Here is a picture of Pastor Carlyle Roth and his bride Geneal at a retirement party held for them last Sunday. Yesterday I said that Pastor Carlyle Roth was one of the old breed, or one of the old timers and I have to try and define that as best I can. There is always a danger when the “old guys” start reminiscing. When I talk to young District Presidents I can see them bristle when the old guys like me start talking about what happened 20 or thirty years ago and it is happening again and it will happen in the future as God allows this old world to continue. Trying to explain to new guys that doing the same thing the same way expecting a different result has a definition in the real world, but they will try and do the same thing anyway thinking that it will work and have better results because they are doing it. Trying to help them learn from our mistakes is a hard thing to do. It is hard because admitting that we made mistakes is not easy, and hinting that young guys don’t know everything is sometimes not taken well. The young Pastors that I have met are well balanced and well trained and I am not denigrating anyone, just trying to define the differences.
The old breed always had the whiff of mimeograph ink on them. I won’t even try and explain what a mimeograph machine was, but suffice it to say that if a Pastor was not blessed with a Secretary, Saturday was usually mimeograph day. Turning the drum endlessly and trying not to get ink all over the place has the advantage of a form of exercise. The old breed always had a smudge of ink on a shirt cuff and it was visible because the black cleric shirt was reserved for Sunday. The black clerical shirt was not a uniform, it was considered a part of the liturgical vestment for Sunday mornings. Most of the old breed wore ties and a sports coat and they were not making a theological, but a fashion statement.
When I think of the old timers I think of the guys that had rural churches separated by several miles and all that entailed and the Pastors of larger rural churches whose populations were almost as big as the larger city churches, but were still “in the boondocks”. There was a different pastoral attitude that developed mostly by necessity. Some became administrators and the others took on the bearing and the attitude of the old circuit riders covering miles of territory to check on three or four families or individuals. Their office was the cab of their pickup or interior of the car they drove. The old timers developed a sort of “sixth sense” about members that was a bit scary. They would get the sense that they needed to go to the farm of someone and sure enough when they got there someone was sick or on the way to the hospital or something happened that made their visit appreciated.
Some of them were stunned when they started looking at so called parish boundaries – the distance to the farm of the farthest West member and going to all the points of the compass multiplied could yield a square mile parish boundary of several thousand miles. Nursing homes might extend those boundaries and hospitals certainly would do that. It was not and is not unknown for Pastors to visit hospital patients in far off places that entail overnight stays or all night driving. The internet and cell phone were unknown and professional growth was self started and individual and reliance was upon Pastor conferences. I have a personal recollection of Pastor Roth and O’Brien arriving at a Pastors conference after driving their motorcycles through a snow storm, or at least sleet. They looked frozen and probably were.
If I make it sound like we are from the prehistoric times that is not true but the changes over the last twenty years were astronomical. The development of a therapeutic class that may or may not be Christian changed some of the commonsense Biblical counseling of the old timers. Hospitals developed their own grief counseling service and funeral directors took over much of what had been the purview of the old time preacher. All these things happened at a quick pace and the fact that I am using the term “old time preacher” for men who are in their 60’s and 70’s should be a bit surprising.
They were administrators and educators and counselors by necessity, but what they wanted to be more than anything else were preachers. That was the great and precious gift that they had been given and their great joy was to preach the Gospel and preach Christ. I am not denigrating the new breed. They are dedicated and they are theologians and they are very good. I am pointing out that the world they so easily maneuver overtook the older generation and made their life an adventure that is hard to explain. I recall the first computer that I bought and tried to learn and the intuition that here was a device that held so much promise and so much threat that we better get a hang of them and use them for the Gospel because they would certainly used against it.
Carlyle moved from rural to city ministry and all that entailed. I can’t explain what I felt when I first heard on a radio report the traffic from the “Minot Metro” area. Carlyle went from country parson to metro minister. He went from carefree bachelor to husband and his wife enhanced his ministry and is vital in the LWML and other acts of service. His love for preaching is exuberantly displayed and his sense of humor is unbounded. He broke a long solemn processional of preachers lining up for the ordination of another Pastor into a silly line of giggling immaturity with a quip that I still remember. The District President at the time had started a custom that the Ordinand would get a shepherds crook engraved with his name from the hand of the District President or the Circuit visitor at the ordination after the laying on of hands. The crook was meant to be symbolic of his ministry. Carlyle being one of the old breed had never received a shepherds crook. His statement that has gone down in memory was, “if they want to give me a symbol of my ministry it would be a cattle prod”. As they say “hilarity ensued” and the band of preachers had a hard time settling down to a dignified service. Yet witnesses would never have claimed Carlyle anything less than a shepherd who loved the Good Shepherd and loved nothing more than preaching the Gospel of salvation. Determined to know nothing except Christ crucified he hasn’t really retired, just, as we say of missionaries, “repositioned”.