Pre-Christmas Letter memories

1955   Mother and I left home to visit two universities:  Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington and Olivet (Nazarene) in Kankadee.  I was content with IWU, so we never visited the second school.  It was 50 miles from home, but it felt much farther.  One year I had three jobs and a scholarship and found myself making money and flunking German.  I made some adjustments.

1957   Participated in the Students in Industry Seminar in Detroit, Michigan. We met with many officials in both labor and management positions, including Walter Reuther’s brother. We attended one union meeting, but we were asked to leave when they realized we were not full members. Goons walked the aisles to threaten anyone who objected to what the leadership was doing. Democracy at its worst.

Worked briefly for Verner’s Ginger Ale and for the Ford Motor Company, making radiators and engine blocks. Verner’s allowed employees free drinks. I drank about six cans the first day and none there after.

When working on the radiators, I attempted to make production rates and was clearly warned that new employees do not make production. I was so green that I didn’t realize I was being threatened with bodily harm if I didn’t slow down. Other employees protected me and a co-worker helped me reach my goal several hours ahead of time and then we took the rest of the daily shift “off”. When working on an assembly line, my task was placing paper cups on the engine block.  I worked frantically to keep up, but my co-workers were relaxed.  Great experience.

We lived in a church that was massive.  Even had a bowling alley.  But only about 20 participants because it was a white church in a changing neighborhood. One man was hired to keep the neighborhood kids out of the building. Eventually the church was made into a retirement home.


Jerry Stewardship and I drove to Canada to participate in an Intercollegiate School of Alcohol Studies at Waterloo College in Ontario August 23-28. En route we stopped at Stratford to enjoy some Shakespeare plays, including King Henry IV, Part I. One vivid memory is that we had spent big bucks (for us) on tickets and we suddenly realized that the time had changed on us and we were going to be late. I drove my car very fast and got away with it with no speeding ticket. We got there on time. This school ceased operations in 1976 – a sign of the times. I was deeply impressed by R. D. “Buddy” McGee.

(In spite of the debate about personal letters, John started using a letter to send Christmas greetings in 1959.)

1959 – Illinois Wesleyan, Wapella, St. James, Danville and Garrett

This has been one of the most wonderful years of my life. Life keeps getting more interesting the more I become involved in living. There have been joyous times (when I realized that I was going to make it into 1960 in my present state of bachelorhood)and sad times (when it has looked like this might be a permanent situation). But my “friendly” personality (some call it flirting) keeps getting me in dangerous situations.  Enough of that. I just wanted you all to know that I am still single!

I started the year as the pastor of the Wapella Methodist Church. At conference time in June I accepted the charge for three months when I would then quit and go to seminary. Arrangements for a successor were made by August lst, but by this time I had accepted the job of Minister of Youth at St. James Methodist Church in Danville, Illinois. Danville and seminary at Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois, has kept me very busy this fall.

Back to last summer – I served the Dewitt church for the month of July, as I became a circuit rider. They became one charge when I left. For that month I gave Dewitt the “Best of Shaffer” and Wapella got some “unique deliveries” which could only have been preached there. (In fact it could be argued that they should not have been preached.) The basis of my best sermon was II Timothy 2:14-18, 23-26, but I forgot to apply verse 25 to myself. (Revised Standard Version) It was the most effective sermon I have ever preached, to say the most (we will not bother with the least).

I helped in two camping sessions last summer. During the second camp my cabin was near the top of “the” hill and by Thursday they (my 7th and 8th graders) had worn me out and I rested most of the day.

Speaking of health, I have only missed one day of school is the last 11 years. I feel very grateful for this. I do not know how the teachers felt about it.

I graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a B.A. degree in philosophy June 7th. I was elected to Phi Kappa Phi honorary scholastic fraternity.

I attended the National Convocation of Methodist Youth at Purdue University in August. This was an experience of spiritual growth for me. With this and my seminary experiences I feel that I have grown in many ways this year in my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I disagree with the notion that one becomes a Christian once and for all time and then that is all there is to it. Growth must continually take place.

By the end of the year I will have preached at St. James 3 times since coming here. The membership is close to 3,000. I have not preached to near that many, but it has been a wonderful experience. One of my chuckles was on the bulletin board announcing my second sermon: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” JOHN SHAFFER. I did take it personally.

Two ordained ministers are on the staff here. Dr. Paul Curry is the Directing Minister and Rev. Leonard Sutton is Minister of Membership. They are both dedicated men and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with them and learn from them. The first Sunday I was here Dr. Curry was out of town and Rev. Sutton was in an accident, so I took over the role of head minister for a day. I got to deliver the rosebuds to new born babies, which I enjoyed very much, and I got to help count the morning offering.

