Friday, July 15, 2016

Just an Ordinary Man in The Pulpit, Says He? ( part 2 )

Final of 2 parts
By Robert R. Schwarz 

Introduction from Part 1: Men like the Rev. Eldor Richter you won't see on the 5 O'clock news or  the cover of "People " magazine just because they have for 60 years been giving their heart  to a church , making hospital calls, missing a night's sleep to comfort a widow at 3 a.m. and giving body and mind without cost to defending a heady  book entitled  "Comparing the Qur'an and the Bible "   to hundreds of hard-nosed Muslims and Christians; nor, of course, do we normally lionize someone for simply being a 24-7 loyal husband  or  having with a reputation of  never  uttering  profanity or telling an off-color joke—an attribute the pastor says he  inherited from his father.  Today, at 84, Rick is  still treating  human sorrow and  proclaiming to the suffering ,  " God loves you, you know. "  

Rick and Mary at Book Signing100_0069.JPG
Rick and wife Mary at Rick's book-signing event

Conversations with  Muslims

Rick's reaction to the 2, 996 people killed  at the World Trade Center in NYC and  the Pentagon on  Sept. 11, 2001 shook his soul .  "I knew I needed to learn about the Islam religion and  why 9/11 happened, " he emailed  me .  He began to earnestly study the Qur'an, and in 2006 he wrote  the manual, or book ,  " The Qur'an and the Bible—a Comparison. "  He  told me , "My goal was to draw the Muslim and others  to  Christ by the undeserved, unconditional and unexpected love of God in Jesus  Christ. " 

After ten years of research, aided by his friendship with  the Rev.  Hicham Chehab, a  former militant  Muslim and later journalist in Jordan, a  fourth edition of his manual was published  by BakerBooks  ( Grand Rapids, MI ) in 2011 . (Hicham today is an ordained Lutheran minister at the Salam Arabic Church in Lombard, Illinois.) The  256-page book  was reviewed by  " Christianity Today" and "World Magazine", which described it as "an unprecedented collection of [1,500 ] passages and  doctrines of both faiths….an indispensable collection of accurate, understandable,    information taken directly from the primary source books of both faiths."   
  Though the book is  , in an academic sense,  a balanced comparison between the Bible and the Qur'an,  a few readers thought Rick was sympathetic to the Islamic faith.    Rick disagrees  ( and so do I ) and asserts  that his book  "is an objective comparison between the two faiths and that   both Muslims and Christians can benefit from reading it.   Rick believes that Christians should share their faith with Muslims with "gentleness and respect " and that God's  "great love    yearns to reach the heart of      the  person who is Muslim. "

     Adding  to his comments on Rick's research and scholarship , the Rev. Dan P. Gilbert, former president of the  Northern  Illinois District of the Missouri District , said: the book "will be both a great help to those seeking spiritual truth and also a deep comfort to those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and t he Savior of the Nations." Wrote the missionary , Rev. Peter Conwell Richards : "I used it [ the manual ] in Mombasa , Kenya and elsewhere with excellent results.  The clarity of common misunderstandings of the Bible exhibited in the Qur'an  are clearly delineated and also the many misunderstandings of what Muslims truly believe are quite clearly outlined as well. " 
  Since then , several radio stations country-wide have interviewed  Rick about his book, which also  has been the focus of  several workshops he has conducted about Islam and Christianity.   "I look forward to witnessing  to Muslims every day  of my life, " Rick said.   The first time he talked  to a Muslim , it  was the  young man who was dating one of his daughters.  The man's parents had invited Rick and Mary to a picnic. 
   Rick has a low tolerance  for any Qur'an quote  used to  prove that the Islamic faith  does not allow  violence,  especially to people  innocent of  criminal behavior . The majority  of these misleading quotes  , he says, are from well-meaning  American citizens, both  Muslims and Christians.  In  a letter to a newspaper editor, he quoted from the Qur'an ( Sura 5:33 ) : Whoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it is as if killed all mankind.  "Thus the Qur’an allows revenge killing and murder for corruption which includes homosexuality, abortion, or immodesty,"  Rick  wrote. .

With  the Rev. Hicham Chehab, a Christian convert from
Lebanon, now helping   other converts  to resettle in America.
My wife and I once sat in a  taxi with Rick when he tactfully eased  into a chat  with its Muslim driver  about Jesus . And there was this dialogue with a Muslim  that Rick loves to recall …I'll let him:

" I had a CAT scan for prostate cancer ," Rick tells me . "The attendant was from the    Middle East. I asked him,  'What is your name? ' "
"He said, 'Anwar.' "
"I asked, 'Oh, like Anwar Sadat?' "
' Yes.'
"I  asked him where he came from. "
" I then inquired, 'What does the name Pakistan stand for?' "
'Clean Place.' 
"I politely asked, "  'Are you Muslim?'
" I told him, 'Oh, I have been reading the Qur'an. ' "
 'What did you learn? '  " he asked me. "
" 'I learned, '  I said "  'that Muslims believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and   that he is a great prophet. ' "
' That is right, ' " my Muslim friend said. "
" 'But one thing that puzzled me, ' I continued, ' is that the Qur'an says that He was not   actually crucified, it only appeared so.' "
"Anwar answered,  'That's right. ' "
"I proceeded:  'For me the cross is a plus sign of God's great love. Just as John the Baptist said, Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).'" 
"  With that, our conversation needed to end , for my body was now passing through the CAT scanner . But what an opportunity and a privilege I had ! " 
            Rick has given   ten radio interviews and  continues to give lectures about comparing the Bible with the Qur'an. "I am very concerned that Christians are not sufficiently equipped to meet the challenge of Islam ,"  he says. 

