Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, June 10, 2019


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections On Faith And Life For The Years Of Winter--

As I understand it, Spiderman--aka Peter Parker, but aka four-year-old Nicholas Ingalsbe as far as our church is concerned, when he is not being Batman—got the powers of a spider by being bitten by one, which is sort of how I got into the ministry.

Kenwood Bryant was a young school teacher in Evansville--30 miles from my open country home church, Forsythe Methodist, four miles outside Oakland City--who was occasionally persuaded by the District Superintendent to fill in as preacher at Forsythe. Ken got the idea that I should be a preacher, and tried to put me into situations that would nudge me in that direction. I think he really felt called to be a preacher himself and thought he could avoid it if he could get God to focus on me instead. [1]

In one of his iterations as the Forsythe preacher, he decided he needed to visit parishoners, and that I should go along, to direct him through the dirt and gravel roads to where his parishoners lived, and to get the idea of what preachers do.

One of our first visits was to Gib Spaw, [2] who had been mysteriously but seriously ill. He was lying in a humid bedroom on a hot summer day in a typical Gibson County house of the early 1950s, with an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing, when Ken and I made our call. Ken, at that time a better teacher than preacher, and so did not know how to pussyfoot around when talking about mysterious illnesses, just asked him what was wrong.

“Got bit by a spider,” Gib replied.

Intrigued, and, again, not thinking too far ahead, Ken blurted out, “How in the world did that happen?”

“It was dark, and I needed to take a leak, and I didn’t want to use the outhouse on a hot night, so I just unzipped in the back yard to do it, and a black widow bit me on the end of my pecker.”

He seemed almost proud. Ken stammered a bit and decided we needed to go visit people with less dramatic stories.

I was about 15 or 16 at the time, and decided I didn’t really need a job making calls on the ill. I had made a deal with God, though, to save my sister’s life, so in 1960, as a newly married man, several years removed from the ministry of Kenwood Bryant and Forsythe Church, I matriculated at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University to learn how to do pastoral calls, among other duties of a preacher.

I was standing in a hallway, in a long line of students waiting to register, when I heard a man farther up in the line introducing himself. “I’m Kenwood Bryant, from Indiana,” he said.

Yes, Ken had finally decided to learn to do pastoral calls himself. Maybe a spider bite gave him super powers as a pastor. I hope so.

John Robert McFarland

1] I once heard Tex Sample say: “A call to the ministry is like throwing up. You can put it off for a while…”

2] When we moved to Oakland City from Indianapolis, I encountered a dialect I had never heard before. Gibson County is “The Mississippi of the North,” in almost all ways, including language. I heard people speaking of “the spaw banks.” Since we lived not far from the Spaws, I thought it had something to do with them. Not so. “Spaw” banks were actually the “spoil banks” of the strip mines. People there also had tars on their cars.

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

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