Memories of a one-of-a-kind gentleman

After breathing earth’s air for more than seven decades, I have some vivid memories of people who made life difficult. I try to have a forgiving spirit but forgetting some of those experiences can be difficult.

When memories of jerks pop up, I try to focus on the kind and decent people who have been a part of my life. One of those kind and decent folks came to my mind recently.

The Rev. S.E. Carlson was the pastor of a tiny Assembly of God church in Jewell when I was a boy. My family did not worship at his church but, because our church was an 11-mile out-of-town drive away, our mother exercised an ecumenical spirit and sent her three oldest ornery sons to Vacation Bible School at Pastor Carlson’s church. We could, after all, ride our bikes to that church.

I was already familiar with Pastor Carlson. He was a bi-vocational minister and during the week built small homes along the street west of his church. I had ridden my bike past his construction work many times and on occasion he took time to visit with a curious kid.

One summer Pastor Carlson’s college-age son created a go-kart track in an open area near the church and on a couple of occasions he allowed me to drive his go-kart around the track. That was memorable.

On the first day of VBS we met the pastor’s wife who was a kind and sweet woman. Pastor and Mrs. Carlson were the entire VBS leadership team though I seem to remember that the older sister of one of my school friends – also a VBS student – was a helper. Maybe I just remember my friend’s cute older sister.

A prize was offered to the first student who brought a friend to VBS so with a mixture of greed and missionary zeal I brought a friend the next day. My prize was a handmade Bible holder crafted by Pastor Carlson. That prize survives in a box of childhood keepsakes.

When I think about it, the Vacation Bible School was no big deal. However, Pastor Carlson, because of his kindness and transparency, was a big deal.

His denomination is Pentecostal, something I knew very little about at the time. During a VBS class one of the students from his church asked a question about a particular Pentecostal practice in their church. I had never heard of such but Pastor Carlson answered the boy’s question thoroughly and age-appropriately.

During my years with The Salvation Army I had many opportunities to speak in area churches. On the occasions when I visited an Assembly of God church I always thought of Pastor Carlson and his explanation of a more expressive form of worship so many years earlier. Though I am not a Pentecostal, Pastor Carlson’s treatment of a young boy’s question in the 1950s initiated in me a respect for that tradition.

My younger brothers worked at a truck stop in the county when they were in high school. One of my brothers was on duty when Pastor Carlson stopped by for gasoline one day. My brother remembered the clergyman and was having a conversation with him when a group of rough-looking motorcyclists rolled up to the gas pumps.

Pastor Carlson watched as the motorcyclists filed into the service station. After looking over the group, the pastor approached one burly member and asked him if he knew about Jesus.

Pastor Carlson was not a large man and a pronounced limp and receding hairline contributed to a less than menacing appearance. My brother told me he was afraid the tough-looking motorcyclist might injure the pastor. To his surprise, the several motorcyclists with whom Pastor Carlson shared his faith that day were all respectful and the pastor eventually left unscathed.

Pastor Carlson’s church in Jewell no longer exists and, I’m sure, he has gone on to his eternal reward.

In a lifetime you meet a lot of people – many good people and a few turkeys. But in a lifetime you don’t meet many people like the Rev. S.E. Carlson. I am grateful to have known him and to have benefitted from his kindness, attention and instruction.

His memory keeps me focused on the good guys.


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