Twilight Years  of Our Friendship
          At age 81 , Rick began walking with a cane, yet I knew I'd never see him  ever   camping for long  under a shade tree watching the rest of us pilgrims trekking ahead .  Nor would I witness him  passing  up an opportunity to comfort  or enlighten  someone  lost in a desert  of doubt or  disbelief.  Sometimes, however ,  this pastor  was unsure  of the  impact of his words .   A few days ago  he was telling me of a young Afro-American  clerk he met in a   bookstore . In casual , non-religious conversation,  she mentioned  she worshipped the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra  [ or Re]  and wanted nothing to do with Christianity because of all the Americans who once  profited from the slave trade.  Rick did some research and  returned a week later and  politely told her  how the white,  former slave ship master ,  John Newton , was converted to Christianity and  became an Anglican clergyman  and wrote one of the most spiritually inspiring  church hymns of all   time : "Amazing  Grace. "  The clerk abruptly   told my friend not to  say another word to her and walked away.
   Then  there was an event which Rick related  one  May day morning in 2015 when we, along with our wives  , were sitting on a   bench and inhaling seductive scents of the Chicago  Botanic Gardens .  It was a Friday , the special weekday which the Richters  had for years  observed as their " Friday Lite ,"  a fun date , a day —if possible—to avoid doing anything "heavy."  As we looked out at an acre-large rose garden , Rick  was   reminded of his newly blossomed Magnolia tree that he had  for two years been diligently feeding an iron nutrient.   He had  shared  his  Magnolia success story with a cranky, 81-year-old , widower neighbor to whom Rick had once witnessed the Gospel.  The neighbor, a self-admitted atheist ,  at the time had an dying  Magnolia tree , yet  pooh-poohed  Rick's  iron treatment . Nevertheless, Rick went home and  picked a handful of the tree's  blossoms and showed them to his neighbor, saying, "Look what my nutrient  iron has  done to make  these blossoms so beautiful ! "  The neighbor was unmoved.  
   Rick said he never knew the fate of his neighbor's ailing Magnolia tree, but soon after that  his neighbor lay dying in a hospital.  Rick visited him and learned  that the dying man had recently told a visiting priest to go to hell. Rick, wanting to give his neighbor some peace before dying, lovingly  told him , " I hope and pray that when your last hour comes, dear neighbor,  you will want to meet  the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. " 
   "I miss him, " Rick told me as the four of us rose from our bench and headed for another garden.
   The Richter's " Friday Lite " also allowed for some impromptu silliness, either during a no-brainer card game called " Skip-Bo " or having  dinner out , like that one night at the  Buffalo restaurant   ( named after a popular  Chicago  ice cream parlor where, decades ago, its so-called "soda jerks " were men in their twenties who hand-whipped  bottled  cream for  Sundaes served in tin dishes ) .  
  For fun, Rick  will watch a Cubs or Blackhawks game, the evening news, and  for laughs, the Andy Griffith show ( Don Knotts bowls him over ). He loves  to fish in one of the nearby Forest Preserve ponds . And what never  fails to make him happy ?  It's gazing up at very  tall trees, particularly  the one on my neighbor's lawn—a fifty-foot elm ; every time Rick visits me, he pauses outside and, as if  seeing that tree for the first time, looks up at it in awe :  "Just look at  that ! Look at it, will you !"

Coffee Talks at McDonald's
     In 1996,  Rick and I began meeting  twice, sometimes  three times weekly   at a local McDonald's . We'd spend an hour  over coffee—he,  often with pancakes  and I with  apple  pastries. Sometimes Rick wore blue jeans , but  whatever he wore was with good "suburban" taste. For some privacy we sat in a small alcove with two chairs and a round table . Our privacy often vanished when we'd became  about national politics,  the changing American  culture,  or hot-bottom theology questions such  as : Do we get a ticket to  heaven because of our good works or only by a faith-filled "relationship" in Jesus ? ;  or are both required of  us ?
Rick at the pulpit of St. Peter Lutheran Church in
Arlington Heights, Illinois. 
 We  took pleasure about talking about our gardens and exchanging  opinions about a movie we saw on television . (The Richters  seldom went to a movie theater, largely due, I surmised ,  to budget constraints . )  Rick could have written sonnets about the honeysuckle  that adorned his patio trellis  or the Siberian Peapod tree on the front lawn—so well manicured by his wife .   I took mental notes of several of our talks and put them on my computer when I got home. 

Feb. 19, 2011: Seeing the face of Jesus in other people 
R  ( in a melancholic voice ) —I miss her very much .
ME—The  85-year-old woman ?
R—The last time before she died we sang " What a Friend We Have in Jesus " and then "Rock of Ages."  She looked at me and smile, feebly.  She had been a great  blessing to her family.  ( taking out a photograph and handing it to me  )  So alive and vibrant.
ME—Maybe you saw the face of Jesus in her.
R—I think  maybe I did.
            I withheld telling Rick  my regret in finding it impossible to see Jesus' face in any one, no matter the suffering or  love  I felt…. But maybe  someday.

May 8, 2012: Rick's aging
     Rick recently  turned 80, and  this morning his voice was choky , and at times his eyes moistened,  especially when he said--
R—I've lost energy.  I think I have to  cut back. But I can't.
ME—The prostate ?
R—Too much radiation…(after a long silence  ) Too many people  to see. There are three other pastors but they don't have time.   Something else, Bob:  I need cataract surgery on both eyes.
ME—Hate to say it, Rick, but you're not indispensable. 
R—Oh, no.  It's not that !  It's just that…( now tearfully )  … I'd have to give up my house calls. .. I love what I do so much ,  bringing  our Lord's Word to them.
ME—I  know. ( another long pause ) Does the church know about your cataracts ?
R—No. But that's not it.
ME—Don't quit, Rick !  Don't ever  quit ! Keep going !
I had never heard my friend express such  intimate thoughts, and   I sadly  sensed  that  this man facing  me had  a  foot on  the last lap of his life's trek and would soon be physically humbled. ( I would be proven wrong about this . ) I  could do little for him now except  offer to be his chauffeur  until his cataracts were removed. Rick declined my offer;  His Mary would be driving him, as she sometimes  would three years later when they sold one of their two cars. The next day I got this email from him:   "Hi, Bob: Thanks for being a  friend and letting me share   some of my deepest concerns with you. I felt refreshed and restored afterward. You were the Lord's servant to me. I pray that you might share the same  peace from the Lord . Peace and Joy in the Lord, Rick [his usual sign-off ].

     May 14, 2014:  Our  ' Dark Nights of the Soul'
      Somehow we got on the  subject  of spiritual aridity,  that condition which a secularist or atheist might describe—erroneously—as depression . Saints and theologians, notably Catholic but  certainly not Lutheran, see this aridity as one's  sensing  a complete absence of God in their lives; it is, often coupled with a persisting storm of  memories of sinful behavior. All  agree in  their writings  that this state can be terrifying , especially  to the individual  who has been  steadfastly and soberly devoted  to his  or her  Christian faith . After they have survived it (aridity can last  for a few days or  a few years) , they will tell you that  this aridity  is   a grace of God which strengthens   faith in God and advances an individual—as it has for  them—in loving  God for Who He  is rather than for what He can do for them.  
  I shared with Rick my own  occasional  fear of backsliding into behavior commonly described as belonging to that 'old man ' in us . But I said that this fear had a  vital role in keeping me "walking straight ", avoiding rabbit trails leading nowhere. 

