Along with my two sisters and two brothers, I was raised in Colby, Kansas (far northwestern Kansas), out near the Kansas/Colorado border, where the dry wind blows — Pretty much no matter the season. Colby is 235 miles east of Denver, CO, and 400 miles west of Kansas City. It’s out in the High Plains — way out there. “Hello rural America.” 🙂
As the second of the five children, I was raised to work hard and treat people the way I want to be treated. Dad and mom were hard-working people who tried to do just that. Both grew up on farms in northwestern Kansas. They were loving, simple people. All their lives, hard work was among their highest values. Dad joked that his favorite verse in the Bible was, “Work harder!” When we kids responded, “Dad, that’s not in the Bible,” he would smile and say, “Well, it should be.” And yes, we went to church every Sunday.
When I was 8, my Grandma (mother’s mom) came to live with us. After my grandfather died, dad and mom welcomed my Grandma Jennings right it to our home. We were 5 kids, 2 parents, the dog and now Grandma. Grandma helped cook, discipline kids, tackle the laundry, and welcomed us to watch TV with her. Eating her fresh bread with butter and homemade jam was about as good as it got.
In 1978 I married Jennifer Earles in Phoenix (Mesa), Arizona. Raised in Phoenix, she still loves the Sonoran Desert. Her favorite hike is in the Superstition Mountains, that border Phoenix on the east. After our wedding on a hot desert morning [July 8], we drove from Phoenix to Champaign-Urbana, IL, where we lived for 43 years!
For 20 years, I served as a campus pastor at the University of Illinois. Along the way I received a graduate degree at the University of Illinois. Church life and campus life were deeply integrated in my life in the small university city in east-central Illinois. From 1990 to May of 2020, Jennifer was a faculty member in the college of Media at the University of Illinois, where she taught science writing, editing, news-reporting and Introduction to Journalism.
Following my campus ministry days, I worked for 3 years in administration for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. From 2003 to 2009 I served in a large Vineyard Church in Urbana [2,500], helping oversee missions and pastoral care. During those years, I made 6 trips to Mexico, 3 trips to China and trips to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Zambia.
In 2011 I started a small nonprofit called Pastor-to-Pastor Initiatives. I really like being with pastors. Mostly I meet with pastors and Christian leaders, encouraging them to stay the course. Counseling, mentoring, and coaching pastors fill my days. In the last 10 years I have had he privilege of serving 4 congregations as their interim pastor.
It’s an honor to have served more than 200 pastors who have come my way for some kind of help and service. Jennifer and I have led about 20 marriage retreats specifically geared toward pastoral couples. Two other seminars I developed are popular. One is for pastors called, “Discovering an emotionally healthy ministry.” A seminar for churches I wrote and lead is, “Grieving in a Forward Direction.”
In August 2021, after 43 years in Champaign-Urbana, Il, we moved to Phoenix, purchasing a condo in Tempe in Southeast Phoenix.
Jennifer and I like to hike together. We both like to read. Jennifer likes to cook, and I write a Sunday religion column for the Champaign-Urbana, IL, News-Gazette, which I have been doing since about 2000.
And every week now, I hang out with pastors, listening to their stories, asking them questions and doing my best to give them hope.