I grew up a PK, a preacher’s kid. Saturday nights my father sat at the kitchen table with one, two, sometimes three consecutive bowls of ice cream to fuel the hand writing of his sermons for the next morning. Draft after draft on a yellow note pad, his crisp printing of a style I yet wish I could mimic. Drawing from the unfolding events of the prior week, in our own community or across the nation, my father told stories which captivated those who attended the service, bringing them to focused place and time where ancient history found relevance in our modern world.
The simplicity of the connections he drew were easy to understand. The characters he brought to life, both biblical and modern, were memorable. He never hid behind the pulpit, but walked among those who came to listen, engaging in a kind of two-way interaction that was both subtle and meaningful, even if his audience was mostly silent. The stories carried messages easily interwoven in our every-day lives.
We moved frequently, a half dozen times in twenty odd years. My brother and I embraced a father whose time and attention was most often devoted to serving those in need. Growing up I was sometimes asked if I would follow in my father’s footsteps, embracing a life in the church. My answer was, “Most PKs either rebel or yes, follow suit. I find myself in the middle.” But now, my response would be that I cherish what I have gained from being the son of a minister, for I have learned what it means to be selfless, at times putting others’ needs before my own.
Therein lies the real blessing of a life of servitude–putting others’ needs before your own, devoting your life to causes which challenge the political, economic, and social norms. My father protested the Vietnam war, worked with the Sanctuary movement in the 1980s, and within the City of Phoenix to better understand the homeless and the poor. He is a regular contributor to the Arizona Republic newspaper on issues of human rights and political arenas, and has worked tirelessly to improve his own neighborhood through research and planning for improved street safety and sense of community.
With two masters degrees and eight years experience as a social worker, my father has seen a diversity of humanity. He has performed countless marriages and funerals, welcoming those new to life on this planet and helping find closure for the families and friends of those who have departed. He managed an adoption agency for a half dozen years and has been witness to the pain and suffering of an often confusing world, in an era when suicide took the lives of farmers who lost their land. My father has helped many to celebrate the cherished moments in life, to learn to communicate when it seemed relationships were destined to fall apart.
But his lasting legacy is his nearly 30 years dedication to giving a safe haven for the LGBT community. When in 2014 Joe Connolly and Terry Pochert filed law suit against the State of Arizona, and won, they credited my father for having given them support, for accepting them in the church family, and for encouraging them to pursue their legal acceptance as a married couple.
Fifty years ago today my father was ordained a Lutheran minister. He walked away from a likely career as a PGA golfer and his university education in mathematics to pursue a life of serving others. While his skills are many, including carpentry, writing, cooking and baking, it is his relentless pursuit of finding justice, acceptance, and peace for those within his reach that I cherish as the most valuable asset to carry with me.