    R—Maybe it's just a bad case of scruples.
    ME—Yeah, maybe some of that. That can be worse, you know. I know some  of us     compulsively strive to correct the most trivial things .                                                
     R—Right.  I've know a few whose life was made miserable by thinking they never did    anything right. Always apologizing,  feeling guilty.  Intelligent people, too. They need to believe that God really does love them and doesn’t hold grudges.
     ME—Rick, You ever get spiritually  dry ?
     R—( laughing, yet sensing  I remained by all this ) ) If you mean moody or  just having a bad   day —we all do.
    ME—(  sarcastically,  not liking his laughing  ) Including you ?
     R—I  think sometimes about past sins.
     ME—( sensing a tacit agreement  not to  take this any further )  So ?
      R—Keep walking on that  razor's edge of faith in Christ…( then, after some  discomfort in our starting at each other too long ) …Bob, read Psalm 103 and then 42.
     ME—And your  "Golden Promises " ? [  his "manual" of  favorite Biblical  verses he had collected during a lifetime  and would later put on FaceBook  along with the audio of several past sermons]
     We headed  for the parking lot to our white Toyotas ,  and Rick told me how much he appreciated  our coffee time. He admitted that for the last four months he had been depressed over losing his energy and ability to preach sermons.  It was  difficult for  him to voice  this.

      April 18, 2014: Forgiveness and Fortitude
     Rick had been having trouble forgiving a young man for  criticizing him for calling   a voters meeting  to bless  Rick's  new church assignment.
    R—He told me 'You should have just left '. 
    ME—But you've forgiven him ?
     R—Yes. And I  asked God to forgive me for harboring negative thoughts  about that man.
     Rick then stood up and  acted out something which  enlightened  me about the virtue of  fortitude. As if  a circus performer on a tightrope , he started walking gingerly , one foot perfectly in front of the other. 
     R—You see,  Bob, keep looking ahead at Jesus, not at the safety net below.  

     May, 2014: What's  this World Coming to ?  
     ME—Rick,  we live in a  bubble here in Arlington Heights. I mean,  we've got problems here, but nothing like those in other towns. I mean, sometimes I feel that with   all our good schools, safe neighborhoods,  and churches with all kinds of ministries—well, I think most people here, including you and me ,  are  pampered !
     R—I know.  And another thing: The whole world is  losing its morality; it reaching a crisis, and America's debt will be its undoing. Our debtor countries like China and Russia will lose confidence in us to pay them back—
ME ( interrupting )—and  that,  added to  the Islamist extremists bent on conquering the world as they tried to do in the 10th Century, will—
R ( he can't wait to say it )—bring God's final wrath, and let's not forget the millions of abortions in this country.
        As usual , Rick, who always begins our conversations with a prayer, now waited for me to again close this one with a prayer.  

      Feb. 15, 2015: Salvation without Hearing a Word of the Gospel ?
      This conversation left us both drained more than any other.  It went beyond our usual hour . I never saw Rick so downcast and weary as when   he now  lamented  the lingering  health issues of his two  daughters , one living in Madison, Wisconsin, the other in Iowa City. Rick and his   wife had made numerous weekend visits to the two cities in all-out efforts to comfort the two girls.    The morning didn't get any better when we  slid into  a  topic—we never have an  agenda—on which  Catholic dogma and most Protestant dogma disagree: Can a native living in darkest Africa , for example, who has never heard nor read a word  of the Gospel, get to  heaven? Many Lutherans say he will not enter heaven, even though he might not have had any opportunity to read or hear the Gospel.   Catholics say that the eternal fate of this man  and that of all earthlings is entirely up to Jesus and that  conversion to the Christian faith is ongoing , rather than a one-time occurrence, as Protestants believe. Most Protestants also believe that anyone who sincerely asks Jesus to forgive his or her sins and then , with  sober conviction, accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, goes to heaven.  
     R ( after hearing the  "Catholic" position )—   Bob, the Bible is clear: faith comes from  hearing the Word of God , and it is by faith and God's grace, not by works , that we are saved.
    ME—It also says in the Book of James, that faith  without works is dead. Isn’t it possible that somehow this native in Africa has faith in God but simply, for a variety of reasons, can't articulate it? 
     R— We can talk about that later. 
     In our  coffee nook the ambiance of fellowship was  fading. Prudently , we ended the topic and returned to  fellowship. I told Rick  this joke:  A mountain climber was high up and starting to slip to his doom when he grabbed on to  a small shrub  protruding from a steep  cliff.  ' God,' he called out,  ' save me and I'll do anything you ask. ' A voice boomed out : ' Let go of that bush.'  The climber then called louder than ever: ' Is there anyone else up there ? ' 

     April 1 , 2016: Wood, Woodpeckers, and  'Flying through the Universe '
     We were talking about the ten acres of beautiful woodland on his family's former farm in northern Minnesota.
     R—Been wondering what to do with those ten acres of mine…all that woodland.
     ME—You have a love affair with wood, don't you ?
     R—That  guy who cut down those trees for himself, he never did apologize, you know.
     ME—You should have taken him to court, Rick.
     R—( ignoring the question in favor of his pancakes ) I'm thinking of leaving the land to the kids.   Right now, I've got a problem with woodpeckers. They love the cedar  siding on the house, pecked out a  big  hole on one side. I'm having someone come out this week to give me an estimate on new siding.
     I recalled Rick's still-abiding love of woodcarving and carpentry,  skills he learned on the farm and which he has used in various ways all this life.
     ME—That'll cost you.   [ The Richters eventually decided to have their home painted. ]
     We made another one of  our  radical change of subjects and shared our personal  visions of heaven.
     ME—Don't laugh at mine, now ; but I see it without the dimensions of time or space. I see  the whole thing as the body of Christ , where  billions of us are, ( and now I stumbled through the rest ) simultaneously  existing in our individual and glorified  bodies  but  unified and interacting as  do  cells and atoms of our earthly bodies—with Christ as the head of it all.
     R—That's beautiful !
     ME—And now your, vision, Rick.
     R—(seriously  yet laughing ) I'm flying through the universe.

Feb. 1, 2016: ' But  I'm Ordinary '
     Rick  was telling me about his disenchantment with some Lutheran ministers he heard speak recently at a Lutheran  church circuit meeting. 
     R—They see things  differently  today.   
    ME—How so ?           
     R—Well,  I advised them not to follow suit with other Lutheran  ministers who are                      leaving out Bible verses nowadays , verses  which we  normally quote in our  sermons…and that they are there not addressing issues like abortion, same-sex marriage,  gays…
    ME—And ? 
    R—They concluded   that they should just keep preaching  the way they have.        
 Was Rick now talking  to a reporter  rather than to a  friend , I asked myself?
     ME—Rick, I want to write your life story.
     Rick was silent for at least 30 seconds . I believe he was thinking of the many things he had revealed to me in confidence through the years,   and now his good friend, a journalist whom he knew had a passion for truth as strong at his, wanted to  tell everyone what the Rev. Eldor  was all about.
     ME—I want to write about the life-long  trials and tribulations of a special kind of minister.
     Rick twice  slowly rolled  his head to one side , obviously not knowing what to say.
     ME ( pressing him )— There's so much to tell about you that can benefit many who have been asking many questions for years without getting any answers. If you don't give me some of those  answers, maybe no one ever will hear them. 
    R—I'm just happy that I survived and   did  what was expected of me... ( now, pleading)…  But , Bob, I'm ordinary!

