Father Fred

Fred is at the bottom left

Good morning from Rio Segundo,

It is a mixed bag morning as I am looking out at beauty, appreciating the remoteness on the one hand, but struggling with our technological dependence on the other because I cannot communicate adequately with a host of people. These are all issues to ponder in managing a move and all the other pieces of a complex puzzle I am trying to create.

The day before yesterday I saw a Facebook post that somewhat cryptically told me that the man who is probably as important to my faith journey, my piety, and my understanding of a creator as anyone in my life, has passed from this life to the next. The Reverend, and Navy Chaplain, Frederick J. Peters has finished the earthly portion of his journey. Well into his 90s, he lived a life of both faithful service (to his Lord and his family) and as an exemplar to a young clueless Marine veteran, one returning to his home town to meet the most incredible family, whose father was the pastor of my home parish. That fall, I had little idea how, or to the degree, this proud German Lutheran pastor, his Canadian wife, or, in particular, two of his four children, would change my life’s trajectory. The very fact that I am writing about it in my blog today is some indication of that profundity. I wonder what he would think of such a post.

Returning to Riverside from my enlistment was difficult; ultimately because the fractured relationship I had with my mother had not improved during my absence, and my return did little to please her. And that was merely the beginning. At that point in my life, I did not realize to the degree or the depth as well as the significance her earlier life experiences had on her or affected her. Because of that, I had little tolerance. So, even though I was an adult of sorts, I fell quickly back into the child role. I dutifully went to church every Sunday, sang in the senior choir, and worked a dead-end because I still had little idea of what I could do with my life. Yet, as I returned to the congregation that had reared by faith, I found myself amazed by the preaching and the incredible depth of the simple, and profound piety of this new pastor. Father Fred, as I would soon learn to refer to him, was a people’s pastor. He was a no-BS, earthly, and understandable pastor who was also an amazing teacher. It was my father who revealed this side of him. My father took Stephen’s Ministry classes from him; indeed, the Reverend Peters understood what it meant to have an educated laity, a parish who understood what it meant to be ministers and called in their own right. I remember my father would also teach first year confirmation for Fred. I can imagine my father welcoming him to coffee at this point.

Fred and Ruth Peters became surrogate parents to me as I found myself back in my home neighborhood from my time in the Marines. It was nothing expected by any of us. And for Ruth, bless her heart, I am not sure it was exactly what she bargained for. However, it is what a poor wandering soul probably needed. The Peters along with another surrogate church father by the name of Sheldon (Bud) Reese did more to manage my cluelessness than my own parents. To be fair, I am not sure how much I would have listen to my adoptive parents at that time. My father had been hands off most of my life, and as I understood, he had little interest I think in helping me figure myself out, and on the other hand, my mother had lost none of her disdain for a person she resented since the age of four. So as I worked full time initially at a Walgreens Superstore, I found myself attending high school football games, driving my car around, and spending time with two of the four offspring of the new pastor at my home church. The only Peters son and I became friends, along with another XC person, a wonderfully smart classmate of theirs, Bob Sandison. Between David, Barbara, the second eldest daughter, and Bob, I felt like I had a group of friends, which I now know was probably life-saving to me. It was on a October Friday evening that I ended up on the front room floor of the parsonage, playing board games with David and Barb, and some of Barb’s swimming teammates. The Peter’s parents were kind and provided drinks and snacks. Somehow we ended up playing all night. I went home about 6:00 in the morning because I needed to go to work a half-day that Saturday morning. I thought nothing much of the fact I had not let my parents know where I was. After work that day, my father asked me to go with him to do some electrical work at the parsonage, the very place I had spent all night playing board games.

