Having gotten just a day behind, here’s where I catch up by writing about a couple of folks in one entry. John and Katherine Paterson have both provided significant spiritual guidance along my path of faith and ministry.

John is a retired Presbyterian minister who chaired the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of Northern New England when I was called to the East Craftsbury Church in Vermont. That formality aside, John became a supportive and dependable colleague once I got settled in my church there. I don’t know if John knew much about me prior to my arrival in the North Country. Since he had gone to Vermont from a Virginia pastorate, as I was doing, and since Katherine and I had become acquainted when I was doing video at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (she was an alum and on the Board there), I guess John had a “heads up” of some kind.

My first impression of John in his COM role was that he would be a protector of a pastor’s professional standard. That is, since I was being called to a three-quarter time position, John wanted to be certain that I only worked three-quarter time. He urged me to only preach three Sundays out of four, to keep the contract between me and the congregation honest. I couldn’t see relinquishing my place in the pulpit to someone else once a month, so I assured him that I would find other ways to, well, slack off. John trusted me to work it out, which I did. (Things eventually went so well  that the church grew and its budget expanded enough to extend the call to full-time.)

The more I got to know John, the more I came to appreciate his leadership in Presbytery, part social conscience and part community-builder. And a large chunk of friendship. The church John served was in Barre, and near Montpelier, the state capital. His congregation was in partnership with several community groups, and when John got wind of financial grants that would address serious social needs within his city or our state, he would write or call and invite our churches to partner in mission. Sometimes his ideas stretched us beyond our cozy little picturesque communities. But we needed that prophetic prod. One grant was to help the poor and disenfranchised find affordable (or was it free?) dental care. Others would feed hungry neighbors.

John’s concern for social justice led him to run for the Vermont State Legislature. (I helped voice his radio spots, one of my very few broadcast endeavors since leaving Richmond.) John was an organizer in Presbytery as well, similar in oratorical style to the pastor with whom I had worked in Richmond, Bob Busey. Both men were able to speak to issues extemporaneously, articulately, clearly, and effectively. Those are adverbs that are foreign to my own speaking style in public meetings, sad to say. I need both notes and guts. That’s why I follow the leaders.

As I look back on John’s influence on my ministry in Vermont, I have to note his pastoral support of his colleagues in ministry in the other Vermont Presbyterian churches. I recall a retreat that got most of us together at a local camp. And through his encouragement, we gathered in his and other homes for much-appreciated conversation and discussion. Many, many miles separate the eight or nine Presbyterian churches in the state, and it was easy to become detached and downright lonely in ministry there, but John worked hard to keep that from happening.

I must mention one more thing about John, something I learned when we first visited the Paterson’s home. John ardently supports local artists and has something of the artist burning in himself. He had collected a gallery’s worth of art objects, and built that gallery as an addition to his home. When he first guided us up the stairs, I was amazed at the variety of art forms on display, from oils and water colors, to sculpture and paper arts. And it was all by folks with whom John had a personal connection. If a person is known by the company he or she keeps, John is not only a connoisseur of the arts, but an artist himself.

Hanging in the front window of our home is an opaque section of glass on which John has applied stained glass lettering, to form in Hebrew characters, the word Shalom. Peace. Every time we visit John and Katherine, John holds up an object or three and tells us its story, or that of the artist. When we were taking leave one night, he handed me that stained glass art, and I have treasured it ever since.

Of course, John is a writer too. What preacher worth her or his salt of the earth isn’t? (Answer: those who ad lib ill-prepared homilies and wander about the front of the sanctuary trying to act folksy.) Having written countless sermons over the years, one would expect that John would know the craft of building a good sentence or two. He has co-authored at least four books, one with his son John Paterson Jr.,  (Roberto’s Trip to the Top, which we gave our grandsons recently) and the others with his wife Katherine.

Here we segue to add Katherine to the forty I’ve followed along my journey. Actually, I’ve known Katherine longer than I’ve known John. She came to the PSCE campus for an event of some sort, but truth be told, anytime Katherine came to campus, it was an event! The author of Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved was one of the school’s best known alumnae, and somehow the two of us connected to do a video interview at a local Richmond bookstore.

I fear the videotape is long gone by now, but it is one I would love to have. Not because it was such a good Q &  A on my part, but because it’s a record of our very first meeting. I could tell she was a pro at this book tour/interview kind of thing. Under hot lights, big camera lens, and pinned-on lapel microphone (“Just act natural…”) she was a gifted conversationalist. We talked about writing literature for children, about what makes a “Christian” book (and what doesn’t), and we discussed the “mouth” of The Great Gilly Hopkins, that is, Gilly’s swear words, right there for children to read!

When Joan and I arrived in Vermont, John and Katherine welcomed us, and we still enjoy their hospitality when we go north. Born of missionary parents in China, Katherine often serves meals that require chopsticks, and I smiled at that thought the other night as I struggled with the sticks at a local restaurant. I love the fact that the front door of their home leads right into the kitchen. It is the essence of a warm-hearted welcome. Along with the wine.

When Joan and I look back on our time in Vermont, we still recall with fondness an event that Katherine helped Joan pull together at the Barre Church. Joan had been an admirer of musician, composer, and arranger Alice Parker for many years. When Katherine said she knew Alice Parker, Joan’s eyes lit up and, the next thing we knew, Katherine and Joan had cooked up an Alice Parker “sing” at the Barre Church, attracting an ecumenical crowd of songsters, church folk, and car-key jinglers. (You had to be there.)

In Vermont, so frigid and snowbound so much of the year, with long distances between neighbors and sometimes even longer miles between friends, we knew we could count on John and Katherine Paterson for faith-filled friendship,  generous, and genuine.

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