Nearing His River Jordan Still Trekking

Rick  and Mary  with artist Mary Alice Davis-Schwarz
and husband 
Bob, behind her,  on holiday at  Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Though early family and farm life had done much to shape the man Rick , he likely will 
 tell you that the  heart-deep friendships of  hundreds of  individuals —their joys and especially their  sorrows— have salted and peppered his life more than anything else. 
     For the past 20 years , Rick has been meeting Thursday  evenings  with seven men to study the Bible. One of them,  Ernie Toborg,  recently sent me this email: "Rick's  energy and love for our Lord and Savior is like no other.  It is said that in life  you make many acquaintances but  if you've made one close friend, you're blessed !  In 1992,  when my nephew, his wife, and niece were killed in a private plane crash in Pittsburg, Rick went over to my sister's home and led everyone in a memorial service.  And  in 2005 , when I had six-way heart  by-pass surgery and the doctors were not optimistic about my survival because of other complications,  Rick was there praying with me--and here I am!  Rick, you're the BEST ! "
     In mid 2015, there were times when I thought my friend was about to cross the finish line.  He had retired from the pulpit he loved dearly. The light of his Christian faith , which for decades he had given without stint to friends—and sometimes foes—was flickering.   Aging was a factor ,  but the real  grindstone were those repeated trips to Iowa and Wisconsin where Rick , along with Mary,  gave themselves without cost to body or  mind   to the care of their two daughters and a granddaughter ; it was a season in their lives when the elixir of  parent love was   needed . For several months , Rick seldom  had a normal night's sleep. But today Rick will tell you  that  the family's faith continues as defined in Holy Scripture as :   the assurance of  things  hoped for, the conviction of things not seen  ( Hebrews 11: 1 ) .
      At McDonald's ,  Rick and I , of course,  offer solutions to all  the world's major problems.  He continues to express sadness over  the direction which  American culture is heading  and what appears , to both of us , as a dangerous  increase in a population which chooses to be their own omnipotent ,  moral authority.   " My  greatest concern," Rick tells  me  , "is that God will soon say tell them,  You're  on your own from  now on. " To that I added: " And that will be the precursor to the end times. "
            I never saw Rick really angry, except when  he read  a Newsweek magazine article I  gave  him. It was a long  cover  story written by a celebrated author who repeatedly  questioned the spiritual value of the Bible . He asserted that it had too many bad and  inaccurate  translations.  The writer's research had been laborious but skewered ,  and Rick, with equal research,  wrote the magazine's editor-in-chief a long letter to that effect.  Rick ended his letter  with: " By ridiculing belief in the Bible, you have added to the secularism of our day. I pray that those who are taken by Mr.  _______'s  article and the ridiculing of certain segments of the Christian faith,  might seek for themselves the wonderful truth concerning Jesus Christ by reading the  Gospel of John…Pease and Joy in the Lord, Rev. E.W. Richter. "
     One morning at McDonald's , it was my turn to be teary-eyed.  Rick was telling me about Chris Kline , who was  born with multiple sclerosis that left him without control of any of his muscles ,  except those in his two big toes. Today, Mr. Kline is a college graduate and moves  his body  on a carpet by pulling himself forward  inch by inch.  He operates a personal computer  with one toe and , with the other,  operates his electric chair.
     Rick quoted Chris  to me: " God gave me this  body, and I consider it a gift. It is a gift because I can encourage others with it. "  Then Rick turned to  me and said ,  " Because Chris is so weak,  the life of Christ is accented in him ." Ending our talk  for the morning,  my 84-year-old friend  from the farm lands of southern  Minnesota  remarked,  "So, Bob, when we are weak and say I'm useless and helpless,  we'll  think of Chris Kline. "

Lastly, a Few Questions for Rick…
     Rick consented  to a long interview  to answer these following questions , which , I believe,  people might  want  to ask over   coffee with him.  

Considering the radical changes our culture has undergone since you pastored a church, what advice might you have today  for young  pastors?

Often churches  face financial problems. In attempting to raise funds, we should remember what Jesus said:  “When you give alms, sound not trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets,  that they may be praised by men” …Matt. 6:3.  My appeal to the people has always been to give to the Lord personally, because He first loved us.  Then people will respond generously .

Any advice to the parents whose child is about to become a high school student ?

Since I had a grandchild in  high school, I understand the concern of parents.  I would hope that the parents have practiced their faith with love, forgiveness and discipline; that they have had family devotions  and would continue attending worship services as a family.  Parents should teach  children to exercise personal responsibility more —within boundaries.  Talk with them. Listen to them and continue to show them acts of love, forgiveness and kindness.  Go camping together and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Attend their school activities and take them to their  favorite restaurant. Stay close to one another and to the Lord.

How has your marriage to Mary benefited your many years of ministry?

Mary has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to me.  She is a joy to live with.  She is a woman of faith and love, cheerful and positive.  She has taught the Word of God to children and adults, conducted devotions, served as a Christian Growth Chairman, visited the sick, fed the needy, baby sat, made evangelism calls, served at suppers, funerals and weddings, cleaned the church, sang in choirs, audited books, served as secretary to the pastor and  worked as a hospital nurse.   Above all she has been a wonderful wife and mother to our children, a godly woman who has served her Lord and shown Christ’s love to us as a family and to people consistently. I'd like to add what I heard once from an aged woman  who said  Mary was created in her  mother’s womb to be a pastor's wife.  

Generally speaking, what, if any, reforms do you believe should be made today in Christian churches throughout America ?  The world ?

The church needs to be a church.  The Greek word for church is “ecclesia” —those “called out” of this world and called into a new fellowship in Christ in faith and love.  We are to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Christ calls us to be a salt and leaven in the culture.  Don’t redefine the church to fit the culture, but as the church,  know that your identity is in Christ and that as “God’s own people,  you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”… I Pet. 2:9.  Do not forsake the gathering together in prayer, in Bible Study, and in fellowship. Care for the poor and needy as unto Christ. Remember you are Christ’s “little flock” and stay close to the Good Shepherd who “lay down His life for the sheep" …John 10:15.  He says, “Fear not little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” … Luke 12:32.

Regarding the spread of Islam throughout the country, might you suggest an attitude  we should have about American Muslims ?

