to give a free year of pay                                                                                 has passed away, under Ray and McVeigh.

       If there’s a problem I’ll be there                                                                                                                              to ask Mr. Zeigler if my language needs repair                                                                                               I don’t even care,                                                                                                                                                             but, vetoes are falling on my bills and I don’t know what I can do…                                                 so I’ll leave it to you                                                                                                                                                        to cram                                                                                                                                                                                  another bill to fund the Wickersham                                                                                                                  when I … tell my constituents the payment is due,                                                                                      they’ll come to you.

         (words unclear) loss to learn the score                                                                                                             what can I do to keep from slipping on the floor?                                                                                        Stay outside the door?                                                                                                                                                oh…how can a freshman legislator receive his fair share and more                                                when the money will pour                                                                                                                into the channels of our systematic zoo                                                                                it’s true … vetoes are falling on my bills                                                                    and I’ve had it way up to here                                                                                        guess I’ll cry in my beer                                                                                                     but I’ll be back next year.

 

 

 

MERRILL FELLOW – 1989

MERRILL FELLOW – 1989 (Spring Semester)

The Merrill Fellows Program was begun in 1964 to offer continuing education theological education to parish ministers who seek to strengthen their ministry by a period of study in a university setting. Funded since its inception by Charles E. Merrill Jr. ’42, the program is intended as a concentrated time for “academic rigor and recaptured discipline as well as unhurried reflection.” Quoted from Harvard University Gazette, Sept. 12, 1996.

Someone wrote this about Charles Merrill: “His generosity was quiet but overflowing.” I was pleased to receive some of that overflowing generosity and in some small way, I hope I am following his clear example. He started and operated a Charter School in Boston (Commonwealth School in Boston) and wrote several books. Check him out on-line, if you wish to learn more about him.

In 1987 or so, I applied for and was accepted as a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School for the Spring Semester of 1989. . I was finishing my 7th year at East Anchorage United Methodist Church and I thought it would be a good time to do something special, if I was selected, as a time of renewal. As I prepared for the experience, I was also appointed to a new church. Awkward.

Some experts have suggested that ministers can “run dry” after about 10 years in the parish ministry. This was not my experience, but this experience proved to be a big boost for me.

I had thought it would be a good renewal break for me at East Anchorage and bring new vitality to my leadership there. But due to a crisis at Sitka, the Bishop asked me to accept a new appointment and I did.

As we discussed this opportunity at the new appointment in Sitka, there was some grumbling. Later, some leaders said that they heard me say that I would give up the experience, if they insisted. I have no memory of the offer. But they did give their consent and blessing. I recruited an outstanding retired pastor from Central Illinois (W. Harold Loyd and Valerie) to take our place for several months and Barbara and I were off for an adventure of a life-time.

One woman who had complained about my leaving changed her viewpoint quickly. When I returned, with her sense of humor, she suggested that I never return, as she really enjoyed the Lloyd’s. They were well served in my absense.

We found housing at Walker Center in Newton about one hour from the school reached by the “T” (public transportation). One of the things I accomplished was reading “Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie while riding the “T”. The book was covered with brown paper, hoping to avoid any attack upon my person. I just have worked. However, I repent from the time wasted on a very strange book.

Friends loaned a car to us for one month and we wandered to Cape Cod and Maine on the weekends. There were wonderful cultural experiences, we well as lectures by national figures.

A church member gave me $50 to take Barbara to a specific eatery for lobster. He didn’t give me enough, but I didn’t go back for $25 more. It no longer exists, so I will not research the name of the famous place.

The only requirements were that our educational experience could not be applied toward an advanced degree and once a week (on Wednesday afternoons) we were required to meet a faculty member for dialogue. There were four men: two white and two black. I was probably selected by my unique place of service in Alaska and the other white pastor had participated in a post office tragedy in Kansas City. One of the black pastors was President of a church council in New York City and the other one was from Michigan.

Harvard Divinity School was discovering that some of its students were actually becoming pastors, so retired Bishop Kristen Stendahl arranged for a course on preaching. The worship experiences were helpful to us, led primarily by the women.

This is a quote from a letter to a District Superintendent in the PNW Conference, written many years after my experience:

“The former Dean Krister Stendahl (and now retired Lutheran Bishop) taught a course on “Spirituality for Clergy” which was a delight for me. An Orthodox priest by the name of Demetrios Trakatellis taught a course “Gnostic Religion and Literature” mostly on the Nag Hammadi Library and by the time the class was over I was able to pronounce the words. I learned my intellectual limitations in that course. (Added: Demetrios Trakatellis became an Archbishop in 1999 and is now known as the leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and Exarch of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. He was very short, but he was a person with great intellect. I could listen to him for an hour and still not understand the subject matter. I was impressed to learn from the gnostic scriptures that one becomes pregnant by kissingd. Aren’t we glad that this scripture did not mke it into the canon. The Texas legislature won’t know what to do with that ‘truth’.)

The weekly seminars (Merrill Fellows Colloquium) were personal highlights. Each selected professor would share papers with us in advance and they sincerely appreciated our reaction as active pastors. Harvey Cox even came back from a sabbatical to meet with us. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza was very good. Others included Ronald Thiemann (Acting Dean), Ralph Potter (Social Ethics), Richard Niebuhr, Guy Martin, John Carman (Comparative Religions), Jon Levenson (Professor of Jewish Studies), Arthur Dyck (Professor of Population Ethics in the School of Public Health) and Nancy Jay (Sociology of Religion).

I took a course with Richard Niebuhr (“Symbolizations of Christ”) and when some one asked him a question about his uncle Reinhold, he frostily said: “I don’t teach my relatives.” I was so out of it academically that I thought I was signed up for a course with Reinhold’s brother, H. Richard Niebuhr (who was alive when I attended seminary in the early 1960’s), but I was straightened out before I embarrassed myself publicly.

Normally the school tries to have a balance in the Merrill Fellows program, but my group of four included no women, perhaps in order to include two black males: Samuel Simpson of New York and Otha Gilyard of Michigan. Samuel Simpson lived in the Bronx, was Southern Baptist and came from Jamaica W. Indies. Otha Gilyard was American Baptist in Kalamazoo. The pastor from Kansas was Presbyterian and his first name was Joel.

The story was told that when Harvard discovered that some of its graduates were actually becoming pastors in local churches that they decided they should have a course in preaching. Krister Stendahl volunteered. After his retirement as a bishop, he volunteered to be in charge of the worship life at Harvard Divinity School and he did it well by empowering students.

Which leads me to say that my worship experiences there was another highlight of the experience. The student led sessions were inspiring and challenging, almost without fail.

Circumstances (in my life) were such that I was able to take several months off from my parish to immerse mysef in this experience. I really enjoyed the access to the libraries there. I did a research paper on African polygamy, which leads to another story. I had promised an African lay person that I would answer a specific question he had (in 1986 when I was in Kenya for the World Methodist Conference) and it took me three years to fulfill that promise. His question (as he stood in front of his three wives) was: “What is the United Methodist position on polygamy?”

I used my salary to hire a replacement pastor of high quality, so my congregation was not suffering or cut short at all. Though they would have been hard to convince of that PRIOR to our leaving. I very gently told them they had a choice: to pout for three months or to focus on gaining all they could from the replacement. Fortunately, they did the latter. (end of letter)

I audited the following courses:

“Spirituality for Clergy” taught by former Dean Krister Stendahl.

“Gnotic Religion and Literature” taught by Demetrios Trakatellis.

“Symbolizations of Christ” taught by Richard Niebuhr.

