But, as my Dad journeys on, it is also appropriate to remember and to contemplate who he was and what he meant to the world beyond our family.
Donald Schoewe was a pastor.
He had little time for the presumptuous or haughty and was seldom comfortable with successful saints. But when it came to the sinners, the underdogs, the hurting sheep in his flocks - his care and attention were boundless.
My mother and siblings all remember a night in Port Washington when a bedraggled, obviously troubled and pretty scary looking man turned up at the door of the parsonage. He had nowhere to go. But for this pastor, God's house is somewhere anyone can go at any time and under any circumstances. He slept in the church.
With five growing children to feed and clothe on a minister's salary money could be tight. My mother reasonably felt that in those circumstances honorariums might best be used by the family. But my Dad saw more pressing needs and recalled Matthew 6:26&27: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Most of the honorariums went in the collection plate along with his tithe. And here we all are, well fed and fully clothed, so I guess it does pretty much work out that way.
One Thanksgiving in my twenties, I came to Lake City from Chicago, bringing a young woman to meet my parents for the first time. After arriving late on Wednesday she disappeared late morning Thanksgiving Day. I was a little nervous when I found out she had been enlisted by the pastor she had met only hours before to help serve Thanksgiving dinner in the church basement to the elderly and infirm with nowhere else to go. From that moment my wife Robbin, who often understands these things more quickly than I do, loved and respected Don.
I had drifted away from church after high school. But with the miracle of children returned and we joined an LCMS congregation in Colorado. Having some experience and ability with numbers, I was soon roped into the role of Treasurer and a position on the church council. I imagined my father would be pleased I was attending church again and perhaps even more excited that I was actually engaged enough to take a role on the council. And my father was very pleased I was back in church. But, his reaction to my council role seemed more muted than I expected. Reflecting on this I realized that for Pastor Don, while council work, budgets, etc. where necessary work in a church, they were not what was exciting, important or impressive about church. That came in the nitty-gritty work of helping the needy, comforting the sick and counseling the troubled.
There were times when this approach caused him trouble. Jesus said, "The poor will be with you always." So too Pharisees continue questioning why a pastor would choose to spend more time communing with sinners than saints.
But Pastor Don never changed. For him the examples from Jesus' life were never just words to be talked, but a way to be walked.
Last fall some of our family had occasion to be in Port Washington, Wisconsin and we attended St. John's where Pastor Don served 30 and more years ago. After the service, we were surprised at how many people wanted to greet us and show us around. Most of all Pastor Don.
I noticed that some would seem to wait for a semi-private moment and then they would take his hand, lean a little toward him and say something. By this time he was quite hard of hearing. So, a few also sought one of us out and repeated the ritual. Just a few words. Some versions of: "Your father is a wonderful man. He helped me so much when.....
- When my father died
- When I was having a tough time
- When my mother went to the home
- When my brother got cancer
- When my wife left me
- When my son was killed in that crash."
Don was not perfect. He wrestled with demons only he fully understood and at times he struggled with his calling.
But he always remained a pastor to the day he died long after officially retiring.
He wouldn't want people to talk about him and I doubt if he would approve of my words today. After all he would recall words from the Sermon on the Mount: "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them."
He would also likely find it a bit presumptuous to try and define even a bit of a man's life in a few words and minutes.
Still, I want to thank my Dad for the examples he showed me.
And, I also know there are so many in this broken world who would want to recognize him for doing his best to touch the places that hurt the most.
Donald Schoewe, thank you for being a pastor.