 Islam is growing by leaps and bounds in the world’s population, while the population of the Christian world is decreasing by comparison. Muslims are very committed to their religion and are pressing the church as they did in the Middle Ages when they captured Constantinople and almost overran Europe. While the government as God’s “left hand” has the responsibility to resist the Jihadist movement, the individual Christian should have the attitude that he should  “give an answer for the hope which he or she has and to do it “with gentleness and respect” … I Peter. 3:15.  The Allah of Islam is quite different from the Lord God Yahweh, the Great I Am.   Allah’s love is conditional. The 2007 “Open Letter” by world Islamic leaders to world Christian leaders cites Sura 3:31 of the Qur’an, “If you love God, follow me; God will love you and forgive you your sins.”  Thus by loving Allah one earns the love of Allah.  Contrast this to the Bible which says, “God is love”…I John 4:8.  And ,  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” …I John 4:10.  God’s love in Christ is unexpected, undeserved and unconditional.  How wonderful is that! A pastor's goal and the attitude of all Christians should be to draw the Muslim to Christ by at same love.

What milestones in your life have most shaped it ?

As a child I went with my parents to “mission festivals.” Four congregations in our community would rotate in having  their one  “mission festival  Sunday " during the summer. There would be morning, afternoon, and perhaps evening services and lunch served by the women of the host congregation.  Guest pastors were invited  to preach on the need “to go into all  the world and proclaim the Gospel.”  The need to tell others about Christ was wonderfully motivating and instilled in me a great love for those who do not know Christ. When I was a sophomore in high school, I went to a boarding prep school and began nine years of pastoral education that included  Holy Scriptures and  languages (German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew). I received a Master of Divinity degree and later took post-graduate courses.  A year of internship equipped and deepened my commitment to the Lord and the pastoral ministry.  By the grace of Christ, that commitment has remained with me.

Is there anything you'd like people to remember you for when you're in heaven ?

That I loved the Lord and loved people and that I was a man of God who proclaimed the love and comfort of Jesus Christ. 

At home with his favorite book, the Holy Bible

The End
All comments are welcome.
© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Just an Ordinary Man in the Pulpit , Says He ?

Part one of two parts

By Robert R. Schwarz

                 Rick didn't want me to write his brief biography . He shook his head and said, " I'm too ordinary"—and meant it . He had no celebrity status , though those who knew him would give him five stars  as a pastor. Men like the Rev. Eldor Richter you won't see on the 5 O'clock news or  the cover of "People " magazine just because they have for 60 years been giving their heart  to a church , making hospital calls, missing a night's sleep to comfort a widow at 3 a.m. and giving body and mind without cost to defending a heady  book entitled  "Comparing the Qur'an and the Bible "   to hundreds of hard-nosed Muslims and Christians; nor, of course, do we normally lionize someone for simply being a 24-7 loyal husband  or  having with a reputation of  never  uttering  profanity or telling an off-color joke—an attribute the pastor says he  inherited from his father.  Today, at 84, Rick is  still treating  human sorrow and  proclaiming to the suffering ,  " God loves you, you know. " 
            So, I had to debate for 20 minutes with Rick why he was obligated to share his life story , that  it was important for people to  see him as I had for years : one who has pretty well freed himself from the three most widely accepted enemies of a Christian who takes his faith seriously: the flesh, the "world ," and  the devil. And, personally, I wanted people to get an intimate look at his life trek towards his River Jordan, a trek which might bring to your  mind  that admirable endurance displayed by those ancient Hebrews on their 40-year trek.  Above all , I wanted you, the reader, to become acquainted  with a man who remains today not one  to alter his course due to changing moods or current fashion. 
When I saw that Rick had  miserably lost our  debate,  I said,  "And as your  friend and confident and a long-time newspaper editor , you know I'm just the guy to write your story . "  Rick remained politely silent during the rest of our  McDonald's coffee.
            Yet, for all the wrong reasons, my friend's modesty  bothered me. I later  dealt with it much better after  I read these words  written by Saint Josemari√° Escriv√°  (1902-1975 ) in his book " The Forge " ( # 1051 ) :  I advise you not to look for praise, even when you deserve it. It is better to pass unnoticed , and to let the most beautiful and noble aspects of our actions, of our lives, remain hidden. What a great thing it is to become little ! Deo ominis GloriaAll the glory to God !   I took  this  as a  warning that when writing this report,  I should not  depend  on  my personal theories nor   commit  to propagate  human solutions gleaned from my own experience . ( A tough call for me !  )      
          Rick our wives , and I were at Ravinia  Festival  Park  listening to Tony Bennett lose his heart in San Francisco when I found nerve to ask  my  friend  of many years , a flag bearer of the Lutheran Church  of the conservative Missouri Synod  ( of which I had been an active member for 25  years ) , " Rick, would we still be good friends if I became a Catholic ?" 
        As  he turned to answer,  a memory stung me  and I immediately regretted my    question. In my head I heard past accusations of several devout Lutherans , including that of a prominent Lutheran  theologian , claiming  that a Catholic pope was really an anti-Christ, that is, an inherently evil person in disguise  who, at the end of the world, will reveal himself as the real messiah and savior.  Perhaps  my journalistic skepticism that prevented me from ever believing this , nevertheless I now feared that Rick  believed it. What then ?  But my friend , always one  to be quick to listen and slow to speak , calmed my anxiety with a warm smile and an arm on my shoulder . "Of, course, Bob, the best of friends ,  " he said.  We  returned our  attention  to Tony Bennett. I don't think our wives had heard a word of our  conversation.
 I became a Catholic a few months later,  and over the next decades  Rick and I enjoyed exhorting each other ( usually at MacDonald's ) on matters of faith  (we talk amicably about the pope),the stock market volatility, and gardening . Naturally, we dealt sternly but compassionately with major world problems ! We shared confidential stuff , usually about aging (I'm 82 ) , agreeing  that this transition is not for sissies. Nowadays , we and our wives occasionally  dine together in our homes  ( ending the evening with a game of dominoes )  or   stroll together  through the Chicago Botanic Gardens . It' been soul-nourishing.    
  Like all humans, more than one metaphor defines Rick . I prefer  Defender of the Word  (of God ).  He's definitely not a charismatic ,  street-wise Bible- thumper; but what I see motivating him reminds me of one of Jesus' disciples, Philip ,  who,  seeing an Ethiopian eunuch crossing the desert while  reading ,  but not understanding , a prophecy  about Jesus , runs up  to the eunuch's and asks, " Do you understand what  you are  reading ?"   When the eunuch replies, " Well, how could I unless someone guides me ? "  Philip then  convincingly  preaches the Gospel Message  to him  and  baptizes him . The eunuch goes on his way rejoicing  ( Acts: 8: 26-39).  Some will say   that when my friend evangelizes, he is sounding  a  core Lutheran dogma that has existed since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century: The righteous will live by his faith.                                                                                                                    

