My Teacher, Harold!

Last Sunday, I attended the Unity Church in Vandalia on the occasion of its 125th Anniversary. Unity came about when First Baptist and Temple Baptist Churches merged in 2015. It was a reuniting of two churches that had originally been the same congregation in 1894! Temple (previously, Edwards Street in 1940 and later Second Baptist) have once again become one... Unity Baptist! Their pastor, Robert Weaver, stated the obvious, "You don't hear too much about this kind of thing in Baptist life where there is a merger and it is successful!" This one seems to be working just fine!

During the anniversary celebration, I was able to connect with several older adults who had been instrumental in nurturing my faith as an adolescent and young adult. I was able to write about this in the book of memories that was distributed at the event. In that piece I told how blessed I was to call First Baptist, Vandalia, my home church during those years between 1963 and 1977. I was baptized in March of '63 along with my brother, David, and became an official member. I would begin to attend Sunday School and worship. This would put me on a trajectory where I could grow in Christ and by fifteen, give my life for special service. Later, this beloved church family would license, ordain and send me out and on my way to Texas and Southwestern Seminary for my formal training in ministry.

There were many individuals who prayerfully encouraged, supported and helped to shape me into the person I am today. One in particular was my high school Bible study teacher, Harold Baumann. Everyone knows how rowdy youth of that age can be at times and we were no exception! Harold took on a class of 15 and 16 year-old boys. He was around 30 years of age. married to his lovely wife, Judy and they had a preschool son, Greg. Why he signed up for such an assignment, only God and Harold knows for sure. But I'm so glad he did!
Harold and Me!

We loved Harold for the patient and laid back way he taught us. He was always prepared, but he knew how to  let us get off topic when our interests led elsewhere. Then, he would bring us back to the Bible and we always went home with a thought or principle that could help us get through our week. I don't really remember any specific teaching, which is typical, but what I do remember is how engaging, personable, and committed he was to us. It was his life and personality that stood out! That is still the number one qualification for any good teacher!

There were some real characters in our class and I'm not just referring to the two of us who had committed our lives to be preachers, Dwain DePew and Mike Keppler. We bonded so tightly with Harold that we refused to promote at the end of the Sunday School year. We protested that we would rather quit coming if Harold couldn't be our teacher. So, Almeta Mills, our department director decided with Harold's blessing to just promote Harold. And he did... all four years of my high school experience at church Harold Baumann was my teacher!

Harold is just about 15 years older than I am. His life has connected with mine and he has been a blessing at many levels. He went to high school with my aunt Shirley, my mother's middle sister. He worked at Kroger's grocery store with my grandmother, Marguerite. He was involved in our community as an elected official with a certain unnamed political party for which I have long been affiliated! Harold also likes my favorite cookies - oatmeal raisin and was willing to share his stash with me at the anniversary dinner. I love and respect this guy for many reasons. This special man and Deacon leader remains a hero to me and to so many of us who grew up in the church!

When I think about the impact of those every Sunday encounters with Harold and our class, I am grateful that Harold stuck with us! What a guy! Each of us regarded him as simply, "cool!" How are you serving? Do you realize that God has designed you to serve in a unique place where you can nurture the faith of others and where you can grow in your own faith as well? Jesus sent out those  early followers with this mandate, "Go therefore and make disciples... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,.." (Matthew 28:19-20). This is still our highest calling in Christ!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.


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