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The Strange Calling

by John Robert McFarland

Table of Contents

Press ReleaseAt the age of fourteen John Robert McFarland traded his life for his sister's. "Save her from death," he prayed to God, and "I'll . . . be a minister." It wasn't what he wanted to do, but it was the only bargain the teenager could think of that would get God’s attention.

For forty years McFarland worked to see if his "strange" calling was really to the "high calling," the ministry. That calling has taken him to Alabama to march with Martin Luther King, Jr., to the chaos of university campuses in the 1960’s, to the families of murder victims and abused children, through a cancer diagnosis, and to the grave of ambition.

For anyone who's ever felt "called," for anyone who's ever been a minister or contemplated it, for anyone who's ever experienced the care of those who answer the strange call, for anyone who's ever wondered who ministers are and why they do what they do, this book tells the story of every minster by telling the stories of one minister.

"John Robert McFarland is a wise and funny man."

--Dave Barry, Humorist

"John Robert McFarland is the Garrison Keillor of parish ministers in America today. Here is a storyteller who brings to life the varieties of people with whom he has worked, laughed, prayed, and fought through the years of his lively calling. He has that rare gift of lifting the extraordinary out of the ordinary."

--F. Dean Lueking, Senior Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church
Author of Preaching: The Art of Connecting with People

Excerpt from The Strange Calling

by John Robert McFarland

Ministers are supposed to be "called" to that vocation by God. No one quite understands what "called" means, or how "the call" is accomplished, but nobody wants a minister who decided to be one just for the big bucks and easy workload. So when a candidate for ministry comes forth, s/he is invariably asked, "Do you have'the call'?" Of course, the ministry isn't the only profession to which people feel called, so adjectives are applied to distinguish between calls and callings.

When I was still new to the minsitry, I read a novel entitled The High Calling, by James Street. I knew before I pulled it off the library shelf that it was about a minister. That's how the ministry was known then, as "the high calling." I wanted to believe I had received a high calling. I knew it was a peculiar calling, but "high"? The way my call came...well, it seemed more like a "strange" calling.

The images of ministry in our society swing in a very short arc from the lovable but inept Father Mulcahy of M*A*S*H to the unlovable and equally inept Jimmy Swaggart. Because I knew nothing about ministers when I agreed to be one and had never seen any at work, except on Sunday mornings, I have made a point throughout my career to observe clergy with a critical but open eye. Neither Mulcahy nor Swaggart resemble any of the clergypersons I have watched so carefully over the years.

Thus, I hope these stories will show what really happens when a person thinks he or she hears the strange calling, and answers it. They are not just for pastors and church people. I hope that "cultured despisers" of the ministry will also read the stories and learn some truth about the people who live in the pulpit.

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