As we walked into the house and toward the basement, Fred pulled me aside and calmly asked, “Why didn’t you call home and let your parents know where you were?” Amazed by the question from my pastor, as well as respecting him as such, I replied honestly, “I don’t have a good reason.” He, with a fatherly, but nonetheless stern look, said, “Don’t do it again.” And I headed down the steps with my tail seriously tucked between my legs. As I spent more and more time at the Peters’ residence, the more I understood my pastor as a human first. That would be a consequential realization later in my own life. David, Barb, and Bob, though a few years younger, became a group who did more to keep me grounded than they realized. The Peters family provided the sense of family I was missing in my own. Perhaps that exposure to faith had as much to my considering ordained ministry as anything. It would be that fall I would decide to attend college for the first time, but the year before there were concerts, camping trips, days and nights at the swimming pool, and trying to navigate relationships, a ‘71 Chevelle, which did not make Mother Ruth happy, a little yellow a Honda called Buttercup, and dog sitting a Brittney Spaniel, named Patches. Contrary to the passing glance, that year did more to develop me than I realized. The time I spend with the threesome and the Peters family helped me to develop a sense of person, albeit somewhat nascent, and begin to find a path. As I entered the academy for the first time, Father Fred, in his blunt earthly manner, prophesied correctly, “You will do just fine in college unless you fuck off.” Truer words have never been spoken. As I failed to do my work, with certainly some mitigating circumstances, I would flunk out. Additionally, that year created a serious fracturing, when I failed to manage my personal relationship within the family. Fred met me at the door and told me I was no longer welcome in their home. But as importantly, he continued to be my pastor. He was able to separate his roles and he would soon, and unexpectedly have to preach at my brother’s funeral. And he did so fabulously. For the remainder of his life, to my knowledge, he stood by the edict he issued at the front door of their Nash Street parsonage. He was a father first. As I have grown into my own elderly stature, I cannot help by admire his principled stand.

As I grew, returned to college and worked to figure out my meandering path, ironically I would end up in the Twin Cities for seminary. Fred and Ruth had relocated to the cities also as Father Fred moved into chaplaincy ministry. The first fall I was there I would be part of David’s wedding. Before I was out of seminary, as Fred moved toward his own retirement, they would move to St. Peter, MN and as I was studying on a path to ordination, I would be invited to their house for Thanksgiving. During my internship year, Susan, my first wife and I would be invited to their home again, and I remember barely being able to eat as I was preparing for my first abdominal surgery. Father Fred was a profoundly intelligent person; he was a student of both history and theology, but he was also a student of humanity. Next to my own father, I think he understood what made people tick as well as anyone I have ever met. He (as well as Barb and Dave) was (are) the only one(s) to call me Mikey. In fact, Fred preached at my ordination service; that might be the last time I saw him in person. He began by looking at me from the pulpit in that very church he had pastored me almost two decades before, and saying, “Mikey, it’s been a long journey, but you’ve come a long way.” And he was so correct. It was not inappropriate that he was there for the beginning of what would be my move into adulthood (a process in which he has a significant hand) and he was there at the beginning of my ministry in the church.

As I write this, my journey with the church, my own faith journey, has been anything but traditional, and yet it was a profound traditionalist in terms of Lutheran theology, one who understood Luther’s dialectic of simul justis et pecattor? as well as my confessions professors, who nudged me into parish ministry. When I struggled to determine if seminary was possible, if I was worthy or faithful enough to study for an Masters of Divinity, it was a letter from Father Fred who clarified my struggle. In his letter he encouraged me to be open to the call of the Spirit, “even if it meant parish ministry.” It was that letter, from someone who most taught me the complexity of being called, more than anything that led me to St. Paul to begin my seminary studies. As I consider Fred as one of the newest of the saints, I am reminded of how God uses people and circumstances to lead us on our meandering journey of life. Much like the Israelites of the Old Testament, the two years after my stint in the Marine Corps, were my proverbial 40 years of searching for a promised land. Father Fred was the equivalent of a major prophet, a Judge, and the voice of one crying in the wilderness on my behalf. He was the exemplar of the dutiful saint called to call me, to witness to me, to guide me, and yes, most importantly, to father me. If I have any regret, it is my youthful immaturity that created an estrangement from a family to whom I am so grateful. I regret that I have not been able to be more in touch with him during the past decade or so. They had moved to Oregon, and Fred’s hearing was difficult at best. The last time I did speak with him, it was difficult to get him to understand what I was saying. I have been able to keep up on the progression of his journey through both David and Barb, and I was aware of his move back to Nebraska to be closer to the youngest of his children. It is another stop, another step, if you will in my own faith journey to say goodbye to such an influential person. I am, and will be forever grateful that Father Fred was in Sioux City that fall I returned. As noted in our Lutheran liturgy, I offer this, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And perhaps more importantly, thank you for being a surrogate father to me when I most needed it. I love you.