“Christian-Muslim Dialogue” by Lamin Sanneh

Barbara learned that she could audit any course in the University with the permission of the professor and she took a New Testament Course with Dr. Koester that inspired her in her own teaching ministry/opportunities for years.

I got to attend a women’s conference at Boston School of Theology where I heard Dr. Virginia Mollenkott (Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?) lecture. Another time where I learned what minorities feel!

I took advantage of access to the Harvard Library to do some research on polygamy and write a paper to answer some questions a lay person had asked me in Western Kenya. He wanted to know if he could be a church member with three wives. I assured him that he could be a Christian with three wives. The best counsel to a converted male polygamist: take care of the wives you have and don’t marry any more.

At the end of the experience, we had a social time with Dr. Merrill in the Harvard Club with stuffy chairs. He was a remarkable man, establishing a charter school with his own resources and proving that he could educate those whom others would not give a chance, due to their circumstances in life. He may have provided $60,000 per quarter to pay for the Merrill Fellows program. He apparently did not endow the program, but paid for it as it happened. We were blessed by his generosity.

We really enjoyed the Boston Area. On weekends we took drives to Cape Cod, Maine, Vermont and many cultural events in Boston plus a speech by Tony Campolo in a mega-church some where north of the city near Lexington or Concord. We lived 45 minutes from Harvard and while riding the transportation system (the “T”) Green and Red lines, I was able to read “Satanic Verses” by Salmon Rushdie, covered with plain paper in order to avoid any personal attacks. I am not a fan of the book or author.

I learned that Harvard Square was not very big. We enjoyed the Harvard Library, the Peabody Museum and meeting with the chaplain of Harvard Chapel, Peter John Gomes. In 1991 Gomes identified himself publicly as gay, though adding that he remained celibate. He became an advocate of acceptance of homosexuality in American society and particularly in religion. Not bad for a Baptist!

Here is a partial list of what we did:
-Inspired by Tony Campolo, Daniel Berrigan, Noel Paul Stookey concert, worship at Harvard Wednesdays, led mostly by women with the counsel and guidance of Bishop Stendahl.
-Cultural experiences included: Leontyne Price, Goya exhibit, 1937 musical “Me & My Girl” and Harvard Museums.
-Local color included Cape Cod, Aquarium, USS Constitution, Concord “Minuteman” Lexington, Plymouth Rock, Riding “T” two hours plus each day, walking 40 minutes each day.
-Opportunities such as worship on newsletters & media; Workshop on Women at Boston University; visit to NE Muslim Mosque for a Friday service and Barbara attended an annual gathering of university trustees.
-Special opportunity to hear Shirley Chisholm and to worship in different churches such as the Old South Church in Boston; saw 100 persons confirmed at an Anglican/Episcopal Church.
-Attended lectures provided by the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard.
-Also discovered that Plymouth Rock is also not very big.

To my knowledge, this program has been discontinued with the death of Charles Merrill. He lived from August 17, 1920 – November 29, 2017. He was also known for supporting historically black colleges.

GAMBLING

GAMBLING

One of the issues in Alaska that took a great deal of my energy related to gambling – mostly illegal gambling.

Alaska had clear laws that limited the methods of gambling available to the citizens, but there were also strong pressures from the gambling industry to increase the options. A clergy friend by the name of Richard Heacock was very effective in opposing increasing the options, with a lot of help from some strong forces in Anchorage: newspaper editor Robert Atwood (Anchorage Times) and grocery companies. Together, they were very effective in limiting the growth of gambling.

Having chosen to support Richard Heacock in his efforts, I found myself in several controversial situations. In my first parish, some community leaders in Soldotna got the idea of getting around laws against horse racing by letting people bet using BINGO CARDS to take their chances on horse racing. BINGO was legal.

I blew the whistle on this scheme and immediately state officials warned those who were trying to get around the law. So they struck back in the media. I stood firm and they cancelled the community event known as Soldotna Progress Days, trying to paint me as the bad guy. I was in my third year as a pastor in the area and my church members knew where I stood, even if they disagree with me. I did get one nasty letter from the spouse of the Soldotna mayor. It was a classic, but I don’t have it anymore.

Nothing major hit the fan in this area again until I moved to Nome, Alaska. Fairly quickly I learned that the service club I belonged to sponsored a Monte Carlo night with gambling that was clearly illegal. Again, I blew the whistle. This was the Rotary Club.

The Lion’s Club sponsored several such illegal activities each year. Again, state officials called members of the club to let them know I was making inquiries. One of the Lion’s Club members had some relationship to my church, so he was asked to find out what was happening with the new preacher in town.

The Rotary Club of Nome received a letter from a state official (Gary L. Jenkins, Director, Audit Division, Department of Revenue) dated October 10, 1975 which had the following information: “It has come to our attention that your organization is considering having a Monte Carlo night in the near future to raise money. As gambling is specifically not allowed in the Alaska Statutes, we feel it is imperative that you understand that these cannot be permitted. Should your organization hold such an event, it would probably result in the loss of your permit to conduct Games of Chance and Skill…”

A Nome Rotary Club newsletter (dated October 15, 1975) contained this paragraph: “This date has been set by the Board for the membership to decide the appeal of the Board of Directors decision to have Monte Carlo night this year. Discussion by all interested parties will take place in an orderly manner followed by a secret ballot vote. A two-thirds majority is required to rescind the Boards decision.” End result: the Board’s decision was rescinded by the membership: 18 voted with 5 yes, 12 no and 1 didn’t care.

This is the statement I made at Rotary on that day regarding Monte Carlo:

“I regret that this issue is before us again, but since it is, I have asked the privilege of making a statement regarding the sponsoring of such activity by the Nome Rotary Club.

“To me, this is a bigger issue that ‘what is the quickest and easiest way the club can raise $1,000 for charity.'” It is a bigger issue than what you or I approve of on a personal level. Monte Carlo nights, as practiced by the club in the past, is against the law of the State of Alaska. So, the issue centers on whether or not the club is going to sponsor an activity which is clearly illegal. I am keenly aware that there is a small element within the City of Nome which does not give a damn about the law. For me, the question then becomes, is the Nome Rotary Club going to identify with and support that attitude or is the Nome Rotary Club going to make at least a public witness of opposing that attitude.

“If the club makes the decision to disobey the laws of the State of Alaska, it stands in the position of embarrassing the club and the name of Rotary.

THE FOUR-WAY TEST of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the Truth? 2. Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3. Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? 4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

When the votes were counted 18 voted: 5 yes, 12 no and 1 “didn’t care”.

At some point, the Governor of the District Rotary organization wrote a letter indicating that we were free to do what we wanted to do, but “good Rotarians” would not engage in this activity.

The newspaper editor, perhaps a bit hung-over, once heard that the “Governor” had expressed an opinion and he thought it was the Governor of the State of Alaska, not the District Governor of Rotary and he went on a rampage editorially. That was good for some laughs.

Later that day I wrote a letter of resignation from the Rotary Club, but I never sent it. It was helpful for my personal therapy at the time. Instead, on October 20th (5 days later), I wrote a letter withdrawing myself from consideration for being the President of the club for 1976-1977. I wrote: “At this point in time, I do not believe that I could unify the total Nome Rotary Club under my leadership as President.” As a result, the defeated Board Members also did not resign and we did our best to conduct ourselves as good Rotarians, at least for one hour each week.

It was sad to learn, years later, that my most vicious opponent in Rotary and the President of the club during this debate, spent some time in prison for some illegal activities in his own profession.

