Faith, Family and a Return to Brown County
It was the spring of 1995. I was a twenty-four-year-old seminary student driving up Route 68 through Paris and Maysville, Kentucky, headed for Brown County and an interview to become the Pastor of Decatur and Mount Olivet United Methodist Churches. Growing up in the shadows of Atlantic City, the Big Red Machine was all I knew about the area.
When I first turned my car onto Russellville-Winchester Road, those who have become so dear to me and I, myself, had no idea that the first meeting would be so important. That night my destination was Richard “Butch” Arn’s house.
Butch had agreed to be the head of the search committee for the new pastor. I was to meet with him and his family before we headed to meet the rest of the gathered faithful. Butch is one of the greatest men I have ever met. Still, I wonder if he would have even opened the door on that night if he knew that only three years later, in June of 1998, I would marry his daughter and leave with her to return to my native New Jersey.
I remember the preceding three years living across from the church in Decatur as some of the best of my life. Making good friends, serving on the Township Fire Company, helping round up funding for basketball and volleyball courts, enduring the unimaginable floods of early March in 1997, working on and learning about the rhythms of farm life and how they compared to my growing up crabbing, clamming, and fishing the back bays and ocean around Atlantic City, New Jersey, killing coyotes, nights at the dirt track with my neighbors, and so many more memories came back and made their way into stories and sermons over the next twenty-odd years.
After a few years in the full-time pulpit and three in administration at Circleville Bible College, I found myself at a hinge-point in my life where I decided to pursue a law degree in my last months at Circleville.
Over the years, many people have asked me how I can be both an attorney and a pastor. It seems the point of their question is, “are these two careers compatible?” I sometimes point out that many claim the Apostle Paul, author of a large portion of our New Testament, was an attorney – or at least a form of prosecutor for a portion of his life. Of course, lawyers two thousand years ago were very different. Well, reading about Paul, maybe not that different.
I have never believed working as an attorney and as a pastor are incompatible. I see them both as wonderful opportunities to serve. People who find themselves in very tough situations often turn to their minister, lawyer, and doctor. I don’t do well around blood and needles, so I will leave the third of these professions to someone else’s calling. As a former prosecutor, I found many opportunities to speak light, hope, and truth into people’s lives. These times were often in one of the worst moments of their life. I had an opportunity to speak hope to them while participating in delivering justice.
But I have not given up on sharing the gospel whenever afforded the opportunity. During law school and before my children were born, I spent summers traveling to preach at camp meetings. A bible study held in our home turned into a fourteen-year adventure serving as the founding pastor of Crossroads Community Church of Indian Mills, New Jersey. Then, I felt God call my family back to the farm in Brown County to be closer to my wife’s family.
It has not been the easiest of transitions, saying goodbye to a fulfilling and often thriving law practice in New Jersey, to my own parents and family, and especially to a church family that grew up with me over those fourteen years.
On returning, we found a place to hang a shingle and the opportunity to partner up with some great attorneys, Yonas and Rink, looking to move back to the Brown County area. John Yonas and his wife are Western Brown graduates. God put us together while I was moving back and he was looking to expand back into his hometown area from downtown Cincinnati. Having the ability to work with their firm and American Homeland Title helped me get on my feet during this transition. God knew what I needed and delivered on time, as he always has.
It has been an adventure returning to Brown County with a wife and three children. We enjoy time on the farm and the small-town life of Sardinia. I get to walk my children a couple of blocks each day to Brown County Christian School, sometimes preaching a chapel or substitute teaching. Having old friends invite me to share about Christ at their churches and meeting new people as I travel the county has also been a wonderful encouragement.
In his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost speaks about coming to a fork in the road one morning and trying to decide which way was better. He writes, “And both that morning equally lay. In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” During my late teens, I chose seminary over law school thinking I was shutting a door on a career in the law. God reopened it a few years later. Twenty-two years ago, I left Brown County thinking I would never return. God opened the way. Unlike with Frost’s prediction, I have been able to take both roads a few times in my life when God brought me back around.
A lot has changed in the last twenty-five years since I first turned my old car onto Russellville-Winchester Road. Decatur and Mount Olivet are no longer United Methodist Churches but continue to share the gospel and serve as important parts of our community.
I have traveled a lot of different roads since then, and God has now returned me to Brown County to serve and be part of a community I came to love so long ago.