When I was five or six-years-old, our extended family would often gather for meals to celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. Being the youngest in the group around that time, I was always asked to pray before our meal. And so I prayed the table prayer taught to me by my mother, a prayer that I still use today. When I was finished, my grandmother would inevitably say, “He’s going to make a fine pastor some day!” I recall that I would frown, and think that I wanted to be a policeman or fireman, or anyone else more interesting than a pastor!
I believe it was then that the seed was planted. That notion of becoming a pastor was nurtured by Christian parents and God-parents who subtly encouraged my Christian growth in faith and life. They gave me the gifts of a Bible and hymnal, and generally put me in situations where a shy boy and youth spoke in front of strangers. When I was in confirmation class, I became friends with my pastor’s son. We ended up running off Sunday’s bulletin, folding it, and inserting it in the members’ mailboxes. Since I was not a “PK” (“preacher’s kid”), that friendship gave me a behind-the-scenes look at life in the parsonage. I discovered that they faced all the same problems that my family did.
My church had a good youth group at that time. My pastor, Rev. Raymond Mantynen, even took us on several field trips to Concordia, Ann Arbor, MI. I think that glimpse of studying theology and other subjects in a Christian environment did a lot to entice me to do the same someday.
As I began to more seriously consider studying for the pastoral ministry. I wasn’t sure if I was “pastor material” because of my shyness, and nervousness speaking before people. I was also concerned that I did not have the financial resources to undertake such a journey of study. My mother confided that if God wanted me to be a pastor, He would provide the money to make it happen. With sacrifices by my parents and good-paying summer jobs that came my way, I was blessed to attend college and seminary debt-free. This was indeed a blessing because I didn’t need a part-time job while at seminary, but could focus my time and effort on my studies.
When I set my sights on being a pastor, my home pastor would occasionally have me read a lesson or two in the Divine Service. One summer I helped him for a few weeks with some door-to-door evangelism.
While attending Concordia, Ann Arbor for two years, and then Concordia Senior College for another two years, I had my Greek and Hebrew language foundations solidly set in place. What a blessing to arrive at seminary with such a good start in the Biblical languages! At the seminary (St. Catharines), my favourite classes were in exegetics and homiletics. I loved to be able to really dig in to the Biblical texts! God was able to take that study, together with my limited creativity, and enable me to produce sermons that I hoped would touch people with the answer they needed for life’s problems.
One of my greatest joys in the ministry is teaching an Adult Instruction class. It is gratifying to engage in discussion with people who are seeking answers to the bigger questions of life now and hereafter. It is quite an experience to witness someone have an “Ah, ha!” moment when it comes to their eternal salvation.
As I continue to serve in whatever capacity my Lord desires of me in His church, I will always remember the phrase “sin and grace—my sin and God’s grace.” Throughout my life and ministry, I have brought Him my sin and have received my Saviour’s free and wonderful grace: His undeserved love shown to me through His cross and empty tomb.
That’s what I’ve tried to tell others throughout my ministry.