10/18/74

Personal reflections, upon having received a telephone call from Barrow Morgan, a Lion, husband of a church member and bus contractor.

Evidently, 28 Lions roared disapproval of the report from unnamed sources that John Shaffer had written the IRS about the Lion’s club’s conduct of “Monte Carlo” nights.

Barrow gave me the usual story about all the good works undertaken with the profit from such enterprises. He assured me that the “city fathers” had always turned their head, as well as local state officials.

I assured him that I not only had not mentioned the Lion’s Club, I was not aware that the Lion’s Club conducted “Monte Carlo” nights. (I am now aware of that fact.)

He was very unbelieving, asking the same question three times, but when I offered to let him read my letter to the Dept. of Revenue, he decided to believe me.

He said he would try to set the record straight, but that obviously is very difficult to do, unless the group was still in session at the ‘roadhouse’.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Upon reflection, it seems a sorry situation when a private citizen writes to his state government about some advice, that a state official would spend my tax money to call local persons (related or unrelated) to WARN said persons or groups about my inquiry.

It also seems sad, in this day of post-Watergate ethics, that the same disease that affects our national government has such a strong base in local politics. “No one objected” or “We have always done it that way”. Seems to pull the rug out of any criticism of Agnew or Nixon.

Even more painful, is the fact that many of the persons who will criticize me for my efforts to learn the facts of the law, are the same ones who would cry “law and order” to knock down the young and restless or the dissenter in our national fabric of doing things. Such patriotism – to attack a private citizen who is trying to understand and uphold the law of the state.

The logic of justification for “Monte Carlo” nights will not stand up to the light of day, so it is probably the very reason that our city fathers have looked the other way. Might we apply the same yardstick to our teenagers in the various things they wish to do for their personal pleasure: i.e. speeding in automobiles, getting drunk or smoking marijuana? Worse offenses, but the same logic of justification might be used.

10/30/74

Due to good personal relationships with some fellow Rotarians, I was allowed the privilege of expressing exactly what I had done & why. By this time, the rumor mill had it that all state officials were standing by for my complaint. (Not true – the state troopers knew nothing of the issue.) I agreed not to file a complaint for the event which is scheduled to occur this Saturday at the Armony. I also suggested they start looking for an alternative method of fund-raising.

Here is a paragraph in a letter to Pastor Milt Hunt dated November 18, 1974, as I shared my situation with him: “My situation here in Nome is hotter than I intended. I wrote to Juneau for an official hypothetical situation opinion. However, someone in the Dept. of Revenue chose to spend my tax money to phone friends in Nome to let them know about my letter of inquiry and the next thing I knew 28 Lions were accusing me of being out to get them. At that point in time there was no truth to the accusation. As I told a church member acquaintance: ‘I did not even know that you were doing anything illegal until you called me’. The State officials had just ignored it for years for whatever reasons.

On November 12, 1974, the editor of the Nome Nugget fired his first shot at me in an editorial titled “Down the Tube”. In later years, he was use my name or attempt to belittle me by referring to me as “Johnny”. At some point I was motivated to help finance an alternative newspaper known as “The Bering Straights”. It provided me a pathway to respond to some of Albro Gregory’s attacks. I never stooped to calling him names, like “Elbow” Gregory, in reference to his drinking abilities. During my time in Nome, I think I rated at least fifteen editorials.

Here is the first one: “Down the Tube”.

“Another of Nome’s old traditions has gone down the tube, forced out of existence because of the whims of a minority.

Monte Carlo Night will be no more.

The Rotary Club thus will be unable to finance scholarships, something it has done for years. The club’s efforts to help finance a much needed swimming pool also will probably go by the boards.

The Rotary Club for years has used Monte Carlo Night proceeds for the public good.

Granted, the Blue Nose law is on the books. Gambling of this sort is illegal in the state of Alaska – cards, dice and roulette.

Gambling of this sort, backed by reputable people, has been winked at down through the years and we have heard no complaints until now.

Public good? Absolutely. Think of the number of kids who have received financial backing from these funds so that they could go on to college! Think of the blow to the swimming pool fund! Thank of the gap in the already thin social life of Nome!

Not one of the thousands who had gambled at Monte Carlo was forced to do so, and we have heard no complaints of money lost or won at these gaming tables.

One individual has succeeded in bringing down what was once a prime social event of the season and a prime source of funds to aid education. We think this to be grossly unfair and in fact damaging to Nome’s way of life. Now the high rollers will go underground and little if any of the benefits – such as those enjoyed by the Rotary Club – will go to education or other worthy projects. It has clipped away another bit of atmosphere of Nome, just as did the taking of the board sidewalks, dancehall girls and houses of ill repute.

We believe that the state administration should take a sharp look at this latest action and relax the law, at least as far as it concerns Rotary and Lions clubs and other non-profit organizations. And with all haste.

Games such as those sponsored by the Pioneers, Firemen, the ANB and the Catholic Church will not be included in the ruling, for they are not played with cards, as such, or dice roulette wheels.

This indeed is a sad day. -ABG

After leaving Nome in 1981, I made some changes in the way I operated on social issues. I switched from being “The Lone Ranger” to working through groups. When an issue came up in Anchorage, I provided $1,000 for the Task Force’s work and told them to give me no public credit. The issue was “won” and I didn’t have to pay for it in broken human relationships. This technique is often slower, but much less painful.



WAPELLA – MY FIRST CHURCH 1957-1959

WAPELLA – MY FIRST CHURCH 1957-1959

The Beginning:  Ministry at Wapella from September 1957 to August 1959.

What follows is a paper written to “get” Wapella off my mind.   I think it worked.   I am going to type the original paper into this document, then perhaps make additional comments.  The paper was embargoed for several years, as I didn’t wish to cause undue pain to some of the church members.  One of them lived to be over one hundred years old, so it took awhile.  Now the church no longer exists and those who are mentioned in any negative way have died.

Wapella, Illinois  (written in 1973) 

The first church has been a significant part of many clergy’s memory: both in the wonder of the acceptance of the people of such bungling on the part of the neophyte preacher and the miracle that the local church survives such appointments.

Wapella first came to my attention when I received a letter from Dr. Richard Leonard, professor of religion and history at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois.  It seems that he had been offered this post by the Champaign District Superintendent and Dr. Leonard was offering to split the salary in one/half if I would assist him.  It would be my responsibility to do the youth work, Sunday evening services and the pastoral calling.  Dr. Leonard would handle the Sunday morning pulpit.  Since lecturing came easily to him, this would not be a great burden in preparation.  His idea was that the people would then ask for me as their pastor after one year of our teamwork together.  His prophecy was ever so correct.  To understand the complexity of the situation, we need to look at a bit of history.

It was my privilege, in the 2nd year at Wapella, to organize the centennial celebration for the congregation.  A study of history revealed that the church had had 55 pastors in its 100-year history.  While John Wesley believed in moving pastors often, I think that modern church history would prove that this many moves did more damage than good.

Dr. Leonard’s predecessor was an independent Bible Baptist type, who promised the Superintendent, when appointed, that he would support the Methodist system.  That promise was quickly broken.  Instead, he preached sermons against the godless Methodist Church, the communistic Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures, etc., etc.  The result of all this was a church vote to break away from the Methodist Church and form an independent church.  When informed of this desire, the Superintendent very calmly said, “Fine.  Now may I have the keys to OUR building?”  When the leadership realized that they were free to do anything they wanted to do, with themselves, but not with the building, they reconsidered their motion, decided to remain Methodist, lost their beloved pastor and made up their minds to give hell to anyone that the Methodist Church assigned in their midst.

