Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mentor, RIP

In late August 1983 I arrived out west, where I spent a year as student pastor of two small congregations up in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Evergreen and Trout Lake were 32 miles apart by road. That's as close together as things were out there. I lived in a basement apartment in a parishioner's house, across the road from Evergreen. When I stepped out my door in the morning, I had to look up at a 45° angle to see blue sky, up above the crest of Dog Leg Mountain. To a young twenty-something fellow from the Midwest, it was a whole new world.

My supervisor was a retired Presbyterian minister named Jim. Jim had in fact been pastor of these two congregations for eight years before he retired. He agreed to stay on for three years after his retirement, to supervise three one-year student intern pastors. I was the third of the three.

Jim had spent most of his life out west, though he hailed originally from Pennsylvania, where he had graduated from the old Western Theological Seminary. He had served various congregations in the Pacific Northwest, including nine years as senior pastor of a large church in a city in Oregon. He had spent a stretch as a prison chaplain at San Quentin. At one point he took several years off and worked as grounds supervisor of Timberline Lodge up on Mt. Hood. Finally he came to the Cascade Mountains in Washington, where he served as pastor of Evergreen and Trout Lake until his retirement. Oh, and in addition to his pastoral work, he was an electrician on the side.

Jim became to me not only a supervisor but a mentor. He knew his stuff. He knew these two churches, and the communities. At the time I knew him, he was in his late sixties. Talk about a lifetime of experience! One little schema I devised around this time had to do with whether I liked, respected, and/or trusted a person. Jim qualified on all three counts. Plus, he played a wicked game of pinochle.

You understand, my year out west was really my first venture as a young adult outside of the confines of academia. I'd spent four years as an undergraduate, then three years in graduate school in math at the UW-Madison, then my first two years of seminary. The situations I was diving into out there in Washington were a first for me. Jim was a steady and reliable guide as I tried to make sense of the non-academic real world.

Oh, we occasionally butted heads. I was a more feisty and fiery individual back then, Jim was more easygoing in a firm, mountain-hard manner. Theologically we made an odd pair: I used to joke with him that I was Karl Barth and he was Walter Rauschenbusch. But I very much came to like him. And trust him. And respect him.

I would've liked to stay there in Washington, but at the end of a year out there I had to return to the Midwest to finish seminary. For a while I kept in touch with Jim and some of the other folks out in Washington, but you know how it is as years accumulate and miles divide, especially for a young fellow who only just barely keeps up even with his Christmas cards. Once in a while, in some magazine or ecclesiastical mailing, I would run across news from the Presbytery of the Cascades. I would think of Jim, who last I knew was living near a small town in Oregon.

Then last night I was websurfing, and I happened to google on certain names. And discovered, from several sites out there in cyberspace, that Jim passed away last December, at the age of 89.

He was a good man. A good pastor. And a good mentor.

"For all the saints, who from their labors rest..."



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