After graduation, I was hired by my home church as a teacher in their Christian school. I taught seventh and eighth grade math, history, Bible and Phys ed. I loved teaching history and the Bible, was a horrible math teacher, and didn't mind teaching the boys physical education class. I also coached the Jr. High basketball team and was the assistant varsity soccer coach.
Jr. High is a tough group to teach. I taught math, Bible, Ohio History and gym. I enjoyed it all except math. I could do math, but not explain math. I still wonder how many of them to this day blame their math deficiencies on me. I remember the first time I tried to address a discipline problem. A young lady kept talking in class. I asked her to stay after the bell rang and began to scold her. She immediately began to cry. Please no crying, anything but crying. I told her it was ok, don’t worry about it. I knew from that point on, I was in over my head.
I remember one class period in particular. I had a student named Shane. His mouth was smarter than his mind. He was always making cracks during the lessons. This particular day he was especially vocal. I asked him to stay after class. I explained to him that this was my class, I was in charge. I didn’t need his help. Now the rest of the story.
The biggest problem was the class schedule. We had gym the second to last period of the day and Ohio history the last period. So after running around for 40 minutes, they had to come and sit still for 40 minutes of history. It was impossible to get them to concentrate for the full class period. So the truth was, I usually prepared for about 20 minutes, figuring if I got through that much I would be successful.
On the day that I had spoken to Shane, we had gym (if I remember correctly we were playing basketball). When we came back to class for Ohio History I immediately noticed that everyone was sitting quietly at their desks. I began to teach. There were no interruptions. I taught my 20 minutes of material and had time left. I said, well that’s enough for today; you may talk among yourselves until the bell rings. Nobody moved. Nobody said a peep. They just sat there until the bell rang. Shane was the last one to leave. He stepped up to my desk. He said, “Whose class is it?” And walked out.
I was not married. It was while teaching I met my future wife. She was also at the Christian school, but not as a teacher, as a student. No, not one of my students, she was a senior. We didn't date till after graduation, but we did flirt. Now, of course, I would be deemed a sexual predator or at least a stalker. I always managed to be in the gym during my break, when she was there being a teacher's helper. She helped me grade papers. Actually she had known my brother and sister from school for years, but we had never met. When she came in the eighth grade, I had already left for college. She and my sister were in the same grade. My best friend Joe introduced us the summer I came home after graduation. He told me he had met this girl that I should meet. Her name was Sharon. The youth group was about to leave on a bus to take a short-term missions trip to Mexico. He introduced us as she was getting on the bus. She was a babe. She had great legs. I was smitten. She graduated in June and we were married in April. I was 23, she was not quite 19.
We had to get married. No, not because she was pregnant! I was in the process of becoming the church's youth pastor. The Senior Pastor did not believe the youth pastor should be single. That presented a dilemma. He would not offer me the full time position, unless I was married. My wife says our pastor arranged our marriage. Not true, but he certainly did speed up the engagement. By the next school year, I was no longer teaching at the Academy, but was in full-time ministry as a Youth Pastor. I had no idea what I was doing. They should not make youth pastors out of people who have never had teenagers themselves. I was just a kid myself and yet was supposed to be the expert on raising kids. I felt the same way when I began pastoring at the age of 27. I was supposed to tell people how to have a successful marriage, how to raise godly kids, how to manage finances, etc, yet had no experience in any of that. I did have the Bible however. I choose to simply teach and preach the Bible. I have tried to the best of my ability to keep my opinions and preferences out of my preaching. I seldom tell stories while preaching, that is why writing this story has been so awkward to me. Many of these things I have never told anybody, and certainly not from the pulpit. It was becoming a pastor for the first time and having to stick to the Bible that led to many of the changes in ministry and philosophy. I will deal with that later on.
My wife married into the staff of a large church. There is a lot of pressure on the staff of a large church. Even more in our situation. My wife always handled it well. I admire her for that. Being 19 years old and put on a pedestal is not easy. There was a lot expected of her. She went far and beyond the call of duty.
Soon after I joined the staff, our church decided to build a new building, including a 1500 seat auditorium, debt free! It was an amazing accomplishment and extremely hard on the staff. For the first 18 months of our marriage, I put in 12-14 hour days. We were called upon to do our ministry while putting in time at the building site. We were the free laborers. Not really free, but high paid gofers. Not really high paid either. Every night (except church nights) and every day off was put in at the building site. I realized I had gone to college to learn all the wrong things. I should have studied mixing mud (mortar), carrying brick, shoveling stone, hanging drywall, and various sundry duties. I don't regret it now, but I hated it then.
