When I was growing up at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Flanagan, IL I had several influences that helped to shape my faith and motivate me to consider the ministry. I have discovered over the years that others had specific people in their lives that did the same.
Three of my Sunday School teachers insisted that we memorize psalms and hymns and Bible verses. In Mrs. Otto’s fourth grade class we would get gold stars if we memorized the weekly verse. I was somewhat interested in the stars. Then I got to Mrs. Schneider’s fifth grade class. As part of it, we would memorize entire psalms and hymns, and perhaps, because of the enormity of the task, we would often get candy bars for completing a task. In sixth grade, Mrs. Lehmann, who I later found out had a son in ministry, asked me several times after class whether I had ever considered the ministry as a career. She knew that, unlike several of my classmates, I cared about doing my Sunday School homework and must have seen in me some gifts for ministry.
We had confirmation classes in the seventh and eighth grade from Pastor Robert and Leah Spenn. Mrs. Spenn taught the Bible portion and Pastor Spenn the catechism portion. We met for three and a half hours every Saturday morning, but I looked forward to going! Part of the reason for that is that I enjoyed playing baseball at every break in the class when the weather was good and concentration and other games inside when it was not. I also liked memorizing bible passages and the entire Small Catechism of Martin Luther. Seeing friends at confirmation was also great! Pastor and Mrs. Spenn had great influence on my faith, and my choice of vocation, and reinforced for me benefits of memorization.
It turns out that those psalms, hymns, bible verses (and even the Small Catechism at times) have been a great source of inspiration to me in hard times. I can draw on Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my Shepherd”), Psalm 121 (“My help comes from the Lord”) and the words of “A Mighty Fortress is My God” when I am anxious or uncertain or scared.
It also turns out that I am not alone in my valuing of these treasures I memorized as a child. Kathryn Koob went from a similar Lutheran Church in Iowa to Wartburg College and then to a career in foreign service. When she, along with many others, were captured by the Iranians and held for 444 days in hostage during late 1979 through early 1981, she later said it was the psalms and hymns and Bible passages she memorized as a child that sustained her. Many of those came to memory during the long, dark nights!
We all have many influences to our faith, as well as how we bring it into our life’s work. If you are younger and still formulating your faith and goals for life, take your influences seriously. If you are older, reflect on those experiences and those people—and perhaps other incentives—which led you to be a person of faith today—and draw on them in our times of need.
Pastor Roger Black