I could write a book (a short one perhaps) on my experiences with the youth here. The potential is overwhelming. I work primarily with the evening groups on Sunday, so far. I recently recruited 14 sets of parents willing to assist me with the intermediates, so coordinating this help will be a test of my abilities as a leader. 30 to 40 intermediates attend the meetings out of an 80 potential. Two college students have been helping me. In the Senior Dept., I have around 150 potential. 30 in the evening is good for them. 60-70 come on Sunday morning and there are 50 in the choir. It has grown in the past three months but I find it hard to become satisfied with the remainder elsewhere.

My family is in good health. Dad can still outwork any of us boys (4 of us) but he should not. Mother is taking care of my grandmother. This limits their activities. I was on radio in August with a sermon and I was pleased that they were able to listen. Wayne and Esther increased the family by one with a baby boy on June lst with the fine name of Eric John. That makes 8 nieces and nephews for me. 3 girls and 5 boys. (ended with 5 girls and 6 boys)

I ride the train to school every week. I stay at Shaffer Hall (Dorm 700) at Garrett on Lake Michigan. Garrett is part of Northwestern University. The lake is beautiful and always different. I spend part of each day on its shores.

One thing that I hope I am learning is to accept people for what they are instead of trying to make them be what I want them to be. I saw the first glimpse of this for myself when I worked in Detroit in 1957 and spent some time on Skid Row. The mistakes I have made in my ministry so far can often be traced to my inability to do this. Sometimes it is very hard to do. In my ministry, I associate with drunks, the indifferent, the self-righteous and the ignorant or stupid-type people. But Christ has reached through this and much more to bring persons to Him. I pray that I may be accepting and understanding of others.


I have gone to school all year for the first time (and the last, I hope) in my life. Summer school on the shore of Lake Michigan was enjoyable, although I did not spend as much time on the beach as I would have liked. I was there (on the beach) long enough to pick up a good burn. I have attended Garrett now for five quarters. I am hoping (that is the wrong word) to take comprehensive exams in the fall of 1961. For those who do not know, comps are defined as three professors asking me questions for one hour about the material that I am suppose to have mastered. They seek to discover areas of weakness, in order to guide me in future study.

I started out the year last January by going to the hospital in Evanston to have seven stitches added to my head after I fell out of bed in the morning. No explanation, please!

During spring vacation I went to Washington, D.C. and New York with a class from Garrett. Highlighted by visits to Congress (where two men were carrying on a discussion on the Senate floor which sounded very political and unprofound – they were the only ones there), tours of many of the historical spots (do not walk down the Washington Monument), a trip to Greenwich Village (unofficial), a night at Radio City Music Hall (the Rockettes have good rhythm), and interviews with officials too numerous to mention, except for one: Eleanor Roosevelt. We did not get to see Ike, Jack or Dick.

I assisted Dr. Curry in my first wedding last August. The youth work has occupied most of my time. We had a fairly good planning retreat last fall with the Seniors in spite of fire crackers, initiations and other ingenius ideas. I still love them all, although some of them might argue this point. This next spring twelve of us are going to Chicago on a M.Y.F. (Methodist Youth Fellowship) Work Camp in the intercity.

I became a Deacon in the Methodist Church last June. I have preached seven times here at St. James this year. The one we will remember (not really) was the time the youth minister put on a red choir robe and preached on the subject “If I Were the Devil!” as he outlines his plan to destroy the church. I preached or spoke within the Danville area a total of twelve times. I slept with the Boy Scouts one night at the State Park. I recalled what it is like to speak to small groups when I preached to twelve persons at a small country church. Wapella still holds the record at five though. I like to preach, so the size does not concern me anymore. I am feeling more at ease in the pulpit here at St. James now. (The first time I preached there I was so nervous that my moving feet unplugged the P.A. system.)

My parents are in fine health. They have been over to Danville to visit twice this fall and I make it over to Ludlow occasionally. I went roller skating three times last summer, so I have a new sport now. I also took up golfing. Anything for laughs, just ask my ex-partners. I broke 100 on nine holes. I am on our church basketball team this winter – undefeated in three games. I am not as young as I used to be.

1961  Danville and Alaska

There is no record of a Christmas letter, but this was an important year for me.

The leadership in Alaska arranged for me to be the Summer Furlough Replacement on the Moose Pass Circuit for the summer months. I lived at Moose Pass, preaching there on Sunday, at Girdwood on Monday, at Cooper Landing on Tuesday and Hope on Wednesday.  I spent two weeks at Birchwood Camp. The first week I was a counselor and the second week I was a dean.

On October 13th, I met Barbara Dadd Shaffer at breakfast and later in the day I passed my comprehensives. On our first date, I showed  her slides of my experience in Alaska.

1962  Danville and Kenai, Alaska

Barbara and I were engaged in February and married on June 16th in the chapel at Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois. During one short period of time, I was ordained as an elder, Barbara was ordained as a deacon, I graduated from seminary, we were married and both of us were commissioned as home missionaries and departed for Alaska. The Mission Board had us pick up a new car in Wisconsin (Rambler) and we drove it to Seattle. In a sense, the Mission Board paid for our honeymoon. Thank you very much. They would not let us drive it up the Alcan Highway, thinking it would be too rough on the car. We complied.


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