Early Farm Life Shaped Him               

        We begin  with an unprecedented  20 inches of rain which had  fallen in south eastern  Minnesota  on a summer night in  2007 as  Rick  and wife Mary left  their motel  near the small,  un-mapped town of  Silo.  He was uneasy about the drive to the Emmanuel Lutheran Church , which had asked him to preach a sermon commemorating  its 145th anniversary.  " Everything around Silo was under water, some people were on roofs, some homes were  carried away by flood waters ," he  later told me during one of our many McDonald's coffee.  Though police had   closed all roads,  Rick drove around the  barricades ;  it was a maneuver uncharacteristic of a pastor raised in a Germanic Lutheran tradition of law and order.  He likely would have waded his way to the church rather than miss blessing the church he once attended as a youth and from which  88 of its members became either school teachers or clergymen.
        A late morning sun lit up  woodlands of  oak in the surrounding  Mississippi Valley  as the  couple drive on several miles of country highways , passing  by acreage of meadows where once  stood the large, two-floor  home  built where Rick spent his childhood .
        Rick pulled over and thought of  the stone  
structure  where his family  used to smoke hams and sausages and reminisced about his  first 20 years of  farm life.  Some memories  were joyous, others sad. There was that drought, then the Great Depression in the 1930's when the Richter family , including  Rick's sisters Dorothy, Esther, and  Adeline,  had to move their cattle to a  grazing valley that  was cool and wet.  Erosion had made a poor harvest of hay, corn , and oats        too thin  to  harvest , but within a few years, due to  the wise use of contour and trip farming  and to switching  the family labors  to dairy  farming, the  Richter farm  land  was restored  . But the entire income from the dairying went to pay off a farm debt suffered because of the Depression. Rick's brother, Erwin, helped his mother split fire wood blocks that were taken by horse and wagon to town and sold for $3.50 for the entire load ; the money went for groceries .   And then there was that bull born with one testicle, a few Heifers  born with two instead of four teats,  still-born calves,  and  a  badly infected hog boar .  One of the many German proverbs Rick  had learned in high school—along with  German,  Latin and some  Greek —now came to mind: Mann must Leib und Siele susamen halten   ("A person must keep life and soul together " ) . 
            Rick drove off, looking forward more than ever  to seeing old farming  friends at the church and reliving better memories. The remainder of the drive was quite  bumpy and the closed  roads caused him to think of how these same roads were closed on January  6, 1932, when his mother was pregnant  with him and lay on a bobsled hitched to two horses driven by  her husband Herman . It was snowing—his mother , Gustie, was to tell him—when  family and bobsled made  the three- mile journey to a  doctor in Lewiston , who then put Gustie in his car and drove her  l3 miles to a Winona hospital  . There,   the youngest of the Richter clan was born and named after his sister's boyfriend . "But my sister did not marry him, though she thought him " a very nice man," Rick told me.  
The original St. Peter worship
   site in 1840  (top  image ). A second
St. Peter ( middle image) ,
not  not in full use today . A
few hundred yards away from
both is the  current church. 
The couple pulled up to the church , a white frame dwelling of Gothic design with four plain windows that looked out to  a parsonage and school with a home  for a  teacher.   Mary entered the front door  and  Rick went directly to the sacristy to scan his sermon notes. ( A Lutheran pastor will tell you that he might take an hour to prepare for each minute of his sermon . ) 
Rick's father, who died at age 80 of  Parkinson's Disease , had been an  elder here for 35 years. Once, when adrift  in a fond memory of his father, Rick related how Dad would step into a heated argument between two church members and usher them outside and calm them. Rick's mother had  a fatal heart attack  the day after President Kennedy was assassinated . "The assassination had greatly troubled her," Rick said.  
       Sometimes with tears, Rick  would tell me how deep was his father's  faith in God .  "He read from the Bible every morning before breakfast and I never heard him utter a profane word. His favorite expression was ' Thank  the Lord. ' "   Rick's great-grandfathers, Wilhelm and Janzow,  used to  discuss theology for half a day.   Mary's grandfather was a Lutheran pastor ,  and when he died  ,  Mary's grandmother was   pregnant with their tenth child.
        The congregation  filled  the small church, farm families dressed  in their Sunday best, men wearing neckties.   Hugs,  handshakes and other demonstrative behavior  would have to wait for lunch,  a  more appropriate time  for Lutherans. 
            There was absolute stillness when Rick, a  six-feet tall man  with a frame  still showing a physique of  hard farm labor at age 75, moved  to the pulpit and faced  the worshipers  with both solemnity and cheerfulness.  Not even a crows-foot showed on his well- chiseled face. One could  say that Rick looked like a Lutheran pastor .  When he preached—he did that now for 25 minutes— his voice boomed and  his arms rose with his moments of passion ,   but never extravagantly as a constantly , altar-pacing crusader might. Rick reminded  the seniors in pews : " God has been faithful to you all during your  years. "
        During  the meal outside afterwards, Rick and Mary beamed  as the younger  well-wishers introduced themselves  and the older ones  reached out with a firm handshake or a tight hug as a reminder of a  dear  but never-to-be forgotten  friendship.   As Lutherans,  they  took communal sit-down meal quite seriously, particularly  when the dessert  was  home-baked pies  now on the  table.  Mary, a slender,  attractive  and  empathetic woman with attentive eyes who was inclined to cheerful  conversation ,   shared her husband's joy during this  nostalgic  event. Perhaps she was also embracing an  memory of that  nearby  idyllic valley  where Rick had proposed to  her a long  time ago.   

' Will You Be Mine ' ?

She remembered every detail of the scene; it was on a wooded hillside overlooking a  valley and distant buffs , and it was Good Friday. Rick had dated Mary when   both were in college , but when a friend advised him to "look at the field " [ other girls ] , he did—until he saw  " a few other  boys were getting interested " in Mary. Rick had stopped the car and walked with  Mary a short distance into a forest of oak, pine, and maples.  He carried Mary over a creek .  The two then paused in silence to gaze at a large expanse of lush meadow  where Rick's family once took their cattle to pasture during that  drought.  " The hills were reverberating and my heart pounding, " Rick told me.  He  took Mary in his arms and said,  " Will you be mine ?" and she replied , "I  will. "  
At  the Chicago Botanic Gardens with wife Mary (right ) and
the Rev. Hicham Chehab and wife Mona.
Three months after they were married Mary became pregnant, and six years later the Richter's had three  daughters: Faith, then Hope, followed by Beth.  Through the years the girls  would observe how vital Mary became to their  father's  success as a pastor; she taught Sunday school, adult Bible classes and  participated in fellowship activities—causing one parish member to tell Rick,  "You know, your wife was a pastor's wife from the womb. "  Their decades-long   marriage was never seriously threatened and served as a valuable resource for Rick's marriage enrichment workshops. 

