A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Friday, May 15, 2009

John Wesley Was My Pastor

OK. Since I'm in the process of a pastoral transition this summer, I've been reflecting on the (United) Methodist pastors who were part of my home church in southeastern, Pennsylvania. All of them had a particular influence on my faith journey and relationship with Jesus Christ.

And yes, John Wesley was one of my pastors...kind of. Here's a brief synopsis:

1963 (my birth year) to elementary years - Rev. John Wesley Stamm.
Isn't this the coolest name for a United Methodist pastor? He's the one who baptized me as an infant. Obviously, I don't literally remember my baptism but when I saw him at an event when I was a college student, I told him that he had been my pastor when I was little. Remembering my family and without pausing for a second, he pointed his finger at me and said with a look of great pride, "I baptized you." Turns out that I was his first baptism at his newly appointed church.

Elementary Years to Eighth Grade - Rev. William Lippert.
I used to draw pictures of Rev. Lippert during his sermon. Most of the time, these were flattering pictures! So, you can say these were my "church is really boring" years. He probably had wonderful sermons. I just didn't have the attention span to appreciate them during those years. My best memory of Rev. Lippert was that he taught my confirmation class which I believe was during my 6th grade year. Once a week, I would get off the school bus in town and go to the church for confirmation class. Did I mentioned I had a short attention span during these years? Well, all I remember about those after school confirmation classes was that Rev. Lippert earned his pay with the likes of me and my other disruptive confirmation classmates.

But, my best memories of confirmation were outside of class when Rev. Lippert took us on a field trip to Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, MD, the place where in 1784, we became an official denomination and not just a movement within the Anglican Church in England. This is where Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke became co-superintendents or bishops (a phrase which John Wesley didn't appreciate since he was uncomfortable with us becoming an official denomination.) I never forgot that visit or the date of 1784 as the start of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. In fact, one of the adult Sunday School classes in my home church was named, "The 1784 Class.")

My other positive memory was in receiving my own personal Cokesbury black bible with my name inside of it. I still have it and keep it in my office at church. I read the bible everyday for personal devotions, for sermon prep., and preparing for bible studies. What would my life be like without the bible giving me guidance, comfort, strength, and hope?

9th Grade to College Years - Rev. Ed Zeiders
Now, how many middle aged adults can say that they remember the 1st sermon that was preached by a new pastor when they were only in the 9th grade? I can! It was something about a scarecrow and how God loves us. OK. Maybe that doesn't count as remembering, but that creative opening sermon helped me to immediately connect with this new pastor. Sometime during my 10th or 11th grade years, he came up to me at a church function and said to me, "I want you to think about becoming a United Methodist pastor some day because I think God may be calling you into ministry." Of course, I just shrugged his comment off as if he was just trying to be polite.

During my junior year in college, I made an appointment to see him and that's when I asked him, "Do you remember that day a long time ago when you asked me to think about going into the ministry? Well, I think God is calling me and I want to become a pastor." I'll never forget this. He was sitting behind his desk at the time and when I told him this, he took the papers he had in front of him, threw them up in the air and yelled out, "Praise God!"

He gave me the opportunity to preach my first sermon there in my home church. It was on the Sermon on the Mount. It was a lame sermon but that wasn't the point. That frightful experience ended up giving me that little confidence I needed to know that I could speak in front of people and live to tell about it. Rev. Zeiders is why I am in the West Ohio Conference. When I asked him which seminary he recommended for me to attend, he said, "United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Great seminary. That's where I went." Because of the relationships I made during my seminary years, I decided to stay in Ohio.

So thank you Rev. Stamm for baptizing me into the faith. Thank you Rev. Lippert for teaching me about the importance of the bible for my daily living. And thank you, Rev. Zeiders for planting a seed which helped me to respond to God's calling to become a United Methodist pastor.

And thank you God, for the itinerant system in which pastors are appointed to churches to help people grow in what it means to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

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