It is a bit self-serving to share positive things that have been written about us, but hey, this is my blog, so I can put what I want here.

From time to time, I have saved unsolicited compliments. Two that come to mind and will be included (if I can find them) came from youth who gave me a difficult time when I was their pastor and their sense of regret, while real, was larger than they needed to make them.

Youth #1 from St. James UMC, Danville, Illinois  (female)   “I showed very little respect for you and what you had to say.  I was a thoughtless child who cared nothing about anyone except myself…”  (then she shared about her spiritual growth through camping experiences.)

Youth #2 from the UMC of Sitka, Alaska (male)  He had moved away and was reflecting on his life experiences:  “I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to any of the Methodist pastors down here. That is why I’m writing to you. You were never an unapproachble pastor, but more of a friend.  I really wish I had come to church to listen instead of screw around with (unnamed here) in the back.”  Story by me:  One Sunday this youth and the unnamed one were sitting in the back row, talking vigorously while I was preaching.  I just stopped and looked at them.  Eventually they realized what I was doing and they stopped.  I don’t remember if I said anything, like “may I continue?” but few knew what was going on.  It did “cure” them for awhile.

Here are some comments that give me more credit than I deserve, but then I didn’t write them.

Sitka Layperson whose family gave me my greatest contact with humpback whales in Sitka Sound. Up close and personal. He turned off his boat motor and we sat in the midst of several whales for several minutes. Awesome.

Dated: August 1, 2002 from Ray, Aporn, Richard and Robert Stein (Seven years after I was their pastor.)

“You are one of the straightest and most decent people I’ve ever met and you’ve had a measurable impact on my life, speech, demeanor to students and family, personal attitudes and more. We all send our very best regards to you and Barbara.”


My Life Story – Remarks Prepared For and Shared At RUMMS (Retired United Methodist Ministers and Spouses) April 29, 2011

Life is so interesting. One of my retirement “passions” is reading. Very eclectic to say the least. I lucked into a video on “Anne of Green Gables” and became interested in her story.

Then I read the sequel “Anne of Avonlea” and this is what I read on page 125. (Anne is speaking with 3 other women who are on a picnic. All are approximately age 17. Anne is the local schoolteacher. I trust you read these books long ago, but I waited until retirement to do so.)   Note: in 2019 we visited Prince Edward Island and saw the area that inspired the author.  When I showed great enthusiasm at seeing where Anne “lived”, someone gently said:  “You do know that she is a work of fiction, don’t you?”  Darn reality.

“…The real poem is the soul within them, and that beautiful bit is the soul of an unwritten poem. It is not every day one sees a soul – even of a poem.”

“I wonder what a soul – a persons’ soul – would look like,” said Priscilla dreamily.

“Like that, I should think,” answered Anne, pointing to a radiance of sifted sunlight streaming through a birch tree. Only with shape and features, of course. I like to fancy souls as being made of light. And some are all shot through with rosy stains and quivers, and some have a soft glitter like moonlight on the sea, and some are pale and transparent like mist at dawn.”

“I read somewhere once that souls were like flowers,” said Priscilla.

“Then your soul is a golden narcissus,” said Anne, “and Diana’s is like a red, red rose. Jane’s is an apple blossom, pink and wholesome and sweet.”

“And your own is a white violet, with purple streaks in its heart,” finished Priscilla.

Jane whispered to Diana that she really could not understand what they were talking about. Could she?   (end of quote)

Life is interesting. And now I have something with which to answer this question about what a soul would look like. It almost preaches. My mother’s soul is a large, white, white rose.

(Added later: I have no clue as to what my soul would look like. I dabble in raising dahlias, but there is such variety (thousands) that it would be hard to pick one. Perhaps I am a bit like Jane: “I don’t understand what they are talking about!”)

You asked me to tell of my life story and how my faith was formed or informed. Here is the picture I selected to put on the cover of my mother’s life story. She was a wonderful person and she was responsible for helping me in my spiritual formation. She was a person filled with tenderness, compassion for others and curiosity. My father was also responsible for some of my life formation. He was not as wonderful as my mother, but he was a person with a lot of personal integrity and courage. I observed this as he acted within the community where we lived. But he was also hardheaded.

One of the formatives stories surrounded the issue of selling liquor in our town. At some point the pro-liquor folks attacked the home of the pastor by throwing dirt on his front porch. My father got involved, even though we did not live in the town itself. He had a conversation with the pro-liquor folks and when it came time to vote, even those who sponsored the liquor option vote, voted against it. I don’t know what my father said to them, but I think it could be described as “putting the fear of God in them”. I am sure words such as “bringing charges against them for illegal activity” may have been included.

As far as my mother was concerned, I remember a pastor who could not engage in small talk with the members of the church. Perhaps it was shyness. I don’t know the problem. but it was causing problems. Now some people would just work to get another pastor, but not my mother. She invited the pastor for afternoon refreshment several times and without his realizing what was happening, she gave him some practice in small talk. Not giving my mother complete credit, instead of finding another profession, he went on to be a very successful pastor, if becoming a District Superintendent is a sign of success.

So these two characteristics: compassion and personal courage were mixed up in my journey of spiritual formation. They were both useful in the ministry. I could be a very good pastor for people who were hurting, but I could also be difficult for those who wished to keep me silent on a wide variety of issues.

During my earliest years in ministry, I was mentored by pastors at summer camp, teachers in college (Hessert) and seminary, as well as colleagues in ministry. (Leonard Sutton)

My spiritual life was formed in my home and in a very small Methodist Church in Central Illinois. There was a vital youth group with an average attendance of five persons. At an appropriate age, I came to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ at the altar of that same church. I was allowed to serve on the Official Board of the church, so I learned a lot about how the church operates and I still became a minister.

Through Christian camping, I became active in District and Conference programs, attending an United Methodist school known as Illinois Wesleyan University. My image of education was to be deeply involved in the culture of my college and seminary, but it was not to be. In my Junior year of college, I accepted a call to be the Associate Pastor in one of the most difficult appointments in the Central Illinois Conference, working on portions of 3 days a week. Serving a church while attending school continued for five years in two different appointments. It consumed my time and energy on weekends and I missed all of the weekend culture to be found in the college community and in the seminary setting near Chicago.

When I was appointed as the pastor at Wapella as a college senior, one pastor put his arm around me and said: “Don’t worry about blowing it in this appointment, John, as the only way for you to go in this conference is up.” He was implying that I was starting at the bottom. This church celebrated its centennial on my watch. My research revealed that it had had 55 pastors in 100 years. Prior to me, a non-Methodist pastor (who happened to be a Baptist) had preached against Methodism and convinced a majority of the members that Methodism was a communist organization. They voted to leave the denomination. The superintendent allowed them to vote on the motion and then asked for the keys to the building. When the folks realized they couldn’t take the building with them, they were smart enough to move “reconsideration of the previous motion” and stayed in the denomination, but they were not happy. That was my first appointment in Methodism. The church went from 85 members to 60 in my year as pastor with an attendance of 50 persons. Fifteen people who had been participating in other churches were helped to actually transfer their membership to the church they were attending. I saw that as helping them, as well as helping the local church.

At that point in our history, one of my duties was to report to the superintendent the number of calls or contacts I made in the parish. I meekly complied. The total was 900. It was the second highest in my district, only topped by the largest church which had 3,000 members. Ironically, my second appointment was Minister to the Youth at that same large church in Danville, Illinois. I will never know if there was a connection. I worked there with 100 active youth. Occasionally I preached to 600 persons.