Thanks to everyone else for reading, This is for the father who adopted me in a different way, whether he knew it or not.


Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

5 thoughts on “Father Fred

  1. Dr. Martin,

    I am usually one to try to hold in the tears when I feel them start to well up behind my eyes, but I am crying as I read and respond to this. Thank you for your words. Thank you for this song. Thank you for sharing Father Fred’s story, and for sharing your stories, too. It really is a blessing.


  2. Dr. Martin,

    First, I want to say I’m sorry for your loss. It is evident that Fred was a significant figure in your life, not just as your pastor but as a father. I can tell from your post that you attribute much of your life path to him.

    I believe God gives us people in our lives whom we are inspired by daily. Whether one person or many, they are meant to be a part of your life. Having someone who will always be there is a very comforting feeling and something many of us take for granted. I have a specific person that plays a very significant role in my life and I believe God put her in my life for a reason. I don’t know where I would be or who I would be without her. I think each of us should have someone like that.

    Thanks for reading,
    Reese Harmon

  3. Dear Dr. Martin,

    First off, I wanted to thank you for your post. I found a lot of what you discussed to interesting and have a great deal of correlation to my current life. I think that it is amazing that you were able to find a surrogate family that was able to accept you for who you are. I find that sometimes in my own life, I struggle to relate to my family in multiple ways. When I was younger, my parents were very combative in their language and I think that was not the best motivation for my upbringing. However, the issue has subsided, as I feel they have grown to be more understanding and I have grown to be more considerate of everything they have done for me. I was spoiled in many ways with gifts and toys, but looking back feel I was never prepared to accept responsibility as I have grown older. I started to look to outside figures from my nuclear family for guidance. One figure being, my grandfather on my father’s side. I see the individual he is, one who is caring, kind, and honest. Not to say my parents aren’t, but my grandfather is a person I aspired to be like when I was younger and still do to this day. But nowadays, I also see all the sacrifices my parents made for me throughout the years and have become more and more appreciative. It was also like I was resentful because I was given so much and never earned anything in my life. I try my best to enjoy the things people offer nowadays though. Even two years ago, my pride would have me turn down offers and opportunities. Today, I have become more understanding and take those offers not as handouts but people trying to look out for my best interest and help me. I think I have found a happy medium in life between being handed everything and working for it all mindset wise. As a result, I think I have and will continue to grow to be a more appreciative person who to adjust to the help of others and try to also help them in return. Again, thank you for your post; I will try my best to hold the relationships I have dear to me close and hope you do the same.

  4. This is a story of struggle and how one man can bring light to the darkness. When people are compassionate like this, they often do not realize the profound and lasting effects on the person they are conveying it to. I also notice the fact Father Fred had the ability to separate his connection to you outside the church and be a Father when necessary, and be stern with you when it was needed. I think sharing experiences like this can make people realize that not every person who says something that can be perceived as negative has ill intentions. While eventually you had separated from that family, you still learned so much from them and realized their value in your life. This being something that many people never realize. The value of the people we interact with is much greater than we realize and you make that crystal clear with this Blog Post. I am certain Father Fred led a fulfilled life and hope anyone who is like him lives fulfilled as well. Reflecting on life is important and I wish we didn’t gain retrospective viewpoints so late in life, as this reflective knowledge only comes with time passed.

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