Posted tagged ‘seminary’

Mentors For the Journey

January 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 4, 2019

                                      

I’ve been blessed to have a number of mentors in my life that have allowed me to try and fail, hone certain skills, and pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. 

Dr. James Payson Martin, senior pastor of Arlington Heights (IL) First Presbyterian Church was my first mentor when I joined a church staff. He was gentle but firm. Grace-filled, but demanding. I was between my second and third years of seminary, looking for a summer ministry experience that would stretch me…and it did. Loved it and learned from it! Grew as I groaned! 

Jim Martin was the catalyst for my growth. His daughter, Cyndi, remains a long distance friend of mine (She still lives in the Chicago area). I get choked up thinking about her and her dad. Jim passed away suddenly the week of Easter about 30 years ago. 

And then there is Chuck Landon, my first mentor in a church ministry after I was ordained and on a church staff full-time. I had been on the staff of another church for about 15 months after seminary graduation and it did not go well. I was defeated and discouraged, wondering if I was really called to ministry. The senior pastor was rarely around to guide me. The rumor was that he spent more time on the golf course, which had one of its fairways rolling right behind his backyard. This “Wolfe” often felt like he was being fed to the wolves!

Lansing First Baptist Church rescued me from leaving ministry, and Chuck Landon taught me more about being a pastor than anyone else I have known. His work ethic flowed out of his passion for Christ, pursuit for excellence, and love for the people he pastored and community he served in. When I was willing to settle for less he let me know it was unacceptable. When I did something well he affirmed the excellence and effectiveness of it. When I wore my softball cleats (They were rubber cleats, okay!) to a Diaconate meeting in the pristine church parlor, he read me the riot act the next day! He taught me responsibility, and he taught me that perception, no matter whether it is accurate or not, is the reality.

Those two men mentored me to become a good pastor. They prepared me to mentor others to be good pastors, and hopefully those people will mentor others.

I’ve had other mentors through the years also in other areas of life. Don Fackler mentored me to a good basketball coach. When I assisted him in coaching the Mason (Michigan) High School Girl’s JV team, he laid the foundations in my life on how to coach. Now, more than 20 years later, I still find myself using some of those same learnings, and speak some of the same terms that he spoke. 

As I write more these days there have been a few mentors to bring my writing quality up. God has blessed me to have my life path converge with Ed and Diana Stucky. They’ve pressed me to not settle for less, to reach for quality and to be a wordsmith in conveying ideas. 

Mentors are essential for our development and success. If we learn in isolation we will experience the storms of being isolated. If we realize that we are “not all that!” and allow others to speak truth into the rough edges of our lives we will be better, and we will be better prepared to be vessels that flow with purpose!

Richie Bibelheimer…38 Years Later!

July 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 30, 2017

                               

A couple of weeks ago I was at church camp as…well, I’m not sure what my title position was! I think I was the “Whatever Person.” When someone said “whatever” it was my responsibility, unless it was a high school girl being flippant and obnoxious when she said the word!

So…as the Whatever Supervisor I was able to float from session to session. At our camp week we have elementary, middle school, and high school camps going on at the same time, so I roamed around making sure things were going okay.

The surprise of the week was reconnecting with an old seminary classmate of mine named Richie Bibelheimer. When I heard that name as the pastor for the middle school camp I knew it was my old seminary classmate. I mean…how many Richie Bibelheimer’s can there be, right? It took me a year of seminary just to learn how to pronounce it, and now 38 years later our paths were crossing again!

Here’s the thing about seeing someone 38 years after the last time you saw him! Your picture of him is still the one from 1979! You still remember him from the era of leisure suits, thinner waistlines, and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

He walked right past me at dinner Sunday night in the camp dining hall. After he passed he called my name clothed in question form. “Bill? Bill Wolfe?” I turned and looked at the white-haired senior citizen who had just passed me by. “Richie, is that you?”

“Yes!”

“Good Lord! Richie Bibelheimer!” There’s one thing about seeing someone almost four decades removed! You don’t want to come right out and say it, but you’re thinking it! “Man, do you look old!”

And the thing is, he’s thinking the same thing about you! The last time you saw each other you were in your mid-twenties. You could still jump and run like a gazelle, you had all your hair, and you didn’t have to travel with a pharmacy everywhere. Now your knees hurt, your face sports a couple of age spots, and the only thing progressive about you are the lens in your glasses.

Time keeps going even when we slowly journey through each day, and all of a sudden you meet an old friend and you realize just how far you’ve journeyed since your last conversation.