A few years ago I was back at my home church for my nephew's graduation. My pastor (now retired from the pastorate) was there. I met a man who asked when I served on staff. I replied, "1981-1987." He said what did you do? I said "Construction." My pastor replied, "glad to hear you say that because I never know what you did." When my pastor had something for you to do which wasn't in your job description (actually everything was in your job description), he would start by asking if you loved Jesus. That always irritated me, so I would respond, "I don't know, what does Jesus want me to do this time?" My bad attitude must have been rubbing off on another staff member because one day my pastor approached him and said, "Do you love Jesus?" My co-worker replied, "what does Jesus want me to do?" My pastor shot back, "Jesus wants you to stop hanging around Greg."
My family and the pastor went way back. I grew up at the church. My grandparents went there also. My grandmother and the pastor had a good relationship. My pastor is horrible at telling jokes. Especially from the pulpit. He would always mess up the punch line. The joke never turned out funny, but him messing it up was always funny. They used to sell these little battery operated laughing boxes. When you hit the button, this voice would start laughing. The longer you played it, the more you couldn't help but laugh along. Anybody remember those? Well, one Sunday, my grandmother brought her's to church. When my pastor tried to tell a joke she hit the button. Before long, the whole congregation was laughing hysterically. Back to the story, my wife and I did not have a day off together for the first year of our marriage. It was beginning to take a toll. My wife shared her frustration with my mom and grandmother. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I were both called into the pastor's office. It seems grandmother had chewed out the pastor for not giving me a day off. He was not happy. He said we should have gone to him. He made my wife cry. I starting getting days off after that.
Another unpleasant memory from those days was how the pastor would have a certain staff member call me to give me assignments to do on my day off. I got so I hated answering the phone and hearing his voice (how I wish we had caller id back then!). I didn't work for him, yet I got to despising him for being the bearer of bad news. I finally went to my pastor and told him he was being unfair to this other staff member, because this person was the recipient of hard feelings because he was bearing the brunt of being the bad guy. I told my pastor that I didn't work for this fellow and from now on, I felt the pastor should call me if he needed me to do something on my day off. To his credit, he was the one who called me from then on. Did I mention I wished we had caller id back then? My pastor was a very early riser. He had this habit of calling very early in the morning (like 6:00 am). Every single time he would say, "were you sleeping?" And every single time I would say "no, I was praying." Of course I was sleeping.
I once was blind, but now I see. During the construction of the new building, I was assigned to assist a welder. I didn't know anything about welding. I wasn't issued any protective goggles. All I was told was not to look at the light. We worked together for hours. That night, about 1:00 am I awoke in pain. I had trouble opening my eyes. I stumbled to the bathroom. I splashed water into my eyes. That was not the thing to do. The pain was horrible. I could not open my eyes. I yelled for my wife. She rushed me to the emergency room. As soon as the doctor saw me he said, "Were you helping someone weld today?" "Yes" I replied. He said I had welder's flash. He put some kind of suave in them and bandaged them shut. I was blind for 2 days. Since my wife was working, I went and stayed at my mom's house during the day. My sister took revenge for my years of tormenting her by slipping me horrible things to eat.
There was a man at the church who had been a former pastor who was there to be "restored" after he had an affair. He was a heavy equipment operator. He did much of the digging for the new construction. He and I did not get along. We called him "Leg Man" because he went to the school principal and turned in the names of girls who he thought their dresses were too short. He went to one of the women at church and told her that the slit in her skirt was too high. Building a building without using a lot of outside contractors led to a lot of jobs being done poorly and being done over. We had a leaking wall. We needed to dig down to the foundation and patch it with tar. This man dug out some and then said that the rest would have be be dug by hand, and gave me the job. After removing the mud, I covered the wall with tar. He replaced the dirt and the wall continued to leak. It had to be dug out again. The man said he could only get so close, so I would have to do the rest by hand. He said he could not possibly get any closer. I knew he could. I know he left as much for me to dig as he could get away with. So back I went. Did it all over again. Still leaked. This time, amazingly, he could dig right next to wall. And you don't believe in miracles. He eventually went back into the pastorate, then ran off with the church secretary.
