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Notebook Religion

Friends and farewells

(Kevin Schoen)


Friends and farewells

For Maynard and Joan Schoen, the more years of church ministry, the harder the goodbyes

Fourth in a series on long ministry

Fresh out of seminary, Maynard Schoen arrived with his wife, Joan, in Jonesville, Mich., in 1961 to pastor a small church there. The church had 40 people and no bathroom—only an outhouse. Maynard devoted himself to his new role and made friends among the congregation, but he wasn’t destined to stay: After a few years, another church asked him to become its pastor. 

The Schoens moved to the second church, one hour east of Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1968. Maynard remembers noticing the church’s outstanding music, friendly people, and basement full of salamanders. Maynard and Joan loved that small church and stayed for 39 years. Their ministry involved great joy but also growth challenges and painful losses.

When the Schoens arrived, the church had plans to build a new auditorium. The church did not want to take on debt, but inflation was eating its savings every year. A year and a half after Maynard arrived, the elders realized their plan was not feasible and agreed to borrow the money and then repay it quickly. They purchased a cherry orchard, 32 acres for $10,000, and eventually built an auditorium and a center with a gym and education space on the land. By the time the Schoens left, the church had paid off the debt and grown from about 120 congregants to 500.

We lost some people through death that were devastating.

Pastoring could be difficult: Initially, Maynard wore a lot of hats, acting as the preaching pastor, youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, and organist. After a few years, the elders eased his burden by hiring a youth pastor. Such hires didn’t always work out, though. The elders hired a new seminary graduate to serve as an associate pastor, but soon dismissed him when his ministry style clashed with the other pastors.

But the biggest challenge of Maynard’s ministry involved the biggest blessing—close relationships that came with painful goodbyes. “We lost some people through death that were devastating,” Maynard said. “Those are things where if you’re only going to be in a church five years, six years at most, you can ride those storms with little trouble. But these are people we’ve gotten to know and love dearly.”

The Schoens tasted this pain in their first church: A friend named Shirley Havens developed leukemia and died within two months. Maynard remembers putting away her husband’s boat for him, sitting on the bank, and asking, “Lord, what are you trying to do? I needed Chuck and Shirley.”

Maynard retired in 2007, bringing more painful goodbyes. The Schoens decided to change churches so the congregation would not feel divided between the old and new pastors. Two years passed before Joan said the new church felt like home. But in the last 13 years, they have found their place at their new church: Maynard has taught adult Bible classes, and Joan has taught the Bible for second graders. They occasionally see friends from their church of 39 years. They say they still miss and love them like family.