Writer will always be in debt to these 11 mentors

The writer, a former Worldwide Church of God elder, works as a business writer and communication consultant.

By Brian Knowles

ARCADIA, Calif.-We all need mentors as we progress through the complex process called life. I have had many, and to all of them I am grateful. I want to take some time out to acknowledge some of them here.

Priming the pump

My first teacher in the Worldwide Church of God was Jimmy Friddle. In those days he was the pastor of the Seattle, Wash., congregation. In 1960 a small group of us Canadians would often drive the 150 miles from Vancouver, B.C., to attend services in Seattle. I can still remember some of those early sermons. One was about the "one-bite glutton." I admit I've had trouble living by that one.

At some point Mr. Friddle formed a Bible study in Vancouver. As I recall, we met in the Scottish Auditorium, and he began a series on Romans. He kept using the word imputed and pronounced it with a strong Texas accent: "impewtid." I have to admit I didn't know what he was talking about.

But he got the pump primed for my first studies in Scripture. In 1961 he baptized me in Kent, Wash., in his horse trough. As I stood there, cold, shivering, I realized I now had the Holy Spirit on the inside! It was an incredible moment.

To the best of my knowledge Jimmy Friddle is still a minister in the Worldwide Church of God. No matter where he is, I'll always be grateful to him for facilitating a process in my life that has continued to this day.

Line drive

My next mentor was Dean Wilson, now a United Church of God minister. He was the WCG's first Canadian pastor and the man who performed my first marriage ceremony. It was also his first wedding as a pastor.

The Vancouver church started in 1962 with, if I remember correctly, 42 people. We were a close group. We took care of each other and reveled in the joy of being part of something that was to grow into a major, nationwide work.

Sometimes we injured each other too, like the time I hit a line drive that hit pitcher Marilyn Wilson in the bugle, forever changing the shape of it. Softball was a rough sport in those days.

The first time Mr. Wilson asked me to lead an opening prayer, I froze in terror. It took me three months to work up the courage, but finally I did it.

When he asked me to give my first sermonette, it took another three months. I gave it in the fledgling Victoria church, and the subject was Psalm 73. It took me about 20 minutes, eight or 10 minutes longer than it was supposed to.

Dean often took me on visits with him. From him I learned patience. His oft-repeated advice to the ministers in his charge was, "Work with them, just work with them."

I never knew Mr. Wilson to give up on anyone, including myself. It was he who hired me to work in the Vancouver office after the Feast in 1964. There I learned to answer letters, stuff literature and get a feel for the burgeoning Canadian work.

The Pinelli years

In December of 1965 I was assigned a new Chevrolet fleet car and sent packing to Edmonton, Alta., there to assist Richard Pinelli. Richard had a rapidly growing church on his hands and no assistance. In a desperate move Dean Wilson had sent me to help Richard with his driving, which was considerable.

Under Richard Pinelli I learned what it means to be a servant of the church. I leaned how to be self-sacrificing and to care more about the welfare of the people than about my own. I can remember driving him 40 or 50 miles down snow-covered back roads so that he, while suffering from a pounding migraine, could anoint someone.

He seldom said no to a call for anointing, no matter how he felt or what the conditions were.

He knew his congregation intimately. After we started the Calgary church, we used to drive the 223 miles from Edmonton to Calgary every Friday afternoon for a Bible study. Next morning we'd have services in Calgary, then drive another 223 miles to Edmonton for afternoon services.

While we were on the way, Richard would tell me who would be at services and who would be absent. He was seldom wrong. He knew his people.

It was Richard who first told me, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Thirty-plus years of subsequent experience has borne out the truth of that axiom.

I can still remember the first time Richard asked me to assist him in a Bible study. It was in early 1966. A member of the congregation asked the question, "How would a person at the north pole keep the Sabbath?"

"Why don't you take that one, Brian?" said Richard.

Not wanting to appear ignorant, I answered out of ignorance, "Why, he'd go by Jerusalem mean time, of course."

"I see," said the questioner, "but how, if he was at the north pole, would he know what time it was in Jerusalem?"

My brain seized up. I had no clue how to answer the man. I looked helplessly at Richard. He smiled and ignored me.

"I'll have to get back to you on that Mr. Kuruliak," I replied sheepishly.

After the study, Richard explained why he had let me swing in the breeze.