To start that record, they made it clear to the Superintendent that they would not accept a student pastor.  Hence the decision to assign Dr. Leonard, who was near retirement and possessed the ability to let the caustic comments roll right past him without any apparent personal trauma to be experienced.  That first year was a good year with Dr. Leonard.  He was very biblical and gave some sound historical lectures.  All in all, I was very pleased, except for one event for which I shall never be able to forgive him.  (Smile when I say that.)  EASTER 1968.  The church was packed.  Dr. Leonard gave a sermon that could have entitled “Genesis-Revelation” and bless him; he covered the whole Bible in that one sermon.  Forty-five minutes, if my memory is correct.  Why was I upset?  The next Easter those one-Sunday-a-year Christians did not risk another try with Wapella Methodist Church.  His sermon killed their once a year commitment.  However, perhaps he gave them so much to think about that it would last them for several years.   The next Easter, when I was preaching, the church was NOT packed.

At the end of the year, the pastoral relations committee met with the Superintendent and expressed their great affection for me and wondered if I could be appointed their pastor for the next year, instead of Dr. Leonard.  So with a smile and a handshake, Dr. Leonard succeeded with his major goal of the year, which was getting them to accept a student pastor.  Never would life be the same for them or for me.

At conference time that year, the tone of the year may have been set by one of the superintendents, who knew of the drama from cabinet meetings, who put his arm around me in a fatherly way and said:  “John, don’t worry about goofing up this appointment, for if you fail, you could not be appointed any lower on the ladder of success.”  This church of 86 members had a reputation in the conference.  Something about the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease.

The second bit of advice was from another university professor who taught me that significant change could not be made in the life style of a local church in one year.  The first year would only be one of getting acquainted and then you might be able to get them to make some changes.  Well, I had a decision to make.  Option #1:  Just coast for the year, collect my wages ($960 per year), do what was expected (two sermons on Sunday and prayer meeting on Wednesday night) and move on at the end of the year.  Option #2:  Full steam ahead, do all that I could do to expose them to the best ways of doing things that I was aware of in my brief training with a pastor’s class at Illinois Wesleyan, knowing that I was probably doomed to failure before I started.  I selected option #2.   As it turned out, the university professor was right.

Writing several years after the fact makes it difficult to be exact in the timing of events.  I am going to approach this in two ways.  One will be dealing with some of the personalities in this little rural town.  Another will be describing certain projects, achievements or the dynamics of some relationships built up in the next fourteen months.  (Fourteen months, in that I agreed to stay through the summer months, until a replacement could be obtained in September of 1959 – but I am getting ahead of my story now.)

We must remember that I had lived in this situation for nine months, prior to assuming full responsibility.  However, we had just accepted everything as we had found it, nearly.  One of the first changes that I proposed was devoting my Sunday evenings entirely to the Youth Fellowship, instead of preaching a sermon to 5-8 of the saints.  These people loved their youth, so they thought that my proposal was a realistic one.  Sunday evening services disappeared, probably never to return in the same form.  Would that all the changes had been so easily accepted.

The next item proposed stirred the pot a bit more.  The church school practice was very traditional, for those days, in that we did a lot of exercising:  opening and closing.  Opening exercises consisted of everyone gathering in the sanctuary for gospel singing, a brief meditation and prayer by the church school superintendent.  Closing exercises consisted of a report from the secretary as to how many were in each class, what the offering was in each class, what the total offering was, what the total offering and attendance had been one year ago on this date, plus the bonus of singing “Happy Birthday” to any birthday child or adult.  Some adults were very coy, putting in a whole dollar, which gave witness to their generosity to the Lord’s work, as well as refusing to reveal their true chronological age.  One woman put it all in the box in pennies, for she wore her age more proudly than some.  My proposal: let the children have opening exercises downstairs, where the worship could be geared to their age level and let the youth and adults do their thing upstairs.  That was okay, but the next part was worse: do away with closing exercises!  I got my way on that one (honeymoon may still have been on, but it was over with many persons) but lots of complaining.  In my more mature approach to things, I like persons to examine why they think things should be done in certain ways.  I try to do the same.

One Grandma explained it very clearly; “Closing exercises provides me with the only way to know if my grandchildren have been to Church School.”  Under the new way, they did not march upstairs for a few minutes and then go home, now they just went home, without knowing how much the adults gave to the offering that week.

Now my motives may not have been much purer.  For one year I had watched the re-enactment of the biblical EXODUS, not from Egypt, but from the Lord’s house.  As soon as the church school superintendent announced the benediction and people turned the situation over to the neophyte professional, two-thirds of the persons in the closing exercises got up and went home.  They had been to church, so why stay for a second round?  Now I found that demoralizing.  True, they did not stay any more under my new system, but at least it was not quite as obvious.  You must note that it was not the quality of my preaching, as this life style was part of the churchmanship long before I hit town.  I am just sensitive enough to want the reader to know this.  The number of people who have walked out on my preaching has been fairly small, which may indicate the fact that my preaching is not too great, but this is not a book on preaching.

By the way, I will not quote many of my sermons in this report, due to the fact that the publisher’s of THE INTERPRETER’S BIBLE might get very uptight about certain copyright laws, etc.  Sometimes it is hard to tell where IB left off and I began.

Working with the Official Board proved to be the greatest test of my immature leadership.  That is where the battle lines were drawn, where compromises were made and where I lost most of my battles.  On the one hand, I got to the point where I visibly winced whenever one of the saints would say:  “We tried that once before, and it did not work,” or “We have never done it that way before.”  Either way, they had you between the rock and the hard place.  One time, the problem of trying to please the pastor became very evident.  When I reacted to one of the above statement, one sweet woman burst into tears and said, “But you keep telling us to express ourselves and that is just what I am doing.”  She had me there.

I recognize that I remember some of my worst moments more clearly than my best moments.  At one meeting, we were involved intensely on an issue, when one of the saints volunteered this bit of wisdom:  “Brother Pastor, is what you are expressing God’s will or your own will?”  This was the same gal who had provided me some embarrassing moments in my attempts to evangelize the business community on Main Street.  It seems that she had the nasty habit of swearing at anyone who crossed her in the business world, whether it was a major issue or a minor one.  The 2nd most active person in the church and the 2nd most pious in her pronouncements.  We never dealt with either issue in her spiritual life, but I must remember that my cruel comment did change the course of the discussion:  “Just suppose, Sister, that you let God ask me that question, instead of you.”

One of my greatest successes was found in my work with the youth.  We did many good things.  For the first time in years, the youth were involved in summer camping, district activities and got out of town for many good regional experiences, as well as good ones in the local church.  One of the girls because a district officer, which I know was helpful to her.  In the final pastoral relations meeting, my proudest moment came in the report of the superintendent.  The spirit of the meeting was moving back to the 1957 position of “We do not want another student pastor, but a retired man,” when one of the youth made a speech and turned the tide so strongly that they agreed to accept Wayne Schaub, a fellow Illinois Wesleyan student, as my successor.  To think that she had developed the courage and the ability to express herself in her church gave me a great deal of personal satisfaction.

Another outstanding success was found in the refurbishing of the sanctuary.  The pews were the type that might collapse at any moment, plus the problem of slivers in the legs, or more often, runs in the women’s stockings.  In the midst of this, I had proposed a major remodeling of the sanctuary, that would have given us an extra classroom behind the pulpit (lots of room not being used except as a backdrop for the preacher) and turned the sanctuary in a different direction.  This idea was vetoed by the Board, but they did accept the arrangements I had made to get some old pews out of an Episcopal Chrch in downtown Peoria – 60 miles away – to replace the old pews.  When all the arrangements had been made, two stock trucks were volunteered by non-church families and the pews were dis-assembled and brought to Wapella.  Another non-member agreed to do the carpentry work needed, not knowing what kind of a contribution that would mean.  Eventually, the job was done and we had lovely strong pews.