 A Vexing  Problem  

Five years  after he had been ordained , Rick's  father was dying , and the thought of his father's impending death greatly disturbed this now 32-year-old minister. It was ill-timed,  for Rick. He wondered if he should continue in the pastoral ministry or become a carpenter.  Then driving down an Iowa  country road  one afternoon ,  after being in the  throes of   discernment, Rick at last saw  the elusive  the truth of the matter . It was not about obedience or all of  those do's and don'ts, as Godly important as many of them were. No, it was all about faith, an active faith in Christ. Words from Galatians 2:20 echoed in his mind: The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me .. " My steadfast faith in Christ—His grace—had saved me ! "  Rick would often exclaim . "and carpentry and woodworking would became an enjoyable hobby. "
On the Road

Rick's  first call ( an assignment  from his seminary )  came from  an Atlanta suburb from a church with only 23 adults who worshiped in a public school room. In that suburb, my friend went  house-to-house  "witnessing" to the Gospel and inviting residents to send their children to his church's kindergarten  ( the public school was without one ).  "It was a natural outreach to share the love of Jesus to 35 children ," Rick recalls.  Eventually the church  membership  increase .
There would be several  other calls  during Rick's ministerial life  but none, I believe, were   motivated  by  clerical ambition . Rather, I believe Rick always prayed to discern God's  will  and  how pressing were the needs of the church calling him .
One of his early calls  was to a church in Lake City, Minnesota. Residents were invited to free fish  fries at the church, where movies were held in its  parking lot.   Rick's goal had always been for  the church to  relate to the community.  " We were in touch with this community so much that I was elected president of the local  public school  PTL, " Rick said.  
            After declining  three  calls, Rick  accepted  a pastor's assignment at a  weathered-beaten  wooden church  in Anita, Iowa , population 1,000 . Here,  he says, "lives were  transformed  when we established that  Christian Nursery Express , and it  effected the   whole community. "  His  first sight  of the church was disheartening: the carpeting was threadbare, the hymnals falling apart, and the organ—he remembers— sounded  like a Calliope. e vivHThe church was only two-thirds filled for  his debut sermon —with people appearing cheerless . Rick changed that  by making sure his sermons were meaningfully applicable to life.  Having the church painted and new carpeting laid also put smiles on faces. "They dressed with new dignity, " Rick said . " Membership  grew. "
Always in the pews were the  Richter's  three daughters: Hope, Faith, and Beth.  Wrote the Clinton  Herald newspaper (September 5, 1980 ) in a farewell article,  "His interest in strengthening the family correlates with his overall philosophy of his ministry. "  Explaining that philosophy to me one  day,  Rick said , "It has been to make the church real in the lives of people. So often Christ is spiritualized right out of life and tucked away  in some religious corner of a person's life  and not in their heart.   I want the rubber to hit the  road of practical life. I've tried to make Christ as real as when He was on earth ." 
Synod Split Still Saddens Him

            In that interview with the Herald reporter, Rick also touched on an event seven years ago   which still  saddens him. It was that  tragic split in his Missouri Synod , when professors at  Concordia Seminary in St. Louis—Rick's alma mater—walked out in protest over Biblical interpretation and theology  and  formed  Seminex  (seminary-in-exile)  and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, destined to be a liberal synod. Rick   told  the Herald reporter,  "We've come through our troubles , and there    is a new, positive spirit blowing in our synod . "
Rick had learned  what he considers  a vitally important lesson for any pastor : to persevere with a congregation which opposes change.  He was incited to learn this lesson when, as a youth sitting  in the pews of a traditional  Lutheran church, he  became helplessly frustrated at the organist who  executed long, unnecessary pauses between the notes  of each hymn she played. Rick sensed that the church's   " had  become dead. "  
In his home study , likely reading Holy Scripture

Then decades later, when he began nine-year stint as pastor of  another traditional  Lutheran church in St. Louis, Rick saw that its liturgy  appeared lifeless ; it did not reveal or teach how the Word of God should  and can be applied to everyday life.  Rick sought to change that, but the church leadership opposed any change. Nonetheless, worship attendance nearly doubled in nine years.  
When the St. Peter Lutheran  church  in Arlington Heights, Illinois , told Rick they wanted him,  Rick  believed  this call  was  God's grace. He accepted it . When Rick's  last  Sunday at the St. Louis church arrived, however, he was joyfully surprised that a reception was held  to honor  his departure and that  an overflow crowd  required  the food supply  to be tripled. Church attendance had  doubled , and  Rick felt that the congregation had validated  his efforts to bring change for the betterment of their spiritual lives . He knew  he had helped people there have " a new life in Christ. " 

 Rick's many years in the ministry had now prepared him for what would be his last full-time assignment: he was  to  be the executive pastor with the  massive responsibilities  of leading a 5,000-member  church  in an  upscale Chicago suburb .

Anything But Cruising Speed at St. Peter

            On a sunny  April afternoon I walked from my home to the St. Peter church , taking a shortcut across some  the church's 15-acre site laced with red oak trees,  evergreens  , and  clusters  here and there of spring flowers—all in tune with the landscapes of  surrounding upscale suburban homes. The church had grown from the ten-family congregation which originally worshiped a few blocks away in 1860  to a large complex today with a grammar  school, large gymnasium, and plenty  of outdoor space for athletics  and picnics.
Near the long walkway leading to the front doors was a somewhat abstract , weathered bronze statue,  perhaps ten feet high,   of  the Biblical Saint Peter holding an enormously long cross with a staff in his left hand and a Bible in his right. On  a  nearby large, rugged boulder  beneath near the statue  were words Jesus said to the saint in Matthew 16:18 : Thou art Peter. And upon this rock I will build my church.
Rick  and Mary at a book-signing affair for Rick's " Comparing
the Qur'an and the Bible. "
As a late arrival, I entered a  large sanctuary  with large stain glass windows  and stylish   architecture  tastefully balanced with Lutheran traditional.  I took my pew seat  and began listening  to the  Rev. Eldor Richter preach from a pulpit  designed  to represent a ship's bow with a bronze sail above it . A few feet behind the pulpit was a wall of native stone that encircled the entire  sanctuary. The altar was wide and deep with a backdrop of a huge,  triangular-shaped stain glass window depicting  Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd . ( This window was the inspiration for an oil painting done by my first  and  late artist wife, Judith Glover-Schwarz , which remains prominently displayed in the church.) On the altar in the style of the St. Peter statue outside,  stood a life-size  crucifix.                                                                                                                                                                  
Richter, robed in a white vestment and a brightly colored stole  ( according to the church season) , preached with vigor, often thrusting his palms  towards the congregation . Listening  to his voice from that bow-shaped pulpit made me think of a captain exhorting his crew with , all hands of deck !;  or a  Congressman  pleading for passage of his bill.  isHi Like all sermons delivered  by conservative Lutheran pastors,  Rick often and seamlessly wove Biblical passages into his message.   He ended it by crooking his right arm and holding it upward and proclaiming  in a solemn,  rich  baritone voice,  "And may we in faith go forward in all fronts !  Amen. "    The organ played and the congregation  sang  "Onward Christian Soldiers. "
            For the next  eight years,  Rick captained his ship of Lutherans,  providing leadership  to a staff of 24 , three associate pastors, and a  handful of  administrators of the church's K-8 school. "The people responded to a Bible study of hope and healing, " Rick said .  "It was a time of peace and harmony with staff and the Board of Elders. The elders were active in inviting people to my  'Key Messages ', and to  those who did not attend , I wrote a letter that encouraged them  to attend next time. Thus, many recommitted their lives to Christ. "

