img-8295.jpgThis is probably one of my favorite pictures ever, from the early spring of 1986. We were still in our little rental house in Ft. Wayne, IN. I was getting ready to graduate from the seminary and was anticipating my first call to pastoral ministry.

The dark-haired guy is me, probably catching up on sleep after working the closing shift at Subway. The store closed at 2 am, but I didn’t get home till about 4. But I did get to bring home a foot long each shift, our meal the next day. The little guy sleeping next to me is my son Adam, just a few months old. I’m sure he was up the night before, too. The yellow lab is Gabriel, always up for a nap in the bed with us. He was a good source of warmth during the bitterly cold Ft. Wayne winters.

Needless to say, I don’t remember this moment. But I do remember that time in my life, when changes came quickly and often. I got Gabe as a pup in 1980, when I lived in NJ. In the next six years, I moved to Texas, then to Ft. Wayne to begin my seminary studies. I met my wife, got married, moved to Baltimore for vicarage, moved back to Ft. Wayne, had a son, and would move to Connecticut in just a few months. All in the space of six years. No wonder we were tired!










Thanksgiving memories


Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash

I’m surprised that I really don’t have a lot of Thanksgiving memories. I really like the holiday, especially preparing and consuming the food. I had to really work to come up with memorable moments from the past.

In high school, the last football game of the season was played on Thanksgiving morning, also marking the end of marching band season. We always played a non-league game against Interboro, a tough opponent from a few towns away. After graduating, that was the game you attended to catch up with all your friends who were home for break.

The only time in my life I remember going out for supper on Thanksgiving was when we went to visit my wife’s Aunt Dot who lived in King of Prussia, just outside of Philadelphia. I’m pretty sure we drove down from Connecticut that year and met my in-laws there. My daughter Katie found it hysterical that her name was “dot.” We went to the mall, the largest in the area at that time, the next day to people watch more than shop.

My Thanksgivings while I was attending seminary were spent at my in-laws home in Columbus, IN. The first time I had just finished Greek and went with my classmate, dorm-mate and future brother-in-law Jeff, who, if I remember correctly, had a pretty nice looking sister who was in her last year at Indiana University. A year later I got to return, now dating his sister but not yet engaged. I think that is when I wrote my first poem for her. (I am sure she has it somewhere.) I don’t remember going there when I was in my final year, but I’m sure we did. Lisa would have been about six months pregnant with Adam that year.

Last year was supposed to be Thanksgiving at our house, but we had a change of plans. With Isaac (grandchild #3) only six weeks old, we decided to take a drive to Dallas to spend thanksgiving with him and his family. The year before I had decided to have our Thanksgiving worship the Sunday before, freeing up the week for travel, and it paid off. After worship on Sunday, we hit the road, spent the night in Pensacola, and arrived in Dallas on Monday night. Three solid days in Dallas, got to hear my son preach and did lots of grandparent stuff.

I do remember that Thanksgiving worship was on Thanksgiving Day when we were in Urbandale, Iowa. Ugh. Never did that before. It was always the night before in Ridley Park, Connecticut and Florida. But I wasn’t the boss, so it was what it was.

I remember all my trumpet descants for the Thanksgiving hymns, too. I may not be playing them, but I sing ’em on the last verse. Still got that tenor range.

OK, I guess I did have a few memories. One of these days, I’ll look at my journals — I’ve got decades of them. That ought to stimulate my memory.

White or wheat?

downloadFourth year of seminary education. Married. One in the oven. Time to get a job to make ends meet. Subway is taking applications. Why not?

I was hired at a store on the south side of Ft. Wayne, about twenty minutes from our tiny (before tiny homes were fashionable) home. Back then, the menu was simpler. Only two kinds of bread: white or wheat. Two kinds cheese: American or Swiss. No cookies. No toasted subs. Old school. We didn’t wear gloves, just washed our hands a lot. Cleaning the bathrooms was as gross though. Some things never change.

