-After work one day, around the age of my sixteenth birthday, I came home to find an old man sitting in my living room. My mother was sitting with him drinking coffee, and as I walked into the room the old dude rose to greet me. My mother said, “Kenny, this is Pastor Marion Pohly”.
“Hello there!” the old dude said with a huge grin on his face. His hands were like leather, and his grip was like a vice.
I was tired from working all day, and after saying a quick “nice to meet you”, I scurried away to my bedroom, not really sure why some pastor dude who looked older than George Burns was having coffee with my mom.
Pastor Marion Pohly would end up playing one of the most significant roles in my life. To this day, no other man influenced me more in my relationship with God.
Born in 1925, Pastor Pohly was a dairy farmer. His father had been a dairy farmer before him, and as far as I could tell, he came from a long line of dairy farmers going back to the 18th or 19th centuries. As a young man he felt a call to the ministry, and became a pastor in the small country town of Mount Vernon, Michigan, and later would become senior pastor at New Haven Congregational Church and Faith United Methodist Church.
Because a little country church couldn’t afford a full time pastor’s salary, especially one who had a wife and four children, and also because his 200-300 dairy cows never were enough to pay all the bills, Pastor Pohly also obtained a Masters Degree in counseling and became a full time high school counselor back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
By the time I met Pastor Pohly he was retired from his school counseling job, and was strictly focused on his pastoral ministry and his dairy farm. The church was never able to pay him more $500 or $600 per month, and so his more than 70-90 hours per week dedicated to the church was in many ways unpaid work.
Pastor Pohly would wake up each morning at 4:30 to milk his cows. He began every morning, 365 days a year, singing Christian hymns in his thunderous bellowing voice. The country neighbors more than a mile away could hear him singing, and even though Pastor Pohly thought his prayers and hymns were a private occurrence between him and God each morning, countless hundreds of neighbors found themselves seeking after God through Pastor Pohly’s morning prayers and praise of thanksgiving.
As a teenager, after visiting his church with my parents one Sunday, I was instantly drawn to Pastor Pohly’s warmth and love. His sermon’s were always short, no more than 10 minutes, but his conversation with the parishioners and visitors after the Sunday service was always long and genuine. Pastor Pohly would sit in the basement fellowship hall with people each Sunday, as long as people wanted to sit and fellowship. He taught that the real work of the Church occurred after the Sunday service was over, and that it was through listening and interacting with people that real Christian discipleship took place.
When Pastor Pohly sat down with you, he was the kind of person that conveyed that his entire focus and energy was being directed to you; he didn’t check cell phone texts, or look at the time, waiting for the interaction to be over. Pastor Pohly loved you, unconditionally, and when he hung out with you he gave you his entire self.
I don’t know that Pastor Pohly ever thought out his “philosophy of discipleship” per-se, I think it was more or less just something that came natural to him, having been born so long ago, when times were different.
Pastor Pohly took it upon himself to regularly pick myself up, or other young men, whenever he had various tasks to do; running errands at the local tractor supply store was an opportunity for Pastor Pohly to sit in the car and visit with myself, sharing stories of his younger life, and the events in his life that had led to lessons in which he learned wisdom and truth.
Nearly every night Pastor Pohly would go calling on a different family in the church and whenever he could he would invite myself, or another young man to go with him.
Once a week Pastor Pohly would go calling to the sick at the local hospital; not to visit anyone he particularly knew, but he would just go to visit those that the nurses told him had no visitors, and to sit and pray with anyone who asked for prayer.
Pastor Pohly believed it was essential for him to be connected to all the local Christian ministers, and so he also regularly visited other churches and pastors. I remember multiple times being picked up by Pastor Pohly and his wife in their big over sized Buick, and visiting evening services at local black churches where we would be the only white people there. When Pastor Pohly would walk into the building the people would come over with huge smiles on their face, as he was as much apart of their church families as their own pastor.
Pastor Pohly was a man of prayer. Reared in old King James English, Pastor Pohly would thunder “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” as he cried out to God for blessings upon his congregation. My father suggested to Pastor Pohly that they have a Saturday morning prayer meeting, and nearly two decades later, right up to when he breathed his final breath, Pastor Pohly had faithfully kept up that Saturday morning prayer meeting.
For the better part of twenty years, until his death, I had coffee with Pastor Pohly each Saturday morning after the prayer meeting. Most of the time it was only he and I who would attend, and in those two decades of Saturday morning coffee’s, my life was forever changed for the better.
On one hand Pastor Pohly had the rough exterior of a farmer, his worn muddied boots, and his leathered body was tough as nails. And on the other, he had the sensitivity of a father’s love, and would tear up easily at the loss of loved ones, or when the tragedies of divorce, alcoholism, or death, affected those around him.
Pastor Pohly understood that true discipleship was a 24/7 commitment. Whether it was working on his farm, running errands with him, visiting congregants or other churches, Pastor Pohly allowed me to see him in so many different avenues of life that I was able to model much of my life after the positive attributes I saw in him. As the Apostle Paul said, “imitate me as I imitate Christ”. Pastor Pohly exemplified that right up to the very moment he breathed his last breath.
*Stock image Ales Krivic