               Talking  after  lunch about the Islamic faith with  fellow Lutheran pastor
Hicham Chehab, a convert from that faith and a native
of Lebanon. 
The school continued to win state-wide awards for quality education and for  sportsmanship. He also saw to it that a wealthy member funded the  former St. Peter public television program , "Crossing the Finish Line . " I was fortunate to emcee and  facilitate its  lively discussions  among  church members—teachers, teenagers, mothers,  tradesmen— who spoke candidly about how God was working in their daily  lives.  
            " Pastor Richter is one of my favorite people, " said the Rev. Rick Lineberger , who spent two  years  as an associate pastor with  Richter at St. Peter  . " I remember him as very fair and attentive with everyone, including the church administration.   What he said you could pretty well consider it an absolute.  A lot of pastors go with wherever the wind is blowing the hardest, but not him ."
           Lineberger,  now aged  71 , was 36 and a seminary senior when he  first met Richter at a St. Louis church and was impressed  with Rick's "zeal for the lost, for those who did not know Christ.   When still a seminarian,   Lineberger  was called to St. Peter before Richter  arrived ,   and when the church was scouting for a new executive pastor, he recommended Richter. " Many times Rick and I had a good chuckle together—that keeps the soul refreshed, you know . "
            Lineberger,  now retired and living with his wife in the Native American village of Ocklawaha, Florida ,  laughed  over the telephone when he  recalled  an event where he and Richter were  having a meal in a dining room filled with German-speaking  longshoremen.  Richter , who speaks German , was curious about the phrase in German which he had barely heard a waitress speak to Lineberger , who was trying  to learn the language. The two were having a laugh about it . The phrase was  I love you young  lady.  Lineberger obliged Rick and, proud of his  new language acquisition ,  burst out  ( incorrectly ) for the longshoremen to hear ,  I love  to go with loose women! The dockworkers stopped eating  and  stared at the  Lineberger for several  seconds before they could  resume  eating .

             Rick's leadership was branded often with a  broad smile   and behavior that expressed  a soft heart . He wisely  counseled stressed out people to live on "cruising speed " and never appeared to lose  a gentle,  farm boy innocence that made him vulnerable to  criticism,  especially at   council meetings where he encouraged peaceful resolution  conflicts.  I resisted the temptation to ever ask my friend if he was familiar with the anonymous but arguably  accurate epigram ,   that when Catholics are continually displeased with their pastor, they find another Catholic church;  with most Protestants, they dismiss  their pastor (Lutherans do this  with guidance from district officials) .  But no one wanted to see Rick leave .  He was joyous   when he told me recently that many members there who were inactive when he first arrived  had since "re-committed their lives to Christ. "
On holiday at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin , with Mary Alice
Schwarz and her husband Robert ( in rear )
Rick began on Nov.15, 1997 what everyone knew was his well-deserved semi- retirement. He became  a part-time assistant to the senior pastor at a Lutheran church in nearby Schaumburg, also named St.  Peter . When he first stepped foot on its 20 acres of land , he saw three Lutheran  churches: one the current church, the other a former , rarely used church with a cemetery at its rear, and , still standing, a small box-shaped structure  resembling a farmer's shed;   German  immigrant settlers came there  to pray in the early 1830's.  On a snowy, misty late winter afternoon the grounds by the cemetery do   appear preternatural . Reads the official church  history: "Through the years, new buildings have been built, pastors and congregational members have come and gone,  but one thing has remained...the Gospel. "
Rick, of course , continued to preach at his new St. Peter , for Lutheran pastors would rather preach than eat . And during his 17 years there, he organized an evangelism commission,  marriage enrichment programs,  lectured on Biblical   topics such  "Life after This Life. "   He also resumed a rigorous schedule of making house calls to  shut-ins .  I  accompanied him one afternoon on four calls. One was with a couple in their 80's ; the wife was hard of hearing, her husband used a  walker .  He told  Rick that he was motivated to build  his own home here by a memory from the Great Depression when, at age four,  he and his  parents came home one day to discover all their possessions had been confiscated due to  debt and were  piled high  on  the sidewalk.  Our next visit was with a bed-ridden wife on painkillers for multiple sclerosis . Her husband each Sunday put her on a wheelchair and took her to  church. At a long-term  rehab center, Rick sat on the bed with a 48-year-old man  still dealing with his father's death six years ago.  But today this man was weeping continuously because a staff member had reprimanded him for leaving the premises.  Rick consoled the man, turning now and then to his fiancee sitting  in a nearby chair. Lastly, we visited  a former  St. Peter school teacher, now in her 80's , a woman with a sense of humor which Rick drew forth  with a quip now and then.  Like all   the shut-ins on this day, Rick sat next to her when he told her how much God  really loved her . Then he  hugged her .
But now, after almost 57 years of doctoring people spiritually  and after his  strength-draining  bout  with prostate cancer , followed by 36 radiation  treatments,  my friend's  cruising  speed shifted to a lower gear.  He told me how he felt "terribly  boxed in and confined " during his long recovery . Then he remembered how God came down to earth  and was confined in a manger . " I thought if God could tolerate that confinement , so could I tolerate mine. "  In  August of 2015 ,   Rick retired.  Well, sort of...

This completes the first of this two-part article.
It will be continued July 17 , when you can read
about Rick's work  with Muslims , serious and
humorous conversations at McDonald's with the
author, and his answers to questions you might
have wanted to ask him.  
All comments are welcome.

© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz