Thursday, January 31, 2013

First year

I was thinking about Eva Shephard today. I do many days when I see the black stone carving of a shepherd and a sheep on my desk. She gave them to me. She was a missionary in residence at the church I served as assistant pastor in Western New York. I was a freshly minted seminary grad and I was ready to put what I learned into practice. Eva had never married and she was retired from active missionary work. She lived in a small apartment. She was the reason we had a pipeline to the African students at the nearby university. She was still doing missions only now Africa had come to her doorstep. She had been a teacher in Zaire (name changed to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997) for many years. Then she kept in close contact with people from that country who were doing grad work in Buffalo. One of the men served on the deacon board of the church. His family lived near the campus and were at church every Sunday.

The church had a large college age group. One of my jobs on the staff was to work with this group. We began a summer institute of Christian studies which sounded like a lot more than it was. There was another pastor in the area whose downtown Presbyterian church was a big supporter of Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. The pastor was older than I and had more books in his office than I had ever seen. We became friends. He taught a course and I did, too. We taught the book of Acts and a church history course. At the end of those courses, our church sponsored one of the college students as a local missionary serving Urban Christian Ministries, a downtown Buffalo outreach. UCM did tutoring, after school care, and distributed meals, clothing, whatever. Through our summer intern there the church became involved in the inner city.

My relationship with the downtown Presbyterian pastor led to a friendship with the local Inter Varsity staff member. Inter Varsity engages students intellectually. They have a publishing arm that speaks Christian truth to the campus academic world. My IVF friend introduced me to the authors IVP was publishing and we discussed many of their books. One of the authors we liked a lot was Tom Hopler. He was doing work in cross cultural missions. His books were exciting to both of us. We attended one of his seminars. I was shook up when I heard Tom had died of a heart attack soon after. He was running after a lecture at one of the retreats he was speaking at. It was not the last time a servant of God would die at a young age but when it does happen I wonder why. Tom seemed to have so much more to offer the kingdom of God. Another trip my IVF friend and I took was to Toronto to spend a day with Clark Pinnock who was an internationally known theologian. He taught at a University in Toronto. Clark began in the Evangelical camp but over the years many Evangelicals distanced themselves from him for his views on open theism and other ideas. I have always found his thinking to be refreshing and stimulating (he died in 2010).

We have owned two homes in our pastoral wanderings. The first one was in the Buffalo suburb of Kenmore. That first church offered us a housing allowance. It was a small house near the church. Soon after we got in the house a young man started coming to the church who had a lot of problems. One problem was he had no where to live. So we took him in. When he drank he had a hot temper. My wife was afraid of him although I didn't know it at the time or I wasn't listening. Probably the latter. It was one of our first attempts to "fix" someone and it didn't work. He got drunk, trashed some stuff and went outside to beat up a tree. That didn't turn out too successfully either.  Soon we told him he had to move out. After that my wife's grandmother visited us from Chicago. I am reminded by her granddaughter to this day how she wore her mink coat all week because I was trying to save money by keeping the heat down. I guess I wasn't listening too well then either. 

Our first son was born that year. I played basketball with a group of guys every Monday night. We were in a young couples Bible study group. I led the youth group, as well. Our big event was a weekend at a church camp. We had several adult leaders and a couple van loads of teens. We also had a couple cases of beer some of the kids sneaked on board. After we went to bed the kids got the beer out. A couple of them had a little too much and their cover was blown. The senior pastor was not too happy probably because two of his kids were on the trip. He let me have it in the next Sunday's service. It was clear where the blame lay. I didn't agree but there was no discussion. I also did not choose to stay in that position much longer. It was a great first year of pastoral ministry though.