Then two traumatic things happened in my journey. I felt a call to missionary service and I fell in love. Barbara and I went together to Alaska in 1962 for three years. Thirty-three years later we left Alaska in 1995 for two appointment in the PNW conference: Spokane:Manito and Stanwood. I retired in 2008.

Alaska provided to be both interesting and stimulating. We started in a parish that was 100 miles long and not very many miles wide, serving three churches. It was there that a pattern developed. I was an effective pastor, so I keep getting appointments. But I was also engaged in controversial social justice ministries. In my first parish, I was blamed or credited with closing down an illegal gambling operation in the area, called Soldotna Progress Days. In anger the leadership of the event closed down the fair, publicly blaming me, because I had exposed their illegal gambling operation to the authorities in the State of Alaska by writing a letter of inquiry. In what became a pattern, state officials would reluctantly follow the laws of the State of Alaska. Look what has happened since I left the State of Alaska. Following the law appears to have gone out of fashion there, based on the number of legislators who have been sent to prison recently. But I digress.

While in my first parish, I served on a hospital board of directors that was so hot politically that the Mayor of my town (Kenai) had resigned from serving to save his political hide. I took his place. Now the process of appointment making is somewhat private, even today. I moved to another church a short time after this. I do not know if there was a connection and all members of the cabinet are deceased, so we will never know. However, in my defense, the usual pattern then was a three-year appointment.

While traveling in South America recently, I got in touch with a pattern to my ministry. Good pastoral care and involvement in tough political issues. At the next church, I became an expert on The John Birch Society. Most of you have heard of this group. Think Tea Party in work clothes! It is fascinating that the money for The John Birch Society and the Tea Party comes from the same family. I also ran as a candidate for the State House of Representatives as a Republican Candidate. Just for the record, I lost the election and I have now become a born-again Democrat, according to former Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, a member of Stanwood United Methodist Church.

The Bishop observed my political activities and appointed me to be the pastor in the State Capital of Juneau, Alaska. In my spare time (my day off), I served as a volunteer lobbyist with the state legislature, working on issues for children and prison inmates, persons for whom no one was paid to lobby. I developed a slight reputation. People would come to me to ask for help. I helped increase the amount of money spent on alcohol abuse problems, plus I became the expert on the issue of abortion reform. Alaska passed a liberal abortion law prior to Roe-Wade and I can take some credit/blame for that.

The road got rockier for me. I was a player in ecumenical affairs statewide. In spite of the breakdown in relationship with some Roman Catholics over the abortion issue, I became President of the Alaska Christian Conference of Churches.

I became the pastor in Nome, Alaska and spent four years as a very wonderful, caring pastor. Then my social justice genes kicked in and with the support of my wife, who was then serving on the Nome Common Council, I tackled the issue of alcohol abuse. All hell broke loose. It started after I conducted a wonderful funeral for a twenty-year-old church participant who had had an argument with her boyfriend and in an intoxicated state she went walking in the tundra without proper clothing. I told Barbara I could do wonderful funeral services for years, but I didn’t want to leave Nome without saying a negative word about the dominant drinking culture that existed there. She gave her consent and the rest became history. (Other blog threads will deal with Nome in depth.)

It is somewhat awkward to tell my story in front of Jack Tuell and Ed Stanton, as they both played a role in my ministry. They can tell their own story and they will and they have.

The appointment process in Alaska changed when I went to Nome. Prior to that time (1974) the Bishop and/or Cabinet just decided and informed the church and pastor what would be happening with the appointments. After that date, there had to be an introduction interviews with the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee and then the appointment would be made (fixed?). Perhaps it would be informative to share how that process went for me at Nome.

When I was flown to Nome for that interview, one person attended the meeting and she was not active in other church activities, like worship. In a normal world, the message about lay involvement would have been clear, but I wanted to stay in Alaska, so I didn’t listen to the message and accepted the appointment in 1974.

You might as well know that Bishop Tuell offered to appoint me to First United Methodist Church in Fairbanks in 1980, but the committee refused to meet with me, with the chair rejecting me based solely on my reputation. I don’t think church leaders are cruel or mean persons, but instead of appointing me to Fairbanks, they appointed the late Richard Heacock as the pastor to Fairbanks. I laughed for two solid days when I learned of that appointment. Talk about poetic justice. Richard Heacock was more radical than me, to say the least. Sadly the church divided, but I was spared that trauma or blame.

When I went to East Anchorage the next year (1981) for that interview, the first question was: “What happened in Nome” So I told them and for the first and only time in my ministry, when I was finished, the committee broke into spontaneous applause. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

In my next appointment (after Nome), I decided to operate in a different way and it worked. For seven year I kept clean. No major public involvements on social issues. No newspaper headlines. I became deeply loved in my local church and community. I supervised a Retreat Center 90 miles from Anchorage. My members thought I was doing church work when I spent a day at the Hope Retreat Center. It was a major shift in my social justice involvements publicly. When the first opportunity came for me to be involved, I gave the instigator $1,000 and told him to make the headlines in the newspaper. It worked. We won the cause and I didn’t get the credit or the blame.

To complete the Alaskan cycle, when I went for the interview in Sitka, Alaska, I started with them (theologically) at the point where I was in leaving East Anchorage. At East Anchorage I was focusing on the inclusive love of God so strongly that one lay person came up to me after a sermon and said: “John, we all agree with you. Why don’t you move on to another subject?” My honesty in the interview at Sitka made the committee think about it overnight. They decided hearing something new and different would be good for them, so those who were hearing something new from me decided to accept me as their pastor. God and the cabinet had saved the best for last in Alaska. Sitka was a wonderful experience for us. We could have stayed there forever, but something inside of me thought it wouldn’t be good for them or me to be there forever, so I was able to transfer to the Pacific Northwest Conference and get an appointment in Spokane.

During my ministry, I divide my work in two sections: 1961-1981 (twenty years of social activism) and 1980-2008 (twenty-eight years of being much more cautious). Even with the concept of guaranteed appointments, I was not paranoid, as there were people “out to get me”. I had better relationships with some people who disagreed with me on my public and private stands on a variety of issues because I didn’t beat people up from the pulpit on a regular basis, just occasionally. People actually came to believe that I respected their opinions, even if they were different from my own…with some exceptions.

What created the difference in my style? I was asked to serve as a pastor for one month in Hana, Hawaii, in March of1981. It started whole new direction for my ministry. It actually helped me to become more honest in my preaching. I started telling theological truth from the pulpit, bringing the best of what I know about biblical and theological scholarship. Five sermons at Hana. (Inclusive gospel, science and religion) The best summary of that experience was an 80 year old woman who slowly came up to me at the door of the church, saying: “Young man, I want you to know that you just preached me back into the church.” Wow! I had waited a lifetime to hear some affirmation like that. Only time in 51 years to hear those words, but it gave me some hope that I was on to something new and powerful. Telling the truth.

I love to tell this next story. When I came to Spokane for the “interview”, I brought my guns with me for storage at the district parsonage. District Superintendent Ruth Mathis was wondering about me at this point. She had told the local church before the required interview that I was OLD and they were shocked to see some one who was still active and vital. I was excited to learn later that Ruth Mathis and I were exactly the same age and I never let her forget it. OLD indeed!

For the most part, staying out of the public eye (newspapers) was my method of operation in my last four appointments. With the exception of getting major (front page) newspaper coverage for a speech on homosexuality near the end of my five years in Spokane, it was a new way of operating. I had learned my lesson.

In some ways I was and am angry about the change in my life in 1981. Several friends gathered to wish me well as I departed from Anchorage to Sitka in 1988. One of them, the late Tom Dahl, inquired about the change he had seen in me and the reality that I had become a popular person. Yes, said I, it is easy to be popular as a minister. Just focus on doing nothing that rocks the boat and you, too, can become popular.

But, less you think I completely caved in, I managed to offend a few people in my old age. When I discovered that the Spokane River was so polluted that pregnant women were advised to stay out of the river, I managed to comment on this reality, only to discover that the lawyer for the polluting industries was a member of my congregation. He refused to listen to me preach ever again and tried to work against me behind the scenes.

At Stanwood, my insistence on using the word “inclusive” alienated one man who was willing to help finance James Dobson’s ministry known as “Focus on the Family”. I soon discovered that several church leaders, including the lay leader, hated the United Methodist Church as a denomination. When they were removed from leadership, they decided to serve God in the Free Methodist Church. I have gotten a great deal of satisfaction in informing people that in my last year of ministry, before I was forced to retire because of the age requirement, 40 persons joined the Stanwood United Methodist Church, with 24 of them joining by Profession of Faith. It was a great way to end my full-time professional ministry.

(The following story was not included in the speech, due to time constraints, but I have chosen to include it here.)

Riley Case is a former District Superintendent in the State of Indiana who writes a lot for the Confession Movement in the United Methodist Church. (A small lobbying group made up of clergy and laity. In my opinion, some of the clergy are frustrated because they couldn’t get elected Bishop and the laity are frustrated because they can not dominate the church.) I have chosen to jab him from time to time as he pontificates that all of the problems in United Methodism are caused by liberals.

He wrote that “progressive Christianity” has never won a following for Jesus. He was commenting on Rob Bell’s new book on hell and he took this opportunity to be critical of United Methodist bishops and pastors who didn’t have his view on hell.

I have chastised him for his generalizations, as this progressive United Methodist pastor (me) received 40 new members in his last year of ministry, with 24 of them being by Profession of Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In response to his last diatribe I wrote to him. “You keep saying this even after I told you that this progressive United Methodist pastor received 40 members in my last year of ministry, a majority by Profession of Faith. Shame on you.”

I continued to write to him:

“I have preached several sermons on ‘hell’ and a vast majority of my members were appreciative of my position. I actually like what one Catholic leader said several years ago: ‘THERE IS A HELL and it is empty.'”

“I just got back from a trip to South America and that was hot enough for me.

“The modern idea of hell dates back to Dante’s inferno. Shows what a powerful work of fiction can accomplish. Saw a depiction of hell in a church in Ecuador. Our guide said that it gave her nightmares as a child, but she is still a faithful Catholic. One poor fellow had his body pierced with seven spears and his tormentor (the inquisition even made it to South America – let’s hope it never makes it to United Methodism) was ready to pour some boiling oil down the man’s throat. They left no stone unturned.

“I must confess that ‘grace’ trumps ‘hell’ in my theology.”

(That was the end of my jab for Riley Case. He was kind enough to respond to this note, though I have not heard from him very often lately.)

“John: Thanks for the response to the Happenings article on hell. I am always willing to consider what you have to say. Most of the response to my stuff is from friendlies and it is not nearly as interesting as the stuff I get from folk like you. I probably am not as rigid on hell as it may seem. I have a lot of questions. If we find out in the end that God saves all, well and good. I will accept that. However, I would rather be wrong about preaching hell when it doesn’t exist than to be wrong about preaching there is no hell when it does exist. Then I would have some answering to do.” (Riley Case)                 -The End of that Correspondence. Back to the Speech.

In retirement, I am doing a lot of volunteer work, centered on a term as Conference Secretary and a position called “Minister to the Retirees”. In addition to this, Barbara and I travel “at the drop of a ticket”. I am trying to read more books and magazines, do some serious gardening and drive people to medical appointments through various agencies, including Catholic Community Services in Everett. (that has ended now) Some of you are aware of Barbara’s work with the Bishop’s Task Force for Hope for the Children of Africa, which supports two orphanages in the Southern Congo. Life is good, as well as interesting.

So we continue. I have long maintained that during the time of retirement that we may do our most effective work through contacting decision makers in our society and letting them know what we think they should do. One thing for sure, I no longer have to deal with the people who pay my salary when I do so.

(Postscript:  This is an added thought. When I was in Nome, doing my best, hardest and most difficult work of my ministry, I also helped start and then served a Presbyterian Church as a Stated Supply. As we jumped through the hoops required with the Presbytery of the Yukon, the Lead Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage came to Nome and I asked him if he worked three times harder than I did.  He was getting three times the inflated salary I was getting in Nome even with a twenty per-cent cost of living adjustment. I sensed he agreed that he wasn’t working three times harder than me. Which leads me to my point: if United Methodist pastors were all paid equal salaries and received the funds directly from the regional entity, a pastor would not have to worry as much about “biting the hand that feeds him”, as far as social positions and activity is concerned. From the very first church in Kenai, Alaska, it was hard to challenge the stewardship level of those individuals who also “set my salary”. Pastors with “inflated salaries” control much of United Methodism in the United States, so I doubt if it changes, but what I am advocating exists in Great Britain. Perhaps, as our denomination gets smaller, there will be more efforts to create equality in compensation. In my example I was getting approximately $20,000 in Nome and the Anchorage pastor was getting $60,000. When I started in Wapella, I was getting $960, then in Danville I received $3,000 and when I graduated from seminary, I received $5,000. When I retired, compensation was close to $40,000.


Schism in the United Methodist Church

Reflections on and critique of Lyle Schaller’s article in the September/October 1998 issue of The Circuit Rider “Is Schism the Next Step?”  (My basic reaction written in 1998; revised in 2015)

Lyle Schaller asserts, rather forcefully, that the highly centralized polity of this denomination is built on a high level of distrust of local leadership. After reading his article, I respectfully disagree.

The polity of this denomination is built on several things: episcopal system of leadership; the Annual Conference as a central decision making unit; and the local church as an integral part of the Annual Conference.

While there is distrust in many locations, based on personalities and such, I think it is unfair and inaccurate to assert that the system is “built” on that distrust.

As to whether or not schism is in our future, we certainly see schism in our past over a variety of issues:  Pew Rent (Free Methodist Church); Ministry to the Poor (The Salvation Army); Theological Issues (Wesleyan Methodist and The Church of the Nazarene); Slavery (too many to mention, but one is the African Methodist Episcopal Church).

Nothing we are facing now is as important as the slavery issue was. Unless you were there, I doubt if many would be exercised over the issue of pew rent.

Christianity has often been polarized about issues. The very first battle was over the issue of Gentiles: should they become Jews before becoming Christians. That was settled and the church stayed together.

The issues that Schaller identifies are issues upon which sincere Christians have different opinions, but are they enough to justify schism or division? We might as well divide over whether or not the carpet in the sanctuary has tints of red or green, another subject about which people in my local churches had differences of opinion at one time or another.

People argue about the location of announcements in worship: beginning, middle, end or NOT AT ALL. To follow Schaller’s thinking to the ridiculous, we could have the Methodists who believe in announcements and those who don’t. “The Unannounced Methodists” and the “Announced Methodists” and the “Overannounced Methodists.”  (Smile)

Schaller identified the following areas of conflict: Christology, Music, Polity, Biblical interpretation, Apportionments, Multiculturalism, The source of authority, Worship, Evangelism, Ministerial placement, Conference priorities, Theological education and Homosexuality.

The United Methodist Church is not necessarily less attractive today. There are just more options from which one can easily choose, including non-participation. Churches designed to appeal to the various “generations” have been identified in recent years and some are thriving.

Schaller makes little to no mention of the reality that people leave for reasons other than polarization. As I examine the situation in churches I have served, most people leave for other reasons. The reasons vary so much as to require a long list, which might be exhausting, but not exhaustive.

Lyle E. Schaller listed six responses: denial, operational, seeking “common ground”; encourage unhappy people to leave; schism and changing the agenda to focus on evangelism and mission.

His analysis of what is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention over looks the blatant power politics that have effectively suppressed any meaningful dissent.

While there are local churches (we know of two: one United Methodists and one Southern Baptist) that have succeeded in obtaining a big enough majority to leave the denomination and while there are churches under the control of one strong personality or family or clan which would allow withdrawal to succeed, it would be my experience that the majority are not interested in playing that game.

Going back to my original motivation for writing this critique, Mr. Schaller appears to have a strong bias against several things: pluralism, our polity and a premise which I do not accept and he provides no evidence for in this article: “that there is a strong distrust of local (church) leadership”. In my experience, after attending more than 40 local church conferences, even in a church that tried to become Baptist, District Superintendents are very affirming of local church leadership. Consultation was and is alive and well in our system.

Whatever happens, perhaps Lyle E. Schaller, with tongue firmly in cheek, is doing what he does best – trying to stimulate some thinking. If so, I hope it goes in a different direction than he is proposing. It did get him some free press.

Perhaps I need to dust off my own proposal, which The Circuit Rider refused to publish a few years ago. My proposal was to dissolve the United Methodist Church completely, allowing our membership to transfer to other denominations. If done intentionally, we could take over the leadership of several denominations within one year, with the exception of The Southern Baptist Convention. Whether liberal or conservative, we could tip the balance of power in several different denominations, which are also committed to pluralism in one form or another.

Those United Methodists who believe in predestination could become Presbyterians and take over several Presbyterian denominations.

Those United Methodists who believe in speaking in tongues could take over several Pentecostal groups.

Those “high church” United Methodists who appreciate liturgy would have no trouble in taking over the Episcopal Church.

However those who affirm ‘believer Baptism’ would not be strong enough to take over the Southern Baptist Church, but Southern Baptists are so convinced of the truth of their positions that some United Methodists would be quite happy under their roof.

Those United Methodists who believe in service to the poor, while few in number, could take over The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is interest in being a church and they would welcome the fresh recruits for their army.

I know I am leaving out some sub-groups, but before I distribute these ideas very widely, I could dust off my more complete proposal.  (Actually, I don’t know where those are right now.)  written October 9, 1998

(Postscript:  While it is impossible to apologize to Dr. Schaller, he may have been more correct than I thought 17 years ago. When I retired, my wife and I visited 45 different churches. We stayed in the same community where I had been the pastor for eight years and the cabinet asked me to worship elsewhere for one year. We complied with that request. Upon more than one occasion my wife and I commented on the good quality of our experiences, especially in the area of preaching. Some conference leaders communicated disbelief in this possibility. That would be a sign of distrust of clergy leadership.)

In spite of the small minority still pushing for schism, I continue to believe it is a very, very bad idea.



We just returned from spending several days in Iceland.

Why Iceland?  We had stayed there for a couple of days in Reykjavik on a previous trip and wanted to see more of it. Now we have been there twice and still have not soaked in The Blue Lagoon, so we may go again someday.

We traveled with a company called gjtravel  (Gudmundur Jonasson Travel) and were pleased with the experience.  It was called the Grand Tour of Iceland and included the Golden Circle, the Ring Road and the West Fjords area.  Names were very difficult for us, but I will type them in this summary, just to be accurate.  Don’t ask me to pronounce the names.

We went a day early to deal with jet lag and did a few things in Reykjavik prior to the formal tour. We hit some rainy weather and found traveling by taxi was much dryer than walking in the rain without umbrellas.  We did the National Museum of Iceland (near the campus of the University of Iceland), the Saga Museum and a new display of life-sized whales that are found in Iceland, including the giant Blue Whale.  We wanted Barbara’s sister to experience the world famous hot dog and consuming that in a driving rain was not the best experience of the trip, but we did it anyway. Former President Clinton almost created a national incident when he asked for only two items on his hot dog instead of “the works”. Poor intelligence on the part of his handlers. We didn’t make that mistake. We also visited the concert hall with wonderful architecture. It is called the Harpa.

Every day we saw sheep, which are an important part of the economy: think Icelandic sweaters. We saw many Icelandic horses, even getting to pet one, not to mention cattle and chickens and a few dogs.

Agenda:  Day One was getting settled. There is a 45 minute transfer from the Keflavik airport to our Hotel Klettur.

Day Two: We did the Golden Circle tour that includes Gulfoss (with double falls), visited the active geothermal area of Geysir (where Strokkur rises 70 feet every five minutes or so) and finished the day at the ancient Viking Parliament area.  Along the way we saw evidence of fault lines. Before we ended the day we passed through a tunnel under a fjord to reach Borgarfjordur.

Day Three:  We explored the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and went into a Lava Cave made famous by Jules Verne’s science fiction novel about the journey to the center of the earth which goes about 35 meters underground.  We saw lots of lava fields that were formed eons ago. We overnighted in the Grundarfjordur area.

Day Four:  My personal highlight occurred at the westernmost point of Iceland. We got there by ferry and ended at the bird cliffs of Latrabjarg. What did we see?  Lots of birds, including puffins.  They had little fear of humans, so we got lots of close-ups of my favorite bird. The road was rather primitive, but we were blessed with a good driver, so neither of us were anxious.

Day Five:  We drove to the waterfall Dynjandi with its seven levels of plunging.  And we saw lots of beautiful scenery.

Day Six:  We were introduced to a rather authentic replica of the homestead of Erik the Red, the father of Leif-the-Lucky, who was the first European to set foot in North America. I would vote to replace Columbus Day with Eriksen Day. This was the day we were treated to a horse show. We some how ended the day in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city at about 18,000 people. An extra was a whale watching tour in the bay. We saw humpback whales. Our travel companions from Hawaii didn’t take that tour. Akureyri is a beautiful city. If we ever return to Iceland, I would like to spend more time there. We had to rush dinner, so we ate at Subway.

Day Seven: We saw Godafoss Falls, Lake Myvatn, walk in the lava field of Dimmuborgir, climbed to the rim of the ash crator Hverfjall, saw hot springs and bubbling mud pools of Namaskard and experienced geothermal fields. Our substitute for the Blue Lagoon was a good soak in the Myvatn Nature Baths.

Day Eight: We reached the east side of Iceland and experienced Dettifoss waterfall in the northern part of Vatnajokull National Park.  We drove into a remote area and got a view of Herdubreide, referred to as the queen of Icelandic mountains.  So many waterfalls! Fortunately, we have pictures to keep them straight in our minds. We drove to Borgarfjordur Eystri. We were introduced to some elf lore, went to a puffin colony, but only saw one puffin. Most had gone to sea for the winter. We stayed at Guesthouse Alfheimar.

Day Nine: We saw a magnificent (large) stone collection. Then we went to the biggest glacier in Europe, but we didn’t see it because of the weather. We spent a short time riding amongst floating glaciers on the glacier lagoon at Jokulsarion. The night was spent near Skaftafell on the southern part of Vatnajokull National Park. We saw glimpses of some wonderful mountains with glaciers peeking through.

Day Ten:  We were allowed to walk close to a glacial tongue. Then on to a black lava beach and bird cliffs near the village of Vik. (Footnote: a cave here has become famous because Russell Crowe was filmed in this cave for the movie Noah.) We went to the Eyjafjallajokull information center and learned about recent volcanic eruptions. And then we stopped at the Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls.  Walking behind one of the waterfalls was a wet experience, to say the least. Our farewell dinner was in a revolving restaurant known as The Pearl.

We traveled 1,572 miles in the 9 days. That is 2,535 kilometers. Some of the walking activities were too difficult for a couple of our members. After one fall, we were quick to suggest that those individuals not tackle some of our options. If you like dramatic scenery and waterfalls and the creative process, I would recommend the trip. Iceland loves to improve their economy. We had been told we didn’t need any local money. That was true. Our credit card worked everywhere, including the hot dog stand.

On the final day in Reykvajvik, Barbara and I visited The Einar Jonsson Museum (sculpture, paintings and drawings) which we would not have discovered without the help of our guide. And we were lucky to hit a “free day” and qualified to use their restrooms. The Lutheran cathedral does not allow visitors to use their restrooms. We were lucky to be able to listen to a visiting choir practice for their concert in the cathedral.

The Gospel According to Abbie Jane Wells

“The Gospel According to Abbie Jane Wells” Friends of Abbie Jane Wells in Juneau succeeded in getting some of her writings published.  Abbie Jane was a very unique person. She wrote out articles and some of her thoughts in long-hand and then sent them to some of her friends and correspondents.  At one point in time I had an apple box full of material she had written or copied and sent to me on a regular basis. She was not bashful about challenging the “powers and principalities” and she affirmed those with whom she agreed.  Perhaps the best way is to share some thoughts of those who wrote about her.

TRIBUTE by Virginia Breeze dated 3/28/91  “Remembering Abbie Jane Wells”

“In the evenings when all the rest of us were going to bed, Abbie Jane Wells would begin copying. Sitting at her kitchen table, she would gather her materials together – primarily articles and poems but also letters she had received from other people – and in longhand, using a red ballpoint pen (with carbons inserted between sheet of tablet paper so that she could produce more than one copy) she would write all night and into the morning. “When the mailman came she was ready with a bundle of envelopes. Every day she was ready with envelopes, for copying the comments of others who wrote about matters she herself found meaningful and thoughtful, and then passing this information along to people on her “list” was Abbie Jane’s vocation… “Daniel Berrigan was perhaps the most famous of Abbie Jane’s pen pals. The activist Catholic priest…became family to Abbie Jane…There were others, too… “In 1980 Daniel Berrigan spoke in Juneau, an event that became a highlight in Abbie Jane’s life because she was finally able to meet him and to exchange with him the thoughts and ideas they had shared on paper. He gave her a large silver cross and she wore it every single day thereafter. Causes that concerned him and involved him she took up afterward with increased passion….

(Personal note: I was a pastor in Nome at this time and sadly was not able to be in Juneau for this visit of Daniel Berrigan, but I did mention the event in the worship bulletin, just in case any of my members or attenders might be in Juneau on that day. Nome was 1,000 air miles from Juneau.  Just before the benediction, one of my members stood up and said that he was offended that this announcement was in the bulletin. He felt that Daniel Berrigan should be in prison.  (He often was.) When he was finished a young adult male stood up and said that he was offended by these negative comments. He affirmed that Daniel Berrigan was a personal hero to him and to many of his generation. I shared a benediction and one of the women in the church, who obviously loved conflict, said: “We ought to do this more often.”  We didn’t.)

“When Abbie Jane wasn’t copying the words of others, she wrote homilies, most often thoughts with spiritual overtones. They often began, “What if Jesus had…” and she’d go on to suggest in her own homespun style new conclusions to biblical stories. ..In 1985 these homilies became a hardback book called “The Gospel According to Abbie Jane Wells.”


One of my goals in finding retirement housing has been a good view.  We don’t spend much time on water, but enjoy seeing water from my favorite chair in front of the picture window in the living room.  I don’t want to climb mountains anymore, but both of us enjoy seeing them in their different shapes and moods.

When my wife and I were searching for a retirement area inside or outside of Alaska, we were drawn to places with good views.  After searching up and down the coast of Northwest America from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the sand dunes of the Oregon Coast, we finally focused on and purchased a home on Whidbey Island. It had great views of the shipping lanes into Seattle, as well as the backdrop of the Olympic mountains. The end of the story is that one time, while traveling from that home near Coupeville to Everett, I sat in a ferry line for three hours. I got a good book read, but I also decided to sell the house and live somewhere where I didn’t have to depend on ferries to travel to Seattle.

Now that we live in Stanwood, we still have traffic issues on Highway I-5, but have not yet sat three hours in backed up traffic.  One hour, but not three hours.  This is a matter of luck, because there have been even longer waits due to serious accidents. One has to plan ahead when traveling on the I-5 corridor.

We would have enjoyed a home with a view of Mt. Rainier or Mt. Baker, but we have enjoyed the Olympic mountains now for nearly ten years. Part of this obsession seems to relate to the fact that most of our Alaskan parsonages, while close to terrific views, rarely had such views from the living room windows. One exception would have been the Douglas parsonage, but we never lived there. But it did have a view. We were already comfortably settled in the Juneau parsonage. Perhaps, if I had known what was ahead, I would have urged us to reconsider our negative decision on living there. Too late now.

Side story:  We rented the Douglas parsonage and saved the rent money to upgrade the parsonage for our successors. It is okay that none of them ever thanked me. At the time, it was just added to the issues of disagreement with a portion of the leadership of the Douglas Church. When a renter complained that there was no heat for the second floor bedroom, I passed that word on to the trustees and all I remember is that some expressed anger, suggesting that either the renter or yours truly was lying.  “Why,” said one, “we have had several pastors live there with children and they never once complained.” So I embarked on a research project and checked with former pastors.  All of them agreed that it had been a problem, but obviously, none of them had complained. Perhaps, they knew better than to complain. I not only complained on behalf of the renters, I thought it was taken care of.  Having visited there recently, it probably need more work. Not my problem anymore.

Back to the general theme. Consistently, church leaders built parsonages as cheaply as possible and that doesn’t include view property. The one that bugged me the most was Sitka. Knock-out view and trees blocked it. A cooperative neighbor gave me permission to cut some branches and we got a peek-a-boo view of Mt. Edgecumbe from our living room window.

At Stanwood, the parsonage was built on the flood plane with zero view.  The neighborhood is now zoned as commercial. Selling it would have been very controversial, as some members who built it with their own hands would have been personally insulted. I tried to find a willing buyer at a high-end price, but there were no takers.

Now I think I will go to the living room of our current home and enjoy the view of the Olympics. When we move to a retirement home, we will again return to no mountain views.

And given my current views of the subject of life after death, there may be no views in my future.

We are now (2018) living in a retirement home in Auburn, WA. It is called Wesley: Lea Hill. We are one-half mile from a view of Mt. Rainier, but we have started a tradition of driving around the mountain once each summer. In 2018 we also stayed at the Paradise Inn on July 4th and missed (not at all) the fireworks of Auburn, both legal and illegal. We missed 2017 because of the smoke from forest fires in Canada and Washington.

2020 is the year of the coronovirus.  Time will tell if we are able to make our July 4-5 trip to Paradise Inn.  (Our reservations were cancelled in early May.) We did enjoy our 2019 trip, though we did learn that the sound barrier in the more inexpensive section left something to be desired if you are rooming next to a fussy child.  Or a happy one, for that matter.  We could hear both.



Hawaii has played a special role in our lives.  We have been there many times in many difference capacities.


We went to Alaska as Home Missionaries in 1962 and we were disenfranchised in the United Methodist Church, as far as the laity were concerned. Clergy were from “somewhere” and we could participate there.  However, we were granted voice, without vote in the Western Jurisdictional Conference. I found myself in the running for the clergy position in 1968.  When I found out the meeting would be in Honolulu, I embraced the possibility. I bribed the spouses, promising them flowers (lei) if they could get their husbands to vote for me. I was running neck and neck with a former superintendent and the person who recruited me for work in Alaska: Dr. Fred McGinnis. He was then President of Alaska Methodist University. I found out he would be going anyway, so that was another reason not to withdraw in his favor. One would never know, but I don’t think he was pleased to see me competing  against him for this position. Eventually, he withdrew in favor of Dr. Shaffer. The sarcasm seemed obviously to me. No sooner than I was elected, I found that I had a task. Advocating for Alaska to have its own bishop. I gave it my best shot and didn’t get a single vote. Part of the reason was that Bishop Gerald Kennedy ridiculed the idea from the chair. Later in life, I would have challenged him for his completely inappropriate behavior, but then I just took it in stride, complaining privately.  Later I learned that Bishop Kennedy summarized his four years of leadership in Alaska with the statement:  “It was cold in Alaska.”  I also learned that during his four years in Alaska, he presided over the Annual Meeting two times. That would have been good material to use in challenging him for his poor stewardship as a bishop of Alaska.

After the meeting, we took a tour with many other people under the leadership of Dr. Frank Butterworth, the superintendent of the Methodist work in Hawaii.  We dined in ethnic churches in Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.  It was a good introduction to Hawaii.

MELVIN AND MARIAN DADD and HILO on the Big Island of Hawaii

In retirement, Barbara’s parents spent time in Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island every winter. They had a standing offer with their children: you get yourself to Hilo and we will take care of your room and board. We took advantage of that several times, including February 19-28, 1985, when we also went to Kailua-Kona. Our favorite restaurant was Leung’s Chop Suey House in Hilo. The four of us could eat 3 entrees and give a generous tip for $20.00.  A couple of years ago Barbara and I returned and we could eat 2 entrees and give a generous tip for $20.  We also got to see the generations grow up and take over the business.

The Dadd’s also treated us to a helicopter trip over the lava flows and eruptions. Awesome.


When Barbara was the Special Assistant to the Governor of Alaska, her first supervisor was Lowell Thomas Jr.  He and Tay Thomas had a cabin at Hana. Western Airlines had a triangle fare. You could fly from the west coast to Alaska via Hawaii for $15 extra. Barbara arranged to stay in their cabin and she visited the local Congregational pastor in Hana, learning about their minister of the month program. Pastors could serve for one month with home and car provided. All the pastor had to do was pay the airline fare. I applied. The church said it would be a five year wait.  No problem.  There was an opening in March 1981 and they asked if I wanted to take it.  I did.  I was in my last year in Nome and I felt the need for a break before getting on with the rest of my life.

We were there for five weeks. I learned how to swim in a heated swimming pool at a nearby resort. And I tested some new techniques in preaching. When an 80 year old woman from California (staying at the resort across the street from the church) shook my hand at the door leaving church and said: “Young man, you just preached me back into the church.” I felt I was onto something and I never looked back.

One of our highlights was leaving a chicken wish bone on the guest room bed to dry. Soon I discovered millions of tiny ants marching down the cover, to the wall and then outside we could see them moving this food up a tree. Where it went from there I do not know. We removed the source of food and invited them to leave.

My responsibilities including preaching five Sundays, conducting a Thursday evening Bible Study and opening the church building every morning at 7 p.m. At one Bible Study, a centipede crawled into a woman’s sandal and was so distraught that it was the end of the Bible Study for her (and us). When we found cockroaches in our kitchen, the trustees suggested we leave for a day and the house was “treated”.  We were grateful.

Many people know that Charles Lindbergh decided to die in Hana. He is buried at Palapaia Ho’omau Church Cemetery in Kipahulu. (see more details later in this series of articles)  When it was my time to preach there, Anne Morrow Lindbergh let it be known that she would prefer the lay pastor, so we sat behind her and some members of her family.

One Sunday Lowell and Tay Thomas came to church with her father, Sam Pryor, former vice-president of Pan American airlines and a builder of airfields in North Africa during World War II. He had pet gibbons.  Occasionally they came to church with him, but that Sunday the gibbon had misbehaved, so he had to stay in the car. I will never know if my preaching would have impressed the gibbon or not. These gibbons are also buried (with tombstones) very close to where Charles Lindbergh is buried. Some locals were not pleased. Access to this cemetery is not easy. The traffic bothered these same locals and signage is lacking.

The church realized that the “Minister of the Month” program was not good for pastoral relationships and they were planning to call a pastor. We were slightly tempted to apply, though it would have meant a great reduction in compensation. When we decided we would not apply, Barbara attempted to give them a lesson in reality, but we don’t know if we succeeded. When we mentioned money for books, the representative of the church pointed out that the parsonage had a library.  Some library. It had six (or was it twelve?) copies of James Michener’s “Hawaii”.  They seemed to be more interested in a chaplain than in a pastor.  But they eventually struck pay dirt when they called Rev. Edith Wolfe as their pastor.

I was so impressed with her sermon summaries in the church newsletter that we arranged to visit Hana again in March of 1987, just to hear her preach. When we introduced ourselves to her, she requested that I preach, but when I explained why we were there, she did preach. Termites threatened the future of the church roof and she organized the raising of $400,000 to replace the roof and upgrade the building. Her ashes are buried in the grave yard at Hananalua Church in Hana. A remarkable woman in her own right.

We visited once more in 2012 in November to celebrate my 75th birthday. The grounds were upgraded and the church continues to make its witness in Hana, Maui, Hawaii. We stayed at Waianapanapa State Park. We enjoyed the food trucks that seem to be a feature of the town now.


The village of Hana is not far from the main airport on Maui, but the route is one of the more famous, for one has to travel up and down the coast around 450 curves and over 54 bridges. T-shirts proclaim “I survived the road to Hana”. Portions of it are just wide enough for two Volkswagons to pass comfortably. Otherwise, one has to pull over and stop or swerve at just the right time.

At the beginning of this century, the land around Hana was producing sugar cane, but supply costs made this difficult, so the area was purchased by one person and turned into a picturesque cattle ranch. Perhaps one of the more poignant stories involves the individual given the responsibility of killing the grass in the sugar cane fields. For years he supervised this task. Just prior to his retirement, his last duty as to plant grass for the cattle.

The local economy is not good, but the other basic industry is found at the Hana Maui, a luxury resort or as they describe it on a brochure: “Thoughtfully informal luxury in Old Hawaii.” They have avoided the high rise mentality of portions of the island and the surf swimming and viewing is among the best in the islands. One of the church members there gave us a pass to the hotel’s heated swimming pool, so that occupied a portion of each day.

One of our tourist trips took us to the top of 10,000 Hakealakia Crater, with lovely views down into the 3,000 foot deep crater. Last year they experience 40 inches of rain on portions of this Crater in three days, with resultant stoppage of travel in several areas.

Issues facing many of the islanders are similar to Alaska: land-use planning provides debates between those who wish more parks and those who are happy with what exists; native Hawaiians are struggling with issues of land claims, too; a growing crime rate in the larger cities is also a major concern.

Hawaii is a good place to relax and soak up some sun. No worry about freeze-ups, but there were plenty of little bugs to make food storage interesting. We learned that someone had imported mongooses to kill rats and both have flourished, for rats sleep all day and mongooses sleep all night – they have yet to meet one another. We didn’t meet any rats either, but there were plenty of mongooses around – pleasant animals that reminds me of ground squirrels.

Hawaii has lots of flowers and fresh fruit. We were there in their winter, so some fruits were out of season, but we enjoyed visiting a pineapple plantation and observing some of the activities in harvesting sugar cane.