Since I was about ten years older than most of the crew, I often closed the store at 2 am. One night, just before I locked the front door, a man came in, pointed a long barrel revolver at my head and said, “Give me the money.” Since we dropped the cash about every half hour or so, there was less than $20 in the drawer. Impatiently he demanded, “Just give me the whole thing.” I handed him the money tray and followed his instructions to lay face down on the floor. After a few moments of silence, I locked the front door and called 911 and the store manager.

I was pretty shaken up by the time I got home around 4 am. The assistant store manager was more upset that the thief took the money tray than he was about the stolen cash. I worked a few more shifts after than, but as call day and graduation approached, we were making plans to move…somewhere. We didn’t know where our first call would be for a few months.

I’m always nice to workers at Subway. I get to do what I do today because of people just like them!

“Would you like to try some toilet paper?”

Toilet-Paper-2My previous memories of making snack mix brought to mind the first job I worked at the seminary with Sitko Field Services. Apparently, the population of Ft. Wayne, IN, represented a good cross section of America, so it was a hot spot for market research. Our job (Lisa worked there, too) involved phone and door-to-door surveys and product testing. Sue Sitko, the owner, brought big city marketing experience to the heartland, and helped us pay the bills as I studied to be a pastor.

The world was very different back then. In the office, I didn’t sit at a computer screen waiting for numbers to be automatically dialed for me. We sat in front of a phone with a page from the phone book and a stack of surveys, calling down the list to find someone who would answer some questions for us. More people than you would imagine were willing to talk to us about television shows, over the counter medications and restaurants. The only hard part was finding the right age group of people to talk to for a representative sample.

One weekend my job was to sit and width the NFL Pro Bowl and jot down every commercial. A boring game and a boring afternoon, but it was good money.

The really interesting part was the door-to-door work. Sometimes you walked around with a clipboard full of surveys, seeking a face-to-face conversation at someone’s home. Yes, this was a different time. But other times the goal was placing a product for them to try. I would go back a week later, get some reaction to the products, and leave a different batch for them to try. It was one thing to get people to test crackers, soda or dog food, but imagine some of the responses I got when I asked, “Would you like to test some toilet paper?” It was tougher but not impossible to find willing participants. Especially if they were one of those families who waited till they used the last sheet before going to store for more. When the survey was over, we got to take home some of the extra product, too.

I used to get survey phone calls, but haven’t for a while. When I did, I tried to answer the questions. I guess I still have a soft spot in my heart for those in search of market research interviews.

When you’re praying for me, say a little prayer of thanks for Sue Sitko, who was a part of preparing me for the pastoral ministry.

Snack mix

DSC_0108There is a lot I have forgotten from my years at the seminary, but one memory that continually resurfaces is one of the jobs I had to pay the bills my last year there: making snack mix. In the days before prepackaged Chex snack mix appeared on grocery store shelves, you had two choices. You could make it at home, which plenty of families did. Or, at least in northeast Indiana, you could but it bulk in a grocery story, who got it from a friend of mine who actually owned a little factory that made one product, snack mix.

It wasn’t especially hard work. If I remember correctly, one team opened case after case of boxes of Chex cereal and Cheerios, carefully slitting open the inner bag so it poured out just right. The second team mixed together a precise recipe of the cereal, pretzels, oil, lots of garlic, and a few peanuts in large bins. The next team would bake the mix in large aluminum trays. Some days you worked the final step, bagging up the cooled mix and boxing it up for shipment to several grocery chains.

It was a popular product. We made tons and tons of snack mix. I’m pretty sure my wife was making it right up to the day our first child was born. (I suppose that’s why it has always been one of his favorite snacks!) I think we got to bring some home to eat. But I know we always came home smelling like garlic. No threat from vampires in our home!

So when someone asks, “What do you have to do to become a pastor?” there are stories just like this, jobs of every shape and size that helped you get through seminary years that were lean in resources but rich in theology. I owe a lot to the guy who came up with the idea of making and selling “mix” so that we (and a few other seminarians) could earn a few bucks and serve the church.