I spend a lot of time with children in my daily work as a pastor. A lot of that comes from our congregation’s joint school, Christ Lutheran Academy. We also have a pre-school, Little Lambs Learning Center, and I have first communion/confirmation instruction for 4-7th grade. Plus I do things on the side for Higher Things from time to time.
Lately, nearly every time I interact with these different groups of young people, I think about on of my former pastors. His name was Dale Ness, and he was my pastor from the time I was ten until I was about thirteen. I went to school at the one room school his congregation operated, and I am a Lutheran pastor today to a great extent because of him. There are others that were influential as well, but certainly he was the first.
Pastor Ness loved children. He had eight children himself, and so there house was a constant barrage of comings and goings, with children covering a range of infant through high school. Our school was small, and he was the main teacher (as well as pastor, but that’s another story).
My memories of Pastor Ness are pretty clear. We sang. We prayed. We did memory work. He drove a goofy old truck named Hiawatha. He loved us, and we feared and loved him. He was strict but somehow managed to portray a deep passion for the little ones entrusted to his care. He played with us in the playground, and he managed to model and instill the love of Christ into a little odd collection of sinners at Holy Cross Lutheran School.
He was far from perfect. He had a temper, he worked himself nearly to death, and he had real problems with burning himself out from too much work.
Tragically, the church was forced to close the school, and it nearly killed him. Not long after he resigned from the Holy Ministry, moved to Idaho from Missouri (where I grew up), and was killed in an accident while he was working on his car (maybe it was Hiawatha; I don’t know).
I think about him often as I go about my daily work as a pastor of a church with lots of children. I think about how much he shaped me as a person and as a pastor today. I pray someday that God would use me to bring the Gospel of hope to little ones just as he did.