I left some of the kneelers on the front three pews on the left hand side – for prayer meetings.  However, someone took it upon himself (herself) to remove the kneelers during the week, before I got the chance to use them with the Methodists.  Reflects some of the anti-Catholic sentiment that abounds in the Bible Belt of our nation.

There was another matter that was never dealt with by the Board, but it got a lot of attention by someone – I never knew who.  Any professional Methodist clergyperson is exposed to the worship concept that the center focal point of worship should be the altar, not the pulpit.  Now in some churches, you are stuck with the center pulpit, but I was not.  I had a flat area, at least 20 feet wide to range in, so I moved the pulpit to the left side and put the altar in the middle where the pulpit was.  This was done every Sunday morning, but every week someone moved it back the “way it was.”  I think it was the janitress, but like I said earlier, I will never know.  It became one of those weekly rituals that probably gave great joy to both of us.

One of my favorite families was the James Brown family.  This was mainly because they liked me, but a close second was the fact that they were so friendly and likeable themselves.  They were members at Clinton and drove five miles past our church for their church participation until they heard me preach one Sunday morning.  My text was this:  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith:  these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”  Matthew 23:23 King James Version, of course.  (I had thought it was a bad joke, but I personally witnessed one woman saying seriously, “If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.”)  Anyway, the father was still talking about my sermon with his family when I called in their home the following week.  At last I had a fan and a supporter.  I have enough trouble remembering my own sermons in a few weeks, so I was greatly impressed that he was impressed.  Never again would he hear such a “good” sermon, but his family was faithful to the end.  She had received some training as a nursery teacher in our laboratory school for church schoolteachers, so soon she was brining the result of her insights into our church school.  Instead of putting 2-3 year olds around a table and making them sit there for one-half hour or longer, quietly listening to stories, or coloring, this trained teacher purchased a clean rug, removed the table, added interest centers and sat on the floor with the children to become totally involved in the teacher-learning process.  Criticism came of this radical change and the teacher persevered until I left the church.

The quality of the other teachers was very typical of Methodist churches.  The worst could be illustrated by one teacher whom I overheard telling a pupil (her son), “Now you be good, or Jesus will not love you.”  Not being very sure of myself, I just fumed inwardly and did little helping at this point.  Much of my experience at Wapella could be put down to observing, rather than real leadership.  [Later in my ministry, I would have either fired her or corrected her in a loving way or made sure she had supervision.]

If ever a pastor deserved a gold medal for “pastoral calling” (quantity), I would be the person to receive it.  In that second year at Wapella, I kept the required statistics for the Superintendent and I made nearly 900 pastoral calls in that one year.  When you consider that this was basically limited to Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, it was even more remarkable.  There was some quality to the calling.  The membership of the church dropped from 86 to 65 in that year, with several individuals withdrawing from the church.  In nearly ten of those lives, the individuals had been participating in other local churches (non-Methodist) for years, claiming to be Methodist and never fully involving themselves in the other churches.  With my contacts, these individuals were able to make the break and enter fully into the life of the church where they were participating.  I also discovered a railroad employee who was a member of the church and had not participated for years.  Every time I called on him, he gave me a substantial cash contribution.  One cannot say that I favored him in my calling, but with the above record, you can see several members had more than one call a year and he was no exception.  Later, I learned that when this individual retired, he became the backbone of the local church and gave many years of outstanding service and leadership. I think his name was Peter Abel.

The backbone of the church when I was the pastor was a widow.  I could write pages about the good things she did for the church.  However, she was so aggressive and expected others to have the same dedication for the Lord that she had.  This caused some problems, or should I say, this became the easy excuse for non-attendance by some of the fringe members.  More than once, persons in the church would use her as their excuse for non-participation.  Illustration upon illustration would be mentioned.  The classic one was a very vocal woman, who evidently had been a Sunday church schoolteacher when the widow was in her usual position as Sunday church school superintendent.   One Sunday, she missed her teaching position and the superintendent chose the local grocery store as the place to reprimand her for laxness in not arranging for a substitute.  It so happened that the teacher’s daughter had gone into labor for childbirth that morning and things were fairly hectic in her personal life.  She could admit that she “done wrong” as far as Sunday school was concerned, but she would never forgive the superintendent for bringing it up in a public place.  She made it clear to me that she would never cross the threshold of that church as long as “that woman is there.”  I have used this for a sermon illustration of what happens to our spiritual lives when we hold grudges like this over the years.  It so happened that circumstances took the active lay person from our community for a long period of time toward the end of the year, as she became an employee at our Methodist children’s home in Urbana.  I went back to the woman who was so bitter, to let her know that it was safe for her to come to church again.  But she had dwelt so much on herself and developed such a hard shell that she would not even come when “that woman was no longer there.”

I came to love and respect the active widow to the point that I was able to call on her and beg her, for the sake of the church, not to volunteer for tasks when I mentioned them in Official Board meetings.  It had come to the point that whenever I tried to spread the leadership base or the service base, I could not, for she would raise her hand first.  I tried to explain to her that it would be better if the job would go unfinished, or the office unfilled, rather than for her to step in immediately and do it herself.  It was one of my few successes in difficult human relationships, for she did not get angry at my honesty and we were able to make some forward steps in getting others to assume responsibility.  As is of often the case in the local church, the active ones complain about the lack of commitment of others, when the real truth is that the active ones somehow (unintentionally) stand in the way of other persons becoming deeply involved.  I was grateful that God was able to use me effectively in this woman’s life.  It points more to the depth of her Christian understanding than my skill.  Bear in mind that it took months for me to develop the courage to approach her on the subject.  A trained pastor would have been able to do this much more quickly.

The story that I have relived over more than any other relates to my departure from the church.  I was finishing my senior year at Illinois Wesleyan University.  I was enjoying being a pastor much more than I was enjoying being a student.  It was assumed that I would leave the church in June of 1959 and prepare to enter Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary) in the fall of 1959.  I had hoped to have that first year at Garrett entirely for study and adjustment to seminary, rather than work in local churches.  Financially, I had been of such little burden to my parents in the last two years of college, so I was confident they might help me in that year.  My salary at Wapella had been $960 during the year I was by myself.  However, I was developing a conviction that Wapella deserved a pastor who would stay longer than one year.  As I had studied the history and seen some of the tragedies of human relationships, I thought I might be able to contribute something if I drove back and forth from seminary to serve this church.  It would have been around 150 miles one-way.

One event sticks in my mind, as I remember the process by which I changed my mind.  It related to salary in the facts, but it related to attitude in the depth of the issue.  The financial process, with great pain, decided to recommend an increase of salary of $10 per month, if I stayed.  This would have been $1080 per year.  However, when the District Superintendent came, there was such a debate on whether or not they could afford this increase, that I lost heart.  I just could not face that kind of negativism.  After a year of struggling with educational philosophy, the pain of broken human relationships, the narrowness of applying Christ’s way to family life or community life, I had had it.  Unknown to everyone, I severed the tie with Wapella.  Timing of this has slipped my memory, but it was probably some time prior to annual conference.

