Even though these were days of distress, our hearts were lifted to the heavens when a real moving truck backed up to our apartment and moved our things to Dallas, paid for by the Methodist church. They even paid for our personal expenses, gasoline and everything! We had Whataburgers along the way.
I had not seen the home they provided. Both wife and I were apprehensive to say the least. My parents joined us in Dallas as we gazed upon our new home. This was not a snout-house with the garage sticking out front like a pig’s nose. No. As in much of Dallas, the garage was approached from behind along the concrete alley. This was a four bedroom brick home in an upper middleclass area, fireplace and all. Can you believe this? In all our four year marriage we had never had the pleasure of such luxury. Yes, we were human with desires like everyone else to have nice things.
The people of this large church welcomed us with such overpowering friendship and love, no judgmentalism, only warmhearted acceptance. I wasn’t worthy of this, but I sure opened my heart to it. It’s amazing how God’s will is in harmony with increases in our standard of living. I didn’t know if these Methodists were Christian or not because they weren’t a Naz and if you weren’t a Naz ….
Right from the git-go I was thrown into challenging, but satisfying responsibilities. Two weeks after I arrived, the senior pastor left for South America on a combination mission and vacation trip. I was trusted to stand before 4,000 people and preach while he was away. Oh.my.goodness! I was accustomed to preaching to about 150 people.
My first Sunday preaching went reasonably well as did the second Sunday. The third Sunday morning was a horse of a different color. I drove up to the huge red brick church with 25 steps leading up into the sanctuary, through towering Greek columns like one would see at the Parthenon, and noticed smoke coming out of the back of the church. It could have been old brother what’s-his-name, pastor to the old people smoking his cigar, but it wasn’t. We called the fire department. The interior of the sanctuary was filled with smoke and fire due to a short in the electrical system of the pipe organ. The sanctuary was enormous with its balconies, choir loft and pipe organ. Although the greater part of the sanctuary was not in flames, smoke damage was extensive. The pipe organ was lost entirely and I might mention, the new organ cost exceeded $300,000.00 in today’s dollars. We met that morning in the fellowship hall and for months and months thereafter. We added additional services to accommodate the crowd. Our church started to have great growth.
O how I struggled with change. I had always been a Nazarene. Thinking outside the box and jumping ship was way beyond the pale. The elderly associate pastor to old people (I was maybe 26, I don’t know) was a kindly gentleman, sweet spirited, courtly and aristocratic. He smoked a cigar. How could this be? He was Christian, I finally decided. He just liked cigars instead of Coca Colas. Our senior pastor was only 32 years old. He never used an outline, book or any written notes to preach. Amazing! He was a Christian, too. All of the secretaries and staff members, I concluded, were Christians as well. There were times I fought conflict inside thinking I had backslid, but observing the church people gave me the assurance that God has all kinds of sheep. I didn’t smoke a cigar.
A longtime friend and college administrator called me and said he would be in Dallas for a district meeting of Nazarene pastors. He wanted me to have lunch with the bunch. I agreed, for after all, I was still a Nazarene. Maybe this would help me keep my roots. Couldn’t I be considered a missionary to the Methodists? I walked into the hotel conference room and there was a holy coldness among the brethren. It wasn’t a holier-than-thou aloofness, but more of a “what do you say to a naked lady” question mark. [Do you remember that show back in the ‘70s?] After I was introduced and allowed to say a few words, warmth and brotherhood were restored. Old friendships brought back memories for I knew most of the guys. I think all of us left joyful and happy.
One of my responsibilities was to assist the senior pastor with a heavy load of weddings and funerals, separately. Next door to the main sanctuary (now vacated because of the fire) was a small chapel built for the purpose of weddings and funerals. It was absolutely gorgeous and seated between 100 and 200 people. It was required of me to memorize the wedding ceremony. I loved it. I felt like I had finally been pulled from sinking sand.
Experiences meeting some of the greatest pastors of that era still lift memories in my heart; Dr. W. A. Criswell of Dallas First Baptist Church, the largest Southern Baptist Church of that time and Dr. Robert Goodrich, pastor of the First Methodist Church, Methodism’s largest church. Other great and wonderful pastors, authors, speakers and leaders were introduced to me as I tried my best to do my best.
Many people in the Dallas area including Kiwanians and others still remembered our college quartet, The Collegiate Quartet. Word got around and I was asked to sing at various venues. I had to hurry and work hard planning and practicing. I was lucky to have a talented musician and member of the church who could play the organ and piano in any key, and any song, so I worked up an entertainment show with jokes and a mishmash of popular songs of the day. There were banquets, parties, weddings and dinners. Word got out with the additional checkmark in my favor of being assistant pastor of a prominent Methodist church, so I was asked to entertain for a large association at the Texas Theater located on West Jefferson in Oak Cliff not far from our church. This was the same theater that Lee Harvey Oswald fled to after he murdered President John Kennedy. That was an amazing and thrilling experience for me; entertain on Saturday night and preach on Sunday. Was I supposed to do that?
Nazarene after Nazarene started contacting other Nazarenes praying that I would come back “home.” My mama was distraught and so hurt that I had left the fold. Her family, the Parmer’s, were Methodists back in the 1800’s so what’s so bad about being a Methodist? It didn’t matter because the Methodists had left the holiness camp long ago. The Methodist Discipline still listed holiness as a goal to be reached. Didn’t matter! The wife made a trip to El Paso and while there met with some people who contacted other people. Then all of a sudden I was contacted by the DS of New Mexico asking if I would be interested in moving to Albuquerque.
Here’s what I had in Dallas: beautiful home in upper middle class area, more than an upper level salary plus benefits, large church with the prospect of even greater possibilities, people who were excited to have me there, holding approximately 2-3 weddings per week, called on to officiate at funerals regularly, spacious study/office, no pressure, welcomed and accepted by other Methodist district leaders and pastors. I was serene and secure. Why would I want to move to Albuquerque to a church on a dirt road with half the salary, live in a small parsonage behind the church and less than 5 tenths the size of the Methodist congregation? Am I on sinking sand again? Am I allowing others to bully me again? Did I make a mistake in the first place? Is this God speaking or is it you-know-who? Am I feeling guilty about being a Methodist? What in the samhill is going on?
OkeyDokey, here I go again! Same ol’ same ol’. Just as it is natural for us to nurture and provide safety for our child, God helps children, the weak and the stupid. I’ma tellin’ you – people at the Methodist church were not happy campers with this decision to move back to the Nazes. I was in rhythm. I was on a roll. I was fulfilled. What is compelling me to move again? Are my spiritual genetics forcing me to pastor little ol’ Naz churches on dirt roads and go through the pain of being voted on every year to either remain or leave in disgrace?