The church we served for the month was built in 1938 – took 20 years of work with lava rock and coral. The size of the congregation was small, with lots of tourists at each service. All in all, a most pleasant experience.


The United Methodist Women Quadrennial Jurisdiction meeting was held in Honolulu in April of 2008 when Barbara was President of the Core Planning Group. I got to go with her when she did some of the needed negotiations with the hotel. We were treated to a $75 steak meal by the staff of the Sheridan Waikiki.

I also went for the meeting, climbing 763′ Diamond Head Crater for the first time and just enjoying the experience. Sadly, I had an allergic reaction to something and I had to stay out of the sun. But I got to see a giant green turtle from our suite. Swimmers were unaware of how close they were.


We were invited to Molokai to stay with friends in 2011.

We were treated to a free time share condo on Kauai, also in 2011 and again by friends. We included Barbara’s sister.

We will go to Hawaii “at the hint of a ticket” and recent trips have taken advantage of introductory offers on Alaska Airlines from Bellingham to new airports on the various islands.


We have gone to Hawaii twelve times.  As I said, we like Hawaii, though I would not want to live there.  Bugs are part of life and the weather is so predictable except when there are strong winds or tidal waves. They do occasionally experience hurricanes or tropical storms or cyclones. We prefer some changes in the length of the days as we experience them in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t think I want to be there in a storm.   Summary:  1968 (Western Jurisdiction Conference) to four islands; 1976 Barbara to Hana; 1978; 1981 at Hana; 1985 Hilo with Dadd’s; 1987 Hilo with Dadd’s and Hana; 1992  Last Dadd trip to Hilo; 2006 Oahu; 2008 Western Jurisdiction UMW on Oahu; 2011 Molokai; Hilo and Oahu; 2011 Kauai at a condo loaned to us by a friend (new route from Bellingham); 2012 John’s 75th birthday on Maui (new route from Bellingham;


We have been there twice, but have yet to visit the leper colony at Kalaupapa.  Our second trip was in 2011 with friends. We were planning to take the trip down the ridge on horses (mules), but the price discouraged us. Life there is very laid back, as advertised. The island provides an example of successful efforts at slowing down development. A very rich corporation wanted to do certain things to their property and the locals were successful in blocking them. In response, they shut down their entire operation (perhaps as a form of punishment). The locals did not feel punished, though I didn’t talk to anyone who lost employment.

LINDBERGH Connection

This connection is in Hana, Maui, Hawaii, located at the end of a road with 600 curves.

Years ago in a place far, far away, Barbara Dadd Shaffer held the position of Special Assistant to the Governor of the State of Alaska. One of her colleagues was the Lt. Gov. named Lowell Thomas Jr. he was married to Tay Pryor Thomas.

Her father, Sam Pryor, was Vice-President of Pan-Am Airlines during and after World War II. Charles Lindbergh was on the Board of Directors of Pam-Am. Sam Pryor purchased a large estate on Maui in Hawaii and he allowed Charles Lindbergh to purchase a portion of his estate for a vacation home.

When Lindbergh was dying he insisted on returning to Hana for his death and burial. He wanted to escape the glare of media attention during the dying process and after his death. he was buried in a small cemetery next to a rural Hawaiian Congregational Church.

Immediately after his death a small tourist industry was created by persons visiting that gravesite. One thousand people per day on an average, which pleased the service station owners, but not all of the locals, who felt their remote piece of paradise was being invaded.

Barbara learned two thing:

1. Lowell and Tay Thomas also had a vacation home near the Pryor Estate.

2. Western Airlines had a triangle fare from the West Coast to Alaska via Hawaii. This meant one could travel to Hawaii for approximately $30 over regular Alaska-West Coast fares.

So she was bold enough to ask Lowell if she could use his “cabin” for a vacation trip on one of her church business trips to the “Lower 48” as we affectionately call the rest of the country. The cabin was located in the middle of a cow pasture, which might be another story.

She visited with the pastor of the main Congregational Church (professional courtesy sort of thing) and learned that the pastors of this parish served one month at a time. They recruited pastors under a sort of “pastor of the month” plan and had been doing so for several years. When she returned to Nome and told me the details, I immediately applied for this opportunity. The committee leader discouraged me, saying they had a three-year waiting time. I responded that we liked to plan ahead, so please put us on the list. They did. A short time later they called to indicated that they had an opening for March of 1981 and we were able to go.

While there, we visited the cottage where Lindbergh lived while waiting to die. It was the guesthouse of one of the members. We had lunch with Sam Pryor and Tay and Lowell Thomas (they were there on vacation, too). And one Sunday afternoon, we worshipped at the rural church (a lay speaker was scheduled for the service that day at Palapala Ho’omau Congregational Church) and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and two of her children were in attendance. She was very gracious. We also visited the burial site nearby. The grave marker has the words of Psalm 139:9 “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.” Thus ends our Lindbergh connection.


Serving the Juneau United Methodist Church came about with the help of my predecessor, Thomas Dahl, who lobbied for my appointment. Tom stayed in the congregation for a brief period of time, serving as the Director of the Model Cities program. I was instrumental in “saving” the Youth Hostel program that was housed in the former parsonage and Christian Education building. When the State of Alaska took the property through a process of “imminent domain”, my workload was very, very heavy. There were many valid options: relocating and building a new building, merging with the Presbyterian Church or merging with a nearby United Methodist Church in Douglas. As I recall the vote to merge with the Presbyterians passed by a vote of 17-15. Common wisdom is that one should not allow such a vote to take place, but there was no other option, as we did lose the building and had to go somewhere.


In my ministerial journey in Alaska, I had served three years in the Kenai Parish and Bishop Grant had agreed to have me stay in Alaska. Anchor Park was open, but given the attitudes of that day, it was felt by both the Superintendent (Meredith Groves) and the Bishop (Alsie Raymond Grant) that going to Anchor Park would be too much of an promotion or increase for such a young pastor. So, in their wisdom, they moved a very popular pastor from Chugiak to Anchor Park and they moved me to Chugiak. Some of the people in Chugiak were very, very unhappy. They protested, but to no avail. When my appointment was read at the Annual Meeting, a lay person (O. W. “Bill” Lowe) who had fought to keep Leo, came bounding across Grant Auditorium and shaking his finger in my face he said: “I want you to know that we fought like hell to keep Leo…(I waited for the hammer to drop, shrinking in size) and we will fight like hell to keep you.”  My size restored to normal. One major advantage is that I was not only a personal friend of Leo’s, but I had been a player in the Birchwood Camp, so I was known. It helped. However, Leo was only moved 15 miles or so from Chugiak and when a crisis came up in one family, they called Leo instead of me. Leo drove out to Chugiak from Anchorage and we visited the family together and then Leo disappeared. To my knowledge, he was not called again. It helped that we were friends.

Leo and I often went on hunting trips together.  I don’t recall that we ever shot a moose, but we had some great relaxing times in the woods northwest of Palmer.

Going back to Bishop A. Raymond Grant, the common pattern in the 1960’s was for pastors to serve a three year term and then leave or return to the home conferences. I asked the Bishop if he wished for me to stay longer than three years and he did, hence my being available for appointment to Chugiak. He expressed some disappointment that more pastors did not stay, but it appeared to me that there was no discussion. Many pastors wanted to stay, but didn’t. I wanted to know, so I asked. Just a different way of operating, which, for the most part, served me well.