At annual conference time, I agreed to stay at Wapella until September, thus giving the District Superintendent time to find another student pastor.  During this process, I also agreed to accept the position as Minister to Youth in St. James Methodist Church in Danville, Illinois.  Remember my resolve to study the first year at Garrett?  That held steady for several weeks.  However, the Superintendent kept offering me jobs, usually related to that unpleasant task of relating to Official Boards.  I had had enough of that for a few years.  However, I could not say “no” to the challenge at St. James, which included a salary of $3,000 per year, for supervising the youth program of the church for two days a week.  Bearing in mind that I did struggle over staying at Wapella for $1080, perhaps a judgment will not be too severe for my lack of wavering on the $3,000 offer.

One of my areas of pride became the area of my downfall at Wapella.  I had been able to recruit a new Sunday School superintendent – her age was in the lower 30’s.  She was related to about ½ of the church, but that detail is unrelated to our story.  Part way through the summer, she resigned, without one word of explanation.  Well, as you may know me by now, I called on her.  The events of the past year had brought us close enough together, so she told me why, under some pressure.  It seems that she had been criticized for her praying.  Remember opening exercises?  Well, each Saturday night she wrote out a prayer for Sunday morning.  I was deeply impressed with these prayers.  They showed evidence of a sensitive, concerned spirit.  I was lifted spiritually by what she had to say on my behalf as the pastor.  What was the problem?  Well, the saints had put out the word that “Christians do not read their prayers.  Christians pray extemporaneously!”  So her response was, “You had better get someone who is more Christian, for I cannot pray extemporaneously.”  So, once again, my efforts to spread the leadership base had been thwarted.  Here was a gentle spirit being bruised by those who were more “mature” in the faith.

So, what did the immature pastor do?  I blew my top, to put it bluntly.  I made a terrible mistake.  I injured many persons in the process.  It was not until months later that I discovered a better way to have handled the situation.  It was found in the Letter of Paul to another young preacher – Timothy.  If I could have known this biblical text for my next sermon, it might have made the difference between spiritual life and death for several members of that church.  While I could not have used this translation in that church, the verse comes from II Timothy 2:14, 16-17.  “Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers … Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene …”  Also II Timothy 2:23-25: “Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correctly his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth …”  If only I had been aware of the existence of those verses at the time of the crisis!

Instead, I lost my temper and preached a sermon in that condition.  If I had a tape recorder, I would give the sermon verbatim.  After it was over, ½ the congregation patted me on the back and said it was a great sermon – it didn’t hit them obviously, which is the usual Protestant pattern for greatness, unfortunately.  The other ½ actually either found it difficult to shake my hand at the door or rushed past, in order to avoid the ritual.

What did I say?  I don’t remember everything.  I brought a few skeletons out of the closet – learned in my 900 calls.  I told about the old timer (the town barber who enjoyed telling me about my swearing saint) who was mad at the church because they sold the parsonage his father built for $2,000 when his actual reason for being mad was that he had wanted to purchase it for $1,000.  Time had made his memory a little bit off.  He was at least right about being mad.  I told about the fact that I was disturbed over the resignation of the Sunday School superintendent and that I got more spiritual comfort from a well thought out written prayer than I did from five minutes of babbling.  On and on, for some 20 minutes, I spoke of my disappointment at various attitudes and actions in this one local church.

For the next week, I tried to undo the damage that had been done by engaging in a whirlwind schedule of calling.  Persons who had been all sweetness and light to my face for one year, now let loose.  “Preacher, I did not appreciate your saying that I babbled.”  “But, ma’am, I did not say that YOU babbled.  I merely said that I did not appreciate babbling.”  When the pastoral relations committee finished their special meeting (called that same week) with the District Superintendent, the big conclusion was this:  “Everything he said was true, but he should not have said it.”  How true!

I preached the next Sunday on forgiveness, then we had a guest speaker my last Sunday in town.  Then we had a farewell party in which one layman indicated that he thought I would be a good preacher – someday, and I was gone.  I left on August lst, one month sooner than I had anticipated.  For my punishment, I went on to St. James one month earlier than planned.

As I left, there was one major failure.  One woman, who was not a leader in any local position, still kept the mask of goodwill on her face, even though she felt that so much was wrong in her church.  As I look back on the situation, I realize my lack of professional skill assisted me in my failure to help her with that mask.  She had passed it on to her children to the point where some members of her family had deep grudges toward other members, but could not express it openly.  It had to come out behind the back.  Example:  one time a note was left on a Sunday School table:  “Keep your kids under control.”  Again, I almost lost a teacher.  In my investigation of the event, I learned that a relative had left the note, because the teachers was always fussing about other children, but ignoring her own.  “I was just giving her a dose of her own medicine.”

This point I would like to develop for some length:  “The importance of dealing with spiritual health, in our face to face contacts.”  Here are some of the spiritual problems revealed to me as pastor, for which I did little or nothing.  A dominant wife and mother, who could not understand why her husband would not attend church; a bitter widow, who was a pious person in church but literally swore at the postmaster if the littlest thing did not go her way; a factory worker, whose children were brilliant and rather than accept himself and urge them on, he sought to suppress their creativity; these illustrate failures that perhaps could have been worked on, if a skilled person had been appointed to the situation and had been able to live there long enough to achieve acceptance.  However, my personal efforts at trying to move the church into a larger parish situation were also doomed to failure.  That would make the content of another chapter.

POSTSCRIPT   1/5/79

Two significant events have happened in the life of the Wapella Church since my pastorate.  An event moved the church a few inches.  That event was a tornado.  Years later, my wife and I stopped by to see the physical surroundings of that earlier experience, only to witness the destruction of several features of the tiny village.  One of my treasurer possessions for many years was one of the bricks left in the hole where the church stood for many decades.

The church did not rebuild.  Nor did it join fully with another United Methodist Church just four miles away.  For a few years, it existed in a house that was purchased or rented for the worship and educational experiences of the congregation.

The 1974 Journal of the Central Illinois Conference reported this news:  “ … the Wapella United Methodist Church voted unanimously to discontinue their fellowship and organization, effective June 16, 1974, with property being used for church building and property projects with the Decatur District, etc.”

There are five other United Methodist Churches within driving distance of Wapella, so those who wish to continue as part of the United Methodist heritage will have those options, but when we recall that there was consistent refusal to share a pastor with one of those churches or to have any real intimate larger parish relationships, it is doubtful that too many will avail themselves of that opportunity.

One of the members went to some trouble to locate me when I was visiting in Illinois, just a couple of years prior to the closing of the church.  It involved an invitation to preach, which I could not accept, due to time allowances.  There is some sense of loss in that fact.  On the other hand, maybe it is just as well.  We can all operate on our memories…

December 7, 2009

Years later, when I was the pastor at the UMC of Sitka, Alaska, one of the members (Mrs. James Hart) participated in a work team from the Decatur District.   It was a pleasant reunion.   Her daughter (Norma Lee Hart) was the one who spoke up for having “another” student pastor when I left in 1959.   She was one of the few families who drove to Clinton United Methodist Church for her worship and church life.

HOMOSEXUALITY

HOMOSEXUALITY

MINISTRY EVENT – probably in 1999 at Manito

Staff-Parish Relations Committee was processing the Jimmy Creech trial. (He lost his United Methodist credentials for officiating at a same-sex wedding ceremony). I decided to tell the members that I would provide pastoral care for all members of the congregation.

In turn four (4) male members of the committee objected to this stance.

One asked if I was in favor of immorality. I asked if he wished for us to officially oppose heterosexual immorality, that is “refuse to allow marriage ceremonies for couples living together prior to the ceremony.” He was silent. (2020 – he may have known that I would not be having any marriage ceremonies, perhaps including for his own children or grandchildren.)

