Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, May 10, 2015


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

When you are preparing to move, you think about firsts and lasts. This is our last Sunday at our church in Iron Mountain, in MI’s UP, the Upper Peninsula, before moving to SoInd, Southern Indiana, the site of my first Sunday as a preacher. [1]

When I was nineteen, the summer after my first year at Indiana University, I realized I had to keep my fourteen-year-old bargain with God, to become a preacher, if “He” would save my sister’s life. I made the mistake of telling Aunt Nora. She said I should go tell the District Superintendent. I did.

“You get good grades?” “All ‘A’s last semester,” I said, not mentioning my below B first semester, which was over before I noticed it had begun, that being the way of a moon-struck freshman.

“Good,” he said. “I’ve got three churches that need a preacher until Ellis Hukill graduates seminary in January and will be appointed there. You can start this Sunday.” He handed me a little piece of blue paper. “That’s the name of the people you should contact when you get there.”

“But…” I began. “Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re supposed to have a License to Preach.” He pulled a sheet of paper out of a drawer and wrote my name on it and then wrote his name on it. “You’re supposed to go to License School and pass the tests on Bible and polity and such to get a License, but you can do that later.”

I was a preacher.

I didn’t know it then, but it was my first experience with learning that administrators are not there to solve your problems; they are there to solve their problems, and they’ll gladly use you to solve their problems for them.

The three-church Chrisney circuit was a hundred miles south of IU. I did not have a car. My very healthy sister and her Navy husband were in Antigua, and Dick had left his old Olds up on blocks in our barn yard pending his routine. It had been there a long time. I sent Dick and Mary V fifty dollars. My father and I got the Olds off the blocks. He was blind, but he could make anything run. I did, however, have to carry a five gallon can of oil in the trunk, and every 50 miles had to pull off on the grassy shoulder of Highway 231 to replenish the engine’s oil, as I drove to and from my first pastoral appointment.

I drove down to Chrisney after classes on Friday, went to the address on the blue paper, the home of Bob and Catherine Adams, and got a key to the parsonage. It was empty save for a metal camp bed and a folding metal church-basement chair. I put my red Samsonite suitcase on end to use as a desk and set my Smith-Corona portable typewriter on it to write my sermon, actually just some reminder notes.

On Sunday morning, I went to the Adams’ house to get directions to Crossroads, the first service of the morning, about five miles from Chrisney in one direction, and to Bloomfield, three miles in the other direction, the third worship service of the morning. Chrisney, the big church, almost a hundred members, was sandwiched between.

It was my first experience with preaching the same sermon three times and finding that it was three different sermons. That has helped me a great deal as a writer, to be able to picture the faces of my readers as I write, to realize that each is looking at my words with a different expression, and to try to write in such a way that each of them, regardless of their place in life at the moment, can say, “Ah, yes…”

That’s why I think the best compliment I ever get on my writing is, “I can hear you as I read.”

John Robert McFarland

1] If Southern California can be SoCal, I see no reason why Southern Indiana can’t be SoInd.

You can read more about my “call” in The Strange Calling.

My pickle ball pal, Vicky, who has read The Strange Calling, pointed out to me that the first church I went to that first morning preaching was Crossroads, and that my last day of pickle ball is in the gym of a church called Crossroads. “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.