1988… what a year. I’d just finished my undergraduate degree when a good friend who was working as a Youth Pastor in a local church while attending school, approached me about taking his place because he was moving away. It came with a parsonage and full-time pay. I thought about it and decided to check it out.
It was just a matter of a few weeks after an interview with the pastor and board, that I was hired. Soon after, I moved and began what was to be a great year of my life. The church was a small, well established Methodist church on the West-side of Tulsa.
The youth were a group of about 25 who were just the best. The pastor, Joe, was a tall guy with a mustache, glasses, and a great sense of humor, which he really needed to handle the political battles he had to overcome just to get the younger kids what they needed.
The church had two sides of it’s membership; the younger crowd and the older, well established folks who struggled with change. Pastor Joe handled both sides with grace and patience. He had allies to help too; the parents of the youth who were some of the finest people I’ve known.
As my first experience at full-time youth work, it was a great training ground. With the help of the widowed organist who loved rock music, the music leader who had a heart for the youth, the guy who kept the van running, so I could pick up the kids, and, most of all, Mr. & Mrs. Fuller who made sure everyone stayed the course.
Mr. Fuller, a police officer and retired military, along with his wife, Nancy, were the ones who made everything come together. They were the parents who would give the last dime to be sure the kids in the youth had what they needed. They also had a great sense of humor which carried over into everything they did.
Their daughter, and some of the others in the group, made this desk plaque for me while I was there, and I’ve kept it ever since as a reminder to how that year was such a great experience.
One of my first memories of Epworth was of a morning just a few days after moving into the parsonage. I just purchased a car to get me around after selling my motorcycle and was stepping outside to head to class before going to work. When I opened the door, all I could see was toilet paper… EVERYWHERE…
Yes, I had received the royal welcoming by the youth and, boy, did they do a great job! I wish I had a picture, but, suffice to say, they went through a lot of rolls to tepee the tree, the yard, and my new car in front of the parsonage. It was GREAT!...
One thing I learned from Epworth that I carry to this day is that it’s not just about the rules. It’s about the relationship. The older people in the church obsessed about the rules and, what the youth needed more than anything, was relationship.
Each one of them was unique and special in their own way. They didn’t need to be slapped verbally every time they turned around. They needed to know they were loved and accepted. Hopefully, that was what I helped bring to them.
Parenting isn’t easy and being a parental figure isn’t much easier but, with a lot of love, patience, and some healthy boundaries, the kids seem to turn out just fine.
So, today, here’s to Epworth and that great group of young people (you know who you are) who helped me to learn about relationship, love, and having fun while serving the Lord... You’re missed and still loved!
Love always friends,