Another person said “when a gay person joins this church, I am out of here.” I patted him on the shoulder and said, “We will not tell you.” and he thanked me. (I didn’t tell him he was too late.)

Another said, “What do I tell my children?”

After the discussion was over and the meeting adjourned, the three women members privately and individually informed me that they agreed with me!

I praise God that I am in a situation where I am respected for enough gfits and graces for ministry that this doesn’t neatively affect my total ministry…yet!

I am saddened that conflict is so feared by the women that they would not speak up.

(Footnote 2020: When my lay leader was able to marry her partner in life, she did not ask me to officiate, as she didn’t wish for me to risk my ordination. That was very gracious of her, but it saddened me to the point of anger that I could not share in a significant spiritual and personal experience for an active member of my congregation.)

(Footnote 2020: I did make it through to retirement in 2008 without officiating at a wedding of this nature, even though I had decided at East Anchorage UMC (1981-1988) that I would do so, if asked or requested. No one asked. Can;t be defrocked for hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions.)










SERMON – Manito in Spokane

SERMON AT MANITO UNITED METHODIST CHURCH IN SPOKANE, WASHINGTON PREACHED ON BLOOM’S DAY 4/23/2000
(Note: low attendance Sunday because of Bloom’s Day Race)

SERMON – Bloom’s Day

My Race “Garbage In-Garbage Out”

Upper Room dated June 25, 2000 “My Race”
By Ryan White-Stevens (Indiana)

Paul said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

My first semester of graduate school, I took a physics class that moved rapidly through very complex material. I always seemed to be behind my classmates in work and comprehension. Discouraged, I went for a jog around campus, praying as Samuel did, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:10).

Soon I developed stomach and leg cramps that forced me to slow my pace. Two other runners ran quickly by me, and once again I began comparing myself to others. As discouragement began to settle in, I heard God say, “You’re not running their race. You’re running the race I gave you to run.”

In class and on the jogging path I had been judging my progress primarily in contrast to others. But we are not meant to compete against each other as we live out what God has called us to do. God gives us the ability to answer our individual calls, and no matter our pace, all God asks is that we continue on the course.

Prayer: Dear Teacher, thank you for the calling you have given each of us. Help us to run our race with perseverance and not become discouraged. We pray in your holy name. Amen.

Thought for the Day: “We are running our race well when we do what God asks of us.

Prayer Focus: Those struggling with school.

When I read this, I thought of its application to the world’s largest “timed race” which happens right here in Spokane. If a person participated in this race to win it, there would be thousands of disappointed people when the race was finished. 60,000 to be exact or approximate, as the case might be.

However, if one enters the race in order to do the best that one can do, then everyone is a winner, even if one can’t even finish the race. God doesn’t expect any more than that of each of us. The Special Olympics program is based on a similar philosophy and in a certain sense, everyone who competes is a winner and there is an effort to affirm each one who enters and “does his or her best”.

This immediately put me on the path of my own personal journey in life, my call to ministry and the things that have happened to me which have shaped my life.

I learned several years ago that one of my brothers, who participated in the Korean Conflict (War) didn’t like to talk about his experience. However, when he arrived in Korea, I did know that he felt fortunate to be selected as company clerk. Why was he selected? Because he knew how to type!

Typing had a great impact on my early education. Some how or other two things happened in typing class. First of all, I did the homework assignments and I did them so well that I was at the head of the class. Severe pressure was put on me by a certain segment of classmates to slow down, so that they would not have to work as hard. What was interesting about this segment was that they spent every night after school in a nearby eatery smoking and in the words of contemporary students “being cool”. When the pressure applied on me didn’t work, some one realized that I was going to be the top student in the class in speed also and the girls in the class didn’t want a boy to be the best typist. Sexism was not a modern invention. However, Midge Parker, the class valedictorian, rose to the challenge and at the end of the semester, my typing speed was good, but it was second best in the class. The women won! But I tested out at 70 words per minute.

This skill has served me very well in my ministry, especially in those times and places when I didn’t have a secretary to help in the office. But it also helps me in sermon preparation as I can type almost as fast as I can think…give or take a few words a minute.

Another event impacted my life greatly at that time. An evangelist by the name of Dr. Sidney Smith came to our little church and I formally gave my life to Jesus Christ. This gives me some insight into spiritual growth, for I was already a member when I had this determinative and definitive experience in my life.

The impact of this moment was deepened by good experiences at summer camp and it is one of the reasons I am supportive of summer camping at our United Methodist campsites, such as Twinlow and Lazy F and Ocean Shores and Indianola. We are blessed with many good facilities here in the PNW Conference.

At that time, I was feeling nudges toward full-time Christian service, whether as a missionary or as a minister. Little did I know that I would become both! While in college I had an experience (also at a retreat at our United Methodist Camp East Bay Camp near Bloomington, Illinois) in which, like Ryan White-Stevens, I heard Jesus Christ say to me that he was calling me into the parish ministry.

The very next year I was offered the position of Youth Minister and Assistant Pastor in a very difficult church. Because of an unethical pastor who preached against Methodism, the members had specifically said they would not accept a student pastor. So the religion professor agreed to serve them, but he told me that if I would do the pastoral work, in one year they would ask for me (a student) to be their pastor. I did and they did! Thus I was a part-time pastor of a small church my senior year in college.

I decided to be a student during my seminary years, but God and the District Superintendent had other ideas. He kept offering me a position. When the pay scale got to $3,000 per year, I folded and served as the Associate Pastor and Minister of Youth in a church with 3,000 members and over 100 students involved in youth programming.

Then it was marriage in 1962 and the beginning (with Barbara) of thirty-three years of missionary service in Alaska. We gave of ourselves in six parishes there. Kenai (62-65); Chugiak (65-69; Juneau-Douglas (69-74); Nome (74-81); East Anchorage (81-88) and Sitka (88-95). There were several experiences during that period of time that had a great impact on my understanding of God and the ministry.

1981: After a period of intense community organizational work, Barbara helped me obtain a one-month assignment in Hana, Maui, Hawaii, serving an United Church of Christ (Congregational) Church. For my preaching assignment, I picked several difficult subjects and was completely honest as to my understanding of the issues from the pulpit and lo, and behold, the world didn’t come to an end. This was a destination point for tourists. I remember vividly one sermon that produces this comment from an 80-year-old woman from California: “You just preached me back into the church.” Heady stuff.

I have also had the experience of preaching people out of the church! It is nice when the flow is reversed.

1986: Knowing that “all work and no play” was not a good thing, I also realized that a pastor who does not focus on the flowing in of new spiritual vitality would run dry. At seminary, they predicted that would happen in ten years. Some pastors stop reading when they leave seminary. This is one of the reason’s that continuing education is so important. Churches that do not insist on their pastor going to workshops or special classes will be the first to suffer.

In my case, I found myself in danger of running dry in twenty years. This realization occurred at about the same time that General Conference started tightening up the rules in this area. Right now there is legislation that if as pastor doesn’t do Continuing Education, he or she is in danger of losing the right to an appointment.

Through the encouragement and influence of my friend, Wayne Schaub, I started attending summer school at Vancouver School of Theology in Canada. The first professor was in the Old Testament and he was from Boston School of Theology. At that point in time, he was also the best preacher in United Methodism. He taught like he preached. Each lecture was an inspiration. He also had the gift of affirmation. By the time I realize he was affirming everyone, not just me, I didn’t care. His ideas about the themes of the Old Testament and some of his suggestions resonated to the depth of my being. I was turned on to study in a way that had not been true prior to this time. I liked the statement: “education is wasted on the young” for it was partly true of me.