The building had a seventy-foot tower covered with stone. There was scaffolding all around it, but for some reason the two sections of scaffolding didn't match up exactly. One day I was carrying a bucket of stone on the scaffolding. As I went to step from one section to the next, there was just the slightest difference in height. The section I was stepping onto was just a little lower than the one I had been walking on. For just that split second, it felt like I had accidentally stepped off the edge of the scaffolding. I thought I was falling to my death. After the tower was finished, a ten-foot tall metal cross was attached to the outside. The music pastor and I had the job of climbing the scaffolding and drilling holes into where the bolts were to go to fasten the cross to the tower. We were obviously the best choice for the job (not). It was a large drill motor. I tied it off to the scaffold, in case I dropped it. We were not tied to the scaffold however. As I was drilling, the bit got stuck and the drill began to twist. It was wrenched from my hands and I started to fall. I did the logical thing and grabbed on to the music pastor to keep me from falling. As we both started to fall, he was able to grab on the the scaffolding. We sat there and did not move for a long time. We both thought we were dead. If I died in the line of duty would that qualify as a martyrs' death? They could always say, he died building the church.
In due time, the building was completed. The last thing to be done was finishing the classrooms. Each class was assigned to get their room finished by the first service. We put hours into the youth room. We designed and painted it just like we wanted. The other youth workers and I worked hard to complete it on time. Shortly after we moved into the new building, they moved us into a different room.
One of the things I was privileged to do during my time there was to baptize believers. I had led a young man to Christ who was very tall. He was probably about 6'7" being an all state basketball and football player. While we were waiting to get into the baptistery, I warned him that when he came out, there might be a few laughs because of the difference in heights. I didn't want him to feel bad, I said they would be laughing at me. His unsaved family was in attendance. I should also mention that the pastor was not there that morning. This is significant because the congregation always took their cues from him as he sat on the platform. If he didn't laugh, no one else would either. I had already baptized several when this young man walked down into the pool. The entire congregation roared in laughter. I baptized him with no difficulty, but as he came out of the water he slung his hair to dry off, drenching the choir. The congregation laughed again. It was funny. I had no problem, but was worried his family would be embarrassed. That week I told the pastor what had happened. I could tell he was not pleased. The next Sunday, in his sermon, he said something like "some things are sacred to me. Like, I would never laugh at a baptism, would you?" Not anymore. By the way, I still love baptizing people and I every time make a joke and get people to laugh. It is a joyous occasion, why not enjoy it?
The church had a softball team. Being a large church, we obviously had a much larger talent pool. The league we were in was made up of much smaller churches. They didn't stand a chance. We took softball very seriously, and did not mind beating the other teams by as much as possible. This rightly led to a lot of hard feelings, but we enjoyed it. After going 16(wins) & 1(loss) for the season, we decided to leave the church league and join a league that played at a new multi-field complex, complete with outfield fences, lights and scoreboards. I went down to the park to sign us up for the next season.The man asked which division? I think there was A,B,C,&D, and each division had a high and low level. I said, well we are pretty good. Sign us up for B. He smiled. He said that was too high, he would sign us up for low C and if we did well, we could move up. That year we went 1 & 16. Quite a turn around! The next year we didn't have a church team, so I joined a team sponsored by a local bank that some of our players worked at. The first game I went 0 for 4. That of course is horrible for softball. After the game, I stopped by the church to pick up something. I was still in uniform. My pastor was there. He looked at my uniform. He asked what I was wearing. I told him I played softball for the bank. He said, "In the beer league?" I said "no, it's not a beer league." He replied, "do some of the players drink beer after the game?" I responded, "Probably, but I don't, and it's not a beer league." He said I could not play anymore, he didn't want his staff playing in a beer league. I asked if I could play one more night, please don't make me retire with an 0-fer (Zero for four batting). I had to quit with an .000 batting average. How embarrassing.
My pastor was not a sports fan. He never talked sports, was oblivious concerning sports. Here's an example. Before I left the church to go pastor a church in Florida, the pastor's son came on staff to eventually take my place. We always had an early Sunday Morning staff meeting in the pastor's office before the Sunday services. One Sunday morning, we were meeting and his son (Gary) told how his kids how been sick and how his wife had not been out of the house for days and hadn't been to church in a couple weeks. He asked if it would be alright for him to stay home that evening and let his wife come to church. The pastor (his dad) said that seemed OK. We (there were probably 5 or 6 of us on the pastoral staff) all started laughing. The pastor asked what was so funny. I replied that it was kind of convenient since the Superbowl happened to be on that night. The pastor changed his mind and Gary came to church that evening. (Of course, this was long before the Superbowl became the national holiday it is today).