Shortly after getting settled in my new appointment, I met with some of the “men” of the church, which included Bill Stephens and Bill Lowe, and told them that I knew a significant amount of money was available to build a new sanctuary. I wanted their advice as to whether to make that a priority of my ministry or should we wait awhile. They said “full speed ahead” and that is what I did. With the help of strong laypersons like Harold Abrams and Stan Nickerson, the building process went smoothly. A contractor wanted to keep his crew together through a winter, so he gave us a very low bid. By and large, it was a wonderful experience. Harold Abrams was responsible for lots of construction at a nearby military base and he would stop by every evening on his way home and check out the process. When it came time to approve the architect’s color scheme for the sanctuary, we hit a rough spot. To save money, he had authorized rough beams (cheaper) and they were to be stained a light green to hid the imperfections and fit in with the total color scheme. Bill Lowe (remember him) wanted to change the recommendation to leaving them natural. Harold Abrams said “troubles come when you tamper with the vision of the architect.  He should know! Bill Lowe, when he was outvoted blew up and announced he was leaving the church. Later in the evening I went to his home, affirmed that his views were valued and stayed until about 2 a.m., reflecting on the situation. He stayed in the church. Years later, he and his wife  visited us in Spokane and he proudly announced that the beams had been sanded and were now their natural color. He had won! By this time the architect was dead, so no feelings were hurt. I visited the church with the natural beams and it looked okay.  It only took him nearly 30 years to get his own way. One can never live life over again, but I had less patience in my older years with bullying behavior. That night I had compassion.

The color scheme matched the outdoor trees on May 15th when spring arrived. For two weeks, you couldn’t tell where the building ended and the world began.

We also had a battle over the glass windows installed at both ends of the sanctuary. They were to be tinted. The Mission Superintendent informed us that we could not have the windows because he was contributing $60,000 to the project. If we didn’t change the windows to more inexpensive walls, we couldn’t have the money. We had a meeting with the local church committee and it was my task to tell the Superintendent that if we couldn’t have the windows, we didn’t want his money. He relented. We got the money.  It would be hard for the reader to visualize this, but walking down the center aisle of the church, occasionally we could see Mt. McKinley (now called Mt. Denali) about 160 miles away. Once I just gave up preaching and turned to enjoy the view myself. No one was listening to me.

One time, after complaining that the front pews were empty, Bill Lowe arranged for everyone to surprise me by sitting on the front rows. That only happened once. He was trying to make up for the temper tantrum he displayed when I tried to rope off the last few rows. He had New England roots and was angry over the pew system there where people were told where they could or could not sit. My wife seemed to enjoy engaging Bill in “recreational fights” over many issues. Both of them seemed happy afterwards.  I cringed. Oh, the ropes disappeared.

We had a wonderful study group in the church, with one resident fundamentalist (maybe two) and one agnostic, if not atheist. We had loving, dynamic, respectful discussions. A rare experience in ministry. After some counseling, the agnostic gifted me with a moose horn lamp, which we still treasure.

Part of my responsibility was being in charge of Birchwood Camp. We finished a lodge and upgraded the camp with cabins (from tents) and eventually had a resident caretaker, which took a lot of responsibility from my shoulders. Since I didn’t get paid, I gave myself the title of Camp Superintendent.

Since I am telling Bill Lowe stories, his wife became ill and he was unable to do his annual float on a river to get a moose. So his church friends gathered money and it was my task to give the money to him so he could do an airplane hunt and get his annual moose in just a few hours. As Bill often did, he got angry and rejected the offer. “He was not a charity case. He could pay his own way.” I was not sent home empty handed, but with money I would have to return to the donors.  As I reflected on the experience, I got angry and I went back to his home, telling him that it was his duty to his friends to receive this gift. “Well, if you put it that way”, he relented and took the money and I didn’t have to return it to the donors. He won’t let down his friends.

A great deal of financial support came from the Pittsfield Methodist Church in Pittsfield, Illinois. I sent them some moose meat for a wild game dinner. I shot my own, I didn’t ask for any of Bill’s moose. Merice Richner painted a large painting of the Chugiak area (priceless now) as a gift to the church in gratitude for their support. I checked recently and the church still had the painting.

James Kirsch offered to sand the parsonage logs and then restain them. He spent months on the job. What an offer! I experimented with having dogs, as Stan Nickerson dropped a German Shepherd/Husky mix by my house. He didn’t tell me she was pregnant. She had one puppy. The dog was wonderful. Always sat beside me when I was driving the new truck to Birchwood Camp.

One time the daughter of the camp watchperson called to tell me that a dog team and sled had come into camp empty. I told her that they should not pet them.  (too late)  Dogs can be vicious.  I drove there as quickly as I could. I found the dog musher on the camp road, looking very upset. I asked him to get in the truck, which he did. I told him I knew where his team was and we were quickly there. He was so grateful that he offered the young girl the pick of his kennel. Her mother started to say “no”, but I assured her I would be the backup, if they didn’t want the dog. Soon I owned another dog. Eventually I gave that dog to a beginning dog musher and she became her leader and won at least one race in Fairbanks.

Speaking of Fairbanks, in 1957 there was a great flood in Fairbanks and I went with a group of young men from St. John to clean out the church basement.  There were feet of gravel on the floor. We hauled it out five gallons at a time. I never recovered physically (lower back) and it became my role to get the young men motivated and focused. We slept in a shelter set up at a local school gymnasium.  Biggest learning: if you have a basement in a flood zone, fill the basement with clean water and the basement walls with not cave in and the damage will not be as great. You heard it first here.

The United Methodist Church of Chugiak continues to thrive. A major addition was added decades later that enables the church to serve the community in a variety of ways.

I didn’t get to enjoy the sanctuary very long as the pastor, but we did return for a visit when Birchwood Camp celebrated its 50th anniversary. There were two persons present who had been active when I was the pastor and one of them came from Missouri. Life moves on!

Also while at Chugiak, I ran for political office in 1968. I ran for the Alaska State House of Representatives as a Republican. My primary motive was to prevent the election of a member of the John Birch Society, who operated a gas station right next to the church. I also had been President of the War on Poverty program in Anchorage, so I had a wee bit of name recognition. There were 49 candidates for twelve positions.  I ran 3rd in the Eagle River-Chugiak Area where I lived, but I was 35th in the Greater Anchorage Area. I was successful in preventing Mr. Anderson from getting through the primary.  People did have a choice. There were some vicious attacks on me from the radical right. When I shared one of the flyers with my mother, she said: “If what they are saying about you is true, I won’t even vote for you.” Not all of what they said was true, but again, the attack ads gave me name recognition.

I didn’t think it was ethical or wise to ask for money from my church members, so it was mostly a self-financed campaign at a cost of $2,000. Two members did contribute without being asked.  One of them was O. W. “Bill” Lowe. One inactive family let it be know that they didn’t think pastors should be involved in politics, so they added this to whatever excuses they had for their non-involvement in the church.

I did run on a platform that was concerned about the environment. This was in 1968. Talk about being ahead of my time! I didn’t get much support from the oil industry.

I would not have been a very good politician. It was much more meaningful to go to Juneau as a pastor and do some part-time lobbying on issues that were important to me. I didn’t have any influence on the member of The John Birch Society (C. R. Lewis) that did get elected in Anchorage. But others appreciated my participation in the political process.


Juneau United Methodist Church was a very unique appointment, as the church property was taken from us by a process of imminent domain by the State of Alaska to build a new court house. We merged with Northern Light Presbyterian Church to become Northern Light United Church. In the merger we kept their name (primarily because I liked it) and the Presbyterians were then gracious enough to pray the Lord’s Prayer the United Methodist way. In 2014 we returned for the 40th anniversary of this new church and found that it was thriving. This made me feel good.