"He who answers a matter before he hears it," he explained using the proverb, "it is a shame and a folly unto him. You have one week to figure out how to correct your answer to Mr. Kuruliak's question."

I sweated it out. Finally, the next week, I announced triumphantly, "It's very simple Mr. Kuruliak, in the north pole, the sun still sets. It just sets above the horizon, not below it."

Richard taught me caring, and he taught me wisdom. I'll always be indebted to him for those things.

Little red book

My next mentor was Richard Plache (now in Worldwide). When I came to Ambassador College in the fall of 1968, I was assigned to the Glendale, Calif., congregation, which he pastored. I took his classes at Ambassador and listened to his sermons in Glendale.

Richard was one of the finest speakers in the ministry. He taught me how to use word pictures to illustrate points. At the end of the school year, some of us ministerial students were going to compile a little red book called The Sayings of Chairman Plache. We never got it done, but it would have included gems such as the definition of a bounced check: a lunar probe.

Once I told an unfunny joke. Responded Richard, "Balaam's ass has spoken again."

Richard taught me the importance of being responsive to the Spirit of God. He, in the mid-'70s, sowed precious seeds that have since taken root and grown up into something beautiful in my life. Thanks, Richard!

Edgar Guest

In 1969 I was sent out to pastor two churches in Oklahoma: Tulsa and Ponca City. I was the first pastor of the latter. My boss was Dean Blackwell, who was stationed in Kansas City.

From Dean I learned to be bookish. Whenever he would visit me in his official capacity as area coordinator, he would do two things: raid my fridge and take me to a used-book store. There he would select books for himself and me. I still have some of them. One is called The Strength of Being Clean, a book of poems by Edgar Guest.

Ever since those years in Oklahoma, I've been unable to pass a used-book store without going in and picking up a few gems.

Free typewriter

While in Oklahoma, like all ministers I had to send to Pasadena my Monday-morning report. I tried to jazz it up to relieve the boredom of doing such reports. One of the reviewers of field reports at that time was David Jon Hill. At some point he decided I'd be a good candidate to write articles for Tomorrow's World and The Good News.

He mailed me a Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter and told me to start writing. I did. As I submitted articles, he coached me along the way. In effect, I was his tutored creative-writing student for about a year while in the field.

Then he brought me in to HQ, housed me in an office next to his and put me to work on the church's magazines. He continued to help me grow as a writer and into an editor. As I learned, he gave me more and more responsibilities. I began to substitute-teach some of his classes at AC, as did other staff members.

My time under Jon Hill's tutelage was the period of my greatest growth as a writer-editor.

I shall always be in debt to DJH, as he was called. I even named one of my sons after him. Today Jon Hill ministers to recovering alcoholics up in Washington state. He left an indelible, and positive, impression on my life.

Why not?

Sharing an office with Dr. Robert Kuhn was, for me, a time of intellectual awakening. It was Robert who first gave me permission to use my mind. In an authoritarian system like the Worldwide Church of 1972-79, independent thought was not encouraged.

From Robert I learned the importance of the question, "Why?"

I learned how to look at issues from different, and creative, angles. I learned that placement in a hierarchy has no effect on one's ability, or the lack of it, to think well. Good thinking is good thinking, no matter who does it or where.

I will always be in debt to Robert because he helped me understand that mind is a precious gift of God, and, when used with God's guidance, it can produce incredible things. Our minds and spirits are the principal means by which we reflect the divine image.

Intellectually, Robert helped set me free from the bondage of entrenched, authoritarian thinking. He facilitated my personal Enlightenment. I can't thank him enough.

The list goes on

Space does not permit the full acknowledgment of other mentors who have blessed my life. Suffice it to mention a few:

nGary Alexander, who taught me the importance of critical thinking, primary sources and how people lie with statistics.

nBasil Wolverton, who made me realize that's it's okay to be an artist, that it isn't effeminate or fruity to be arty and that it's a gift of God meant to be used.

nLester Grabbe, who showed me how true scholars think.

nAnd Wayne Cole, who modeled the principle of integrity and paid a price for it.

In Judaism is a wonderful saying, "Let thy house be a meeting-house for the Sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst" (Mishnah, Aboth, 1:4).

These sages are welcome to sit in my house anytime, for they have truly blessed my life. I thank them all.

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