Did I mention I am a big Cincinnati Sports fan? When Pete Rose was chasing the all time hits record, during the off season, my brother and I looked ahead to the upcoming season and bought tickets to several games in which we projected that Pete might set the record.There was this Tuesday night game at Riverfront after an off day on Monday following a long road trip. Anybody who loved Pete and knew his love for Cincinnati, knew Pete would not allow himself to break the record while playing an away game. Since he was a player/manager, he could control his number of at bats. Sure enough, on a Sunday night in Chicago, Pete tied Ty Cobb for the all time number of hits in the Major Leagues. Tuesday was the big day and my brother and I had tickets! On our way into the sold out stadium, where the networks were carrying each at bat live and where the commissioner of baseball was in attendance, people were begging for tickets. I think we were offered as much as $500. No way was I selling that ticket. This was the (nonspiritual & non marital) highlight of my entire existence. We were so pumped. Every time Pete came to bat the capacity crowd roared, the cameras flashed and TV broadcasts were interrupted. Four times this happened and four times we sat down disappointed. 0 for 4. He broke the record the next night. I couldn't even see it on TV because it was visitation night at the church, so I sat in the parking lot at UDF and listened to it on radio.
That wasn't the only big Red's moment I missed. Besides Pete, my other big hero was Johnny Bench. Greatest catcher ever. I hadn't been married long when Bench announced his retirement. Again, my brother and I bought tickets, but this time we had to bring our wives. Newlywed mistake. The Reds were playing the Astros. Johnny had been playing third base (if management had let him play first, he would not have been retiring), but for this game he played catcher one last time. Somewhere around the fourth inning my wife began to nag me about needing something to drink. She did not understand what a momentous occasion this was, she should be fasting. She continued to nag me (I love you honey). Finally the Astros were coming to bat. I figured I had plenty of time to get to the concession stand and back before the Reds were up, I mean what idiot would be at the concession stand at such a time as this! Imagine my surprise when I find a large line. I finally arrived at the window and placed my order. At the very instant I received my wife's drink, the stadium erupted. It literally shook. I know what had happened. I rushed up the stairs, just in time to see Johnny come out of the dugout and tip his cap. His last home run and I am buying my wife a Pepsi. When I got to the top of the steps a guy I did not even know looked at me, he said, "did you miss it?" I couldn't even speak, but I managed to nod my head. He said, "I am so sorry." I said, "not as sorry as my ex-wife is going to be." We did not own a television in those days. So I did not see the replay on the news, in fact, I have never seen number 398. No, we have never been to a ball game together again. Yes, we are still married.
I have always worked Sundays. Therefore, I have had very few opportunities to go to Bengal's games. I have gone to exactly one Sunday game. The Bengals were playing Joe Montana and the Forty-niners. To go to the game, my brother and I had to leave after the morning service and I had to be back by Sunday night pre-service prayer meeting (5:00 pm). We arrived at the game just a little after kick-off. Late in the fourth quarter, the Bengals had a five point lead and the ball. There was very little time remaining on the clock. There was no way they could lose. We left the stadium and headed for our car. As we were walking down Pete Rose Way we heard a collective groan escape from the stadium. We stared at each other in confusion. About this time a guy drove by in a pickup truck. He yelled out the window, the Bengals lost! No way, it was impossible. We ran to the car and turned on the radio. Long time Bengals announcer Phil Samp was incredulous. The Bengals had failed to run out the clock and turned the ball over on downs with ONE second remaining. Montana hit Rice for a TD. Bengals lose. Now the rest of the story...
The next day I am riding in the car with the pastor (i.e. my boss). He states what an incredible game that was yesterday. Now he never, ever talked football. We never discussed sports (except boxing). Now I am between a rock and a hard place. Does he know I went to the game? Is he waiting for me to fess up? If I don't admit I went, what will the fallout be? If I do fess up and he doesn't know I went, then what will be the repercussions? Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
What to do? The pressure was intense, he kept talking about it. Finally I sobbed, yes I know, I was there! It got eerily quiet. He didn't know I was in attendance at the game. I have shot myself in the foot. The next day the staff all got a letter in our mail boxes. It had one point. We do not go to sporting events on the Lord's Day!