The other side of that is our reluctance to think that people change, that they will always be who they were back in the day…some obnoxious, some attractive, some hard to figure out, and some who seem to have it all together. People change, however, despite our tendency to firmly implant them in a distant past understanding. The physical changes are easy to see, despite the attempts to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. It’s the inner changes, the emotional upheaval, and the chaos of life that get blanketed from our view. The double chin is easier to see than the broken marriage. The wrinkled face is much more evident than the loss of a child a decade earlier.

Richie and I looked at one another, came to grips with the march of Father Time upon our lives, and enjoyed the blessing of renewed friendship…38 years later as a Whatever Supervisor and a Middle School Camp Pastor.

Chaplain Rich Blanchette, First Lieutenant- United States Air Force

July 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              July 2, 2017

           

I remember when they appeared at my church. Actually, it was the second time they were there. I had been on vacation the first Sunday they showed up, but heard about the young family with two kids who had visited. (It always seemed to happen that way! When I went on vacation visitors would show up. It made my congregation want me to take more vacations, or at least stay away!)

Rich and Casey Blanchette had moved to Colorado Springs from Highland, Illinois. He was beginning a new assignment at the Air Force Academy. Their two munchkins, Hailey and Richie, were about 7 and 2 years old.

Rich and I connected! He understood my humor. We laughed together a lot. They got involved in various ways at church. Casey was enthusiastic and full of energy, like a balloon you let go of and the air releases from as the balloon flies all over the place. Rich was a part of a small group I began of young guys.

And then Rich felt called to the ministry! He had to make a decision. Re-enlist for another four years, or exit the Air Force after 13 years and head to the uncertainty of seminary. He followed the calling. Although his G.I. Bill paid for tuition, the family endured tight financial times as they absorbed educational costs like books and travel expense from Colorado Springs to Denver three to four times a week, plus the loss of income. Entering a three-year seminary program as a 32 year old married father of two is a serious life re-routing, but he did it.

During seminary our church helped him cover educational costs, brought him on staff with the title “Seminary Student Pastor”, and paid him a small stipend. However, the big plus was that it allowed me to mentor him, come alongside him, and get to know his heart for people. Seminary was hard for Rich, more because the demands of study limited his family time. There was always a bit of guilt about writing a paper for a class instead of hanging out with his kids. He struggled to find that balance. I remember both he and his wife sharing their frustrations as they tried to figure out a family rhythm. In the Air Force he had been deployed for six months to Afghanistan and knew the heartache of being away form his family. During his seminary days he would be in the basement of the house studying, just one level below his wife and kids, and still feel that heartache.

But he made it! After our church ordained him, he worked at the Springs Rescue Mission while he looked for pastoral placement. And then First Baptist Church of Goodland, Kansas called him. He interviewed with their search committee, and sent them a couple of sermon tapes. Pretty soon he was being presented as the candidate to be their next pastor…and they loved him, and Casey, and the kids.

Our church said goodbye to him, and they moved three hours away to their new church. I remember in those first few months of ministry he would call me from time to time to ask me questions. “Pastor Bill, what would you do…” “Pastor Bill, how did you go about…”

“Pastor Bill” was, and still is, my name to him even though we are both ordained clergy. In Rich’s mind it has always been a indication of his respect for me, but it also says something to the value that he places on people.

Almost three and a half years later his ministry, a ministry of depth and growth, at Goodland came to an end. Since the last Sunday in June was his final Sunday, the church is just in the beginning stages of grieving the loss of their beloved pastor, but most of them hold Pastor Rich in high regard and will love him always.

Why? Because he felt God tugging on his life’s guide ropes, leading him into a different direction that the Almighty had used the previous twenty years to prepare him for. He is now Chaplain Rich Blanchette, First Lieutenant, United States Air Force, on his way to his first assignment at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

I get somewhat emotional thinking about him. I remember the first sermon he delivered at our church and he took his shoes off before he spoke because he said this was holy ground he was speaking on. I remember taking notes on his messages and doing post-sermon critiquing with him the next week. “Rich, you had great content, but don’t try to feed them the whole haystack all at once!” “Rich, if you can’t illustrate a point with a real-life situation don’t use it!” “Rich, that was your best message yet, and your delivery has improved so much.” I remember traveling over to Goodland one Sunday with Carol and our friends, Ed and Diana Stucky. What an awesome time we had worshiping with the congregation and listening to their pastor preach. As he spoke my eyes got moist because of the symphony that God has orchestrated from his life.

The Blanchette’s stayed with us this past weekend as they began their journey to California. What a great time together! What a delight to be able to laugh so much together about things we had experienced and times shared together.

I have been blessed by him and his family, and in admiration of who he is and who he has become I think I’m going to start calling him “Chaplain Rich!”