When I became aware that a gentleman in Boston by the name of Charles Merrill sponsored four scholarships for a semester of study at Harvard Divinity School for active pastors I applied. And I was accepted. At the same time I learned that I was to be appointed to a church at Sitka. So I arrived in the summer of 1988, only to tell them that I was going on sabbatical in 1989 for one semester. They heard me say that I would give up this opportunity if they didn’t want me to go, which was probably fortunate, for I don’t remember saying this. I did go and it was a wonderful experience.

I learned how to pronounce Nag Hammadi! I audited several courses and since Barbara insisted on going to, we enjoyed the “culture” of Boston on weekends as fully as possible. I find that many people are aware of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This find by shepherd boys helped to affirm the authenticity of many scriptures of the Hebrew Bible, with special emphasis on Isaiah.

However, very few have learned of the Nag Hammadi Literature, similar finds in Egypt. They helped me understand why some scriptures, generally known as Gnostic literature, didn’t make it into the biblical canon. To summary them briefly, they were BAD. Poor theology. Poor understanding of God and humanity. The understanding of God expressed in the scriptures that we honor stand like a beacon in comparison. When Isaiah calls us to be a “light to the nations”, I now realize how far short both Jewish and Christian expressions of the faith have often fallen.

In our zeal to be faithful to the God of our Fathers (and Mothers), we often settle for something less than the best. At the same time, we need to hear these words spoken to Ryan White-Stevens: “You’re not running their race. You’re running the race I gave you to run.” Thanks be to God!

ALASKA CHRISTIAN CONFERENCE LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER 1972

ALASKA CHRISTIAN CONFERENCE SPONSORED LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER 1972

Elsewhere you may see and read an item titled “OUTSIDER”, which I published in 1970-1971. There were approximately 12 subscribers. The Alaska Christian Conference Legislative Newsletter became my responsibility in 1972 and it went to about 200 people. It was more informational, although some of my views crept through. At the present time, I have only one example. I am publishing the entire newsletter until I find other examples, if I do.

LEGISLATIVE NEWSLETTER No. 3 February 8, 1972
by John J. Shaffer

RULES REFORM
One of the central issues facing the legislature during the week of February 7th will be the proposed rules change. This attempt to institute majority rule on the various committee chairmen will probably fail, but it is one of the badly needed reforms in the Alaska State Legislature. Example after example of committee chairmen using their power to prevent majority or democratic rule could be cited. The public seems to accept this abuse of power. In fact, many of the legislators accept it, as they might want this power themselves, someday. There is obviously no great outcry for reform, but there are several legislators speaking out on the subject. If you have not, don’t bother this week, for the change has passed us by for this session. Sorry!

There is also the need for more “public record” of what is said on the floor of the House and Senate, as well as knowledge of positions taken in committee action. There are examples of legislators opposing legislation through the committee process and then voting for it when the record is public. Also the same would be true of legislators who work for legislation behind the scenes and then oppose it in public. The result is that only those who are present or have accurate “sources” know exactly what is going on in the legislative halls. Perhaps this is ood, but it seems to this reporter that the public interest suffers much more than it is ever helped by this system.

HB 431 which provides for the recording of “all committee meetings and all sessions of each house of the legislature” and copies being provided upon request to the public at a reasonable cost would be a good example of a bill that needs public support if it is to move from committee. It is lodged in State Affairs under chairman Richard McVeigh.

CHILD CARE PAYMENTS
Many church leaders are aware of the passage of legislation two years ago to provide full cost of care in many of our child-care institutions. The implementation of this legislation may be hitting some tentative snags in proposals made for next year by the Department of Health and Social Services. I have nothing specific to report at this time, but I have asked for statements from various interested parties and if this is forthcoming, we will included further information as time goes on. As the battle of the dollar goes on, it is too often the case that the children of our state are ones who will suffer.

RUNAWAY MINORS
CS Senate Bill 250 is moving through the Senate. Some observers have indicated that the current law is adequate and may force the state to provide alternate facilities to handling runaways besides forced detention and/or removal from the home. Some judges and enforcement officials have complained at the red tape they are forced to go through to handle the situation. Right now the amended bill is nearly through Judiciary and will probably be before the Senate for a vote soon.

NEW TOOL for following the legislature is available – an index by subject matter.

HOUSE BILLS INTRODUCED
HB 557 (Harris) Act providing for sealing certain records relating to juveniles reaching 18th birthday. (Judiciary, HWE)
HB 563 (Rules by request of Governor) Act relating to security and privacy of criminal justice information systems. (Judiciary)
HB 566 (Moran) Provides greater protection for magistrates through a hearing system (Judiciary)
HB 580 (Rules by request of Governor) Establishes a Council on Economic Advisors in the Office of the Governor. (Commerce, Finance)
HB 586 (Colletta et al) Companion Bill to SB 30 for regulations of charitable organizations.
HB 587 (Warwick by request) Would allow the chief school administrator to be exempt from the requirement of possessing a valid teacher certificate. (HWE)
HB 589 (Randolph) This seeks to transfer probation services to the court system, evidentally from the Commissioner of Health and Social Services. (HWE, Judiciary) A question could be raised as to the value of this proposed system, as it relates to the philosophy of therapeutic services.
HJR 102 (Rules by request of Governor) Adds “sex” to civil rights section of our constitution. “No person is to be denied the enjoyment of any civil or political right because of race, color, creed, or national origin.” is current reading. (Judiciary)
HJR 104 (Randolph) Proposes amendment to the state constitution to provide for an elected attorney general. (State Affairs, Judiciary) Not much chance of passage, but the minority party has been in favor of this at various times in our brief history as a state.
HCR 16 (Mike Miller & Fischer) Calls for planning foot and bicycle trails and paths in appropriate communities. (State Affairs)
SENATE ITEMS INTRODUCED
SJR 34 (Thomas) Calls for establishment of a department of education with cabinet status at national level. (HWE, State Affairs)
SB 308 (Miller) Relates to the assignment of teachers within a school district. Indicates that the new assignment shall be within reasonable driving distance from the teacher’s prsent place of residence unless mutually agreed by the teacher and the chief administrator of the district. (HEW)
SB 318 (Josephson et al) Act adopting the Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act. Nineteen pages of new material. This proposal is based on the policy that “alcoholics and intoxicated persons should not be criminally prosecuted for their consumption of alcoholic beverages and that they should be afforded a continuum of treatment so they may lead normal lives as productive members of society.” (HEW)
SB 320 (Lewis) Act relating to defense of life or property. (Judiciary) As I read the bill, it indicates that a person who claims a defense under the current law and is found not guilty of a crime” shall be reimbursed by the state of all legal fees and other costs incurred by him necessarily incident to his defense, including loss of employment time.”

From ALASKA INDUSTRY February 1972 Alaska’s Business, p. 14 “While Egan’s stand against gulf leasing might be seen as a protective attitude to help insure earlier development of the North Slope oil resources it did leave one question unanswered. If the state is convinced that exploration and development work in the gulf is fraught with too many dangers to the environment because of hostile conditions how can it be equally convinced that the supertankers required to haul North Slope oil from Valdez can operate safely in the gulf under these same conditions?” (2020 editorial comment: The Exxon Valdez disaster happened on March 24, 1989. Interesting that I selected this quote in 1972. It was a supertanker with a single hull.)

(Sent by Non Profit Organization Permit for 1.7 cents)