I think it was Friend Jack, whom I had told on Friday, who mentioned it to some of his students on the next Tuesday.  I am not sure about that.  Later the Principal accused me of spreading the news.  I didn’t, but I didn’t deny it.  Did he think this would all happen in secret with no one finding out  what had occurred?

Apparently, the news spread like wildfire.  I suspect  was something like: “Did you hear that they fired Pastor Pete?”  The first time I realized just how far the news had spread was the next morning, Wednesday.  It was my turn to do chapel. The bell rang, the kids all gathered in the bleachers.  I walked out to begin the service.

I won’t ever forget that moment.  As I walked out, the kids started clapping and gave me a long standing ovation — 800-900 kids can make a lot of noise.  I can’t begin to describe the impact of that experience.

I have no idea what I said that day, other than the message I sought to give every time I stood there, that they are loved deeply just the way they are.  They are forgiven, filled with the transforming power of His love, able to grow into more than they ever thought possible.

One thing I figured out quickly was that I did not want to become the excuse for some sort of rebellious behavior by the students.  Remember, this was the early 70’s.  The volatile 1960’s were fresh in our memories. I was very proud of the way the Kids responded.  The Student Council set up a table in the hallway outside the office.  They had paper, envelops and stamps along with a list of the School Board members. There were no sit-ins.

It was discovered quickly, that the Principal had acted unilaterally in making the decision.  He had not consulted the Personnel Committee.  He and one of the influential members of the Board had collaborated on the decision.  That member of the Board, oddly, had asked to come to my classroom one day to show some slides and make a presentation to a class of Seniors.  It was the first day of a semester.  The classroom had 39 students in it.  Since the classroom was remodeled for a seminar approach, the chairs were not in straight rows with each one sitting with hands folded.  While the approach had provided some stimulating learning experiences, I can only guess that the room was not orderly enough for him.  The school had actually been structured as an all male military academy when that School Board Member had gone through it many years before.

The Board finally met and invited me to come in.  There were questions of all sorts.  There was nothing said that indicated anything that I had said or done that was not acceptable.  The Board did ultimately vote to renew my contract.

Before the decision was made to renew my contract, the kids at school gathered names on a petition totaling 688 of the 800-900 students.  Six area Pastors came in to meet with the Principal and/or the Board asking that the decision be reconsidered.  Apparently one very elderly retired Pastor had heard about the Communion Service with the Passing of the Peace in it and decided that there had been “hugging and kissing and rolling on the floor.”  There certainly was some hugging, but I did not see any kissing or rolling on the floor.

All this while, Mary Ann was taking care of Lisa, dealing with a pregnancy, wondering what would happen to us when the salary stopped and I had no job.

I was offered a contract for the next year.  The Principal had a long list of conditions, such as having my lesson plans in advance for him to review.  The list contained nothing other than things that seemed intended to make teaching much more tedious in hopes that I would just leave.

In the mean time, a congregation sent me a letter asking me to come and interview for the position of Assistant Pastor with responsibilities primarily in the area of Youth and Education.

Do you remember that terribly unfair judgment the students made about Kansas and Nebraska when Call day came, when I had refused to take a Call?   The return address on the envelop said, “Prairie Village, Kansas.”  What popped in my mind was an arid, flat, virtual desert with a little old rural town in it.  That is not what I found.

I flew into the downtown Kansas City, Missouri airport in the spring of 1972.  The Senior Pastor picked me up and drove me down Ward Parkway to the church.  Ward Parkway in spring in Kansas City is one of the prettiest places to be found.  The crabapple trees and redbud trees were in full bloom.  There were blooming flowers filling the boulevard areas.  We had passed through the Spanish Architecture of the Plaza.  The trees and hills were so lush that they dominated the view.

Johnson County, Kansas, the county in which the church was located had been ranked the first or second most affluent county in the nation the two years before.  More than that.  When I met with a room of about 35 leaders of the congregation, the tone, the attitude and the words made clear that these people actually had caught sight of the heart of the message of the Gospel.  The were not just about the institution, but about making a difference in the lives of real people.  I was shocked and surprised after my last experience with the parish.

Now came the dilemma.  Do I leave the high school and abandon the Kids who had gone to bat for me?   What I was being Called to in Prairie Village seemed to be a perfect fit.  I had not been prepared to teach, but I had been prepared to be a Pastor in a church.  I decided that my presence at the high school would simply be a lightning rod, providing a distraction from the problems that needed work.  It seemed to me that I would be more effective in the parish.  I could deal with the Kids while also being able to know and minister to their parents.

I accepted the Call to Prairie Village.  Finishing out the year turned out to be quite an experience.  At Graduation, the Salutatorian’s speech was an affirmation of my ministry.  Jenny spoke in a way that must have irritated the Principal and those who wanted me gone.  Her words warmed my heart.  Then, Tom, the Valedictorian included remarks affirming the effectiveness of my ministry at the high school.  Those two had a great deal of courage to dare to speak so boldly.  I have never forgotten.

Those weeks the roller coaster moved down and up at breakneck speed.  I went from the low of being fired, deeply concerned about how Mary Ann and Lisa and the new baby would survive, feeling like a failure as a husband and father —  to being affirmed so powerfully, that I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  I have always felt grateful to those Kids for what they did.  They nurtured my personal faith and gave me much more than I had given them.

The next step bought us to some of the best years together.  It was not long before the volatile nature of some disagreements in our national church body intruded into the parish life.  Life was never boring in our years together.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Advertisements