Oh Reverend,Where Art Thou?

By on March 4, 2014
Paul Hayden Photo by Adam J. Howard
Paul Hayden Photo by Adam J. Howard

Paul Hayden Photo by Adam J. Howard

JACKSON, WYO – Double decade preacher moves on, leaves indelible impression

More than a few community members can thumb through their wedding albums and find Paul Hayden standing between them when they said their “I dos.” The 62-year-old will likely have his head cocked slightly to the side, smiling as always, with his arms half-raised and presenting a blissful young couple to their family and friends.

Others, mainly men, have doubtlessly witnessed Hayden’s competitive spirit. They may have been on the wrong end of an elbow during a basketball game, or watched with awe at the hustle Hayden brought to a game of softball.

Or maybe it was the rich baritone singing voice that first caught the ear of the uninitiated, newly baptized in the glow of the hard-working reverend.

Whatever one’s introduction to the lead pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, chances are you’ve probably been touched by the Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year 2010. In his 20 years in the valley, Hayden has made an impact on the lives of so many. It will be difficult to watch him go and shepherd another flock.

Paul Hayden Photo by Adam J. Howard

Paul Hayden Photo by Adam J. Howard

Planet Jackson Hole: Short version: Who is Rev. Dr. Paul Hayden?

Paul Hayden: I grew up in Southern California in a family that just allowed us and helped us do a lot of things. I grew up singing. We were a very musical family. I went to college at Seattle Pacific College on a music scholarship. I was a music major there for a couple of years and went on a six-month tour with a Christian music group. That was really the changing moment in my life because on that tour they asked me to do the speaking for every concert. So I preached about 180 times in six months and came back from that and thought, “Wow, this is what God’s really calling me to do.”

I started going to a Presbyterian Church after they asked me to be the paid baritone soloist in their choir. I figured getting paid to sing was a whole lot better than what I was doing at the time, which was cleaning toilets and sweeping floors. Then I went on and worked at a Presbyterian camp at the base of Mount Rainier for three summers. I then went to seminary at Fuller Seminary. I became an intern at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California, which was a big church of 3,000. Jimmy Stewart was a member at the time. The senior pastor was Lloyd Ogilvie, who went on to become Chaplain of the United States Senate for seven or eight years.

PJH: And you are also quite the athlete.

PH: Growing up I played basketball, football, baseball. I had a partial baseball scholarship to college. My scholarship was music and baseball. And then after the freshman year they cut the baseball program and that left only music. That door was closed. It was a great way to grow up. I just did a wide variety of all types of things. I still love them all. I played softball and men’s basketball here until I was 50. My boys are all athletes. They love sports. All three of them had some college paid for by sports.

I have four sons. Isaac, Cameron (stepson), and twin younger boys James and Sam.

PJH: When did you land in Jackson?

PH: I was the guy who got called to start the Presbyterian Church. I showed up in early May 1994 with my family and began building the church from there. At that time we had a little 800-square-foot office down on Cache Street. We started meeting in the old Davy Jackson Elementary School that no longer exists. We were there for three years and then moved over to the middle school for three years. By then we had completed the first phase of construction on this building and we moved in here. That was in 2000.

PJH: But your time here is coming to a close. You recently announced to your congregation you will be leaving. What’s that about?

PH: We felt for a while that God was saying, “You know, Paul, your work here is coming to completion and you need to prepare for what’s next.” I said, “OK, Lord, what’s next?” The Lord said, “Let’s come to completion here first and then I’ll show you what’s next. So we are in that discernment process. We’ve given the congregation a date that we will be completed by, which is August 31, no later than that.

I’m going to receive my last week of training in what’s called interim pastoral ministry, which is a specialty program in the Presbyterian Church where you go into churches that are in transition to be a pastor that helps lead them toward the future. That could be something very simple like they had one pastor who left and the new pastor hasn’t come yet and they need someone to fill the in-between. It could be a church that’s lost its direction and needs to have some assistance in envisioning what’s next for them. Some of those churches have some real trouble in them.

I don’t know that I will be a specialist in those types of things but there is certainly a need for interim pastors who go in sort of like hotshot firefighters, you know? They get sent in where there are some real issues that need to be addressed and they are real gifted in helping a congregation with fixing those problem areas and getting refocused. So I really don’t know which of those things I may be doing. It could be in the process that God says, “Nope, I have another church for you to pastor until you retire in eight or 10 years.”

PJH: So your work here has come to completion? Is that why you are leaving?

PH: I’m a person who needs to have a vision to lead. Over the course of time we’ve had a lot of really incredible visions and directions that the church has followed and accomplished. The last couple of years I’ve been finding myself saying, “OK, Lord, what’s next? What’s next?” Because besides being a pastor and loving people and preaching and teaching the scriptures, which I still love to do, I’ve never felt in addition to that there is a new vision that God wants me to accomplish here. Now the associate pastor, who may very well go on to become the senior pastor upon my leaving here, he has a tremendous vision. God’s given him a great vision for what’s next. It’s almost like God’s been saying to me and my wife Terri, “You know, you’ve done a great job. Now it’s time to turn things over and let someone do the next phase of a great job.”

PJH: How important is location to you? Won’t it be difficult to leave Jackson?

PH: You know, location has never been a high priority for me. God has put me in some incredible places but that’s not been the priority. I’d never been to Jackson Hole when I was called here to interview. I’d never been to the San Juan Islands, which is the last place I served. It’s an incredible place. Very, very different from this. Then I spent five and a half years in Sacramento.

For me, it’s always been about the people. If you don’t love the people where you are, there isn’t any place beautiful enough for me. We’ve been very blessed to have people we really love and, to boot, to be in a place that’s truly, spectacularly beautiful. But we don’t know what’s next.

PJH: Let’s switch gears. Has this country lost its way? Are we still one nation under God?

PH: You know, a lot of our founding fathers were not Christian per se. Many of them were deists or theists. But at that point in history one of the primary texts that everybody used for their moral and theological training was the Bible. And the Bible had some very specific guidelines that people bought into and they said, “Yeah, this is the way we need to go. This is what God would have us do.”

So our nation was built on a lot of those moral and social guidelines that are found in scripture. When we begin to lose those things or question those things, we begin to become unstable as a society. Now what’s going to happen in the long run with that trend is yet to be seen but I think we see a lot of instability. For instance, I think we have seen, culturally, that the idea of a supreme being to whom we are held accountable has begun to diminish over the last 50 years. Therefore, I think you can see a rise in a lot of other types of behaviors that I think can ultimately be very destructive for our society. I believe part of that is we are no longer accountable. We no longer have this sense that there is going to be a day where I stand before my maker and I am held to account for what I have chosen to do. And I think that’s a real detriment in our society.

We could get into a long debate about when that started happening, and of course our atheist community disagrees with that statement entirely, but there’s been some great debates on NPR and the like about those type of things, but from a Christian perspective that’s how I see it.

You go back to post-WWII and the question was what were the problems in public schools that we’re faced post-WWII? Chewing gum in school. Saying a swear word in school. Those types of things. Now you look at what’s happened in public schools and you have metal detectors to find out if people are carrying guns. There are all sorts of social transformations. Can they all be brought down to one dynamic? No, I think there are a number of very major social dynamics that contribute to that, but one of them is, to me, when you remove God from the equation things are going to start to happen. I think as a culture we have begun that slide.

PJH: Speaking of schools. What do you think about Polly Friess’ classical liberal arts school and the other proposed Christian school, Timber Ridge Academy?

PH: Back in 1988, I had a conversation with the superintendent of public education in the community where I was staying. The essence of the conversation was I said I believed we needed to introduce a moral education into public schools and he looked at me in the eye – he was a friend of mine, went to my church – and he said, “Paul, whose morals? Are you talking Hindu morality, Buddhist morality, Islamic morality? Are you talking Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian? Whose morality are you going to introduce as being THE morality?”

It’s a valid point. In a public setting, where you have a completely diverse and pluralistic society, to set up one basic is difficult to do. But to have a school like the Friess’ or the other Christian classical school that don’t have to worry about plurality, they can simply say, “Look, we’re private. This is what we do. If you don’t like it you have other choices. But this is what we are presenting as the core of our educational process.” There’s real value in that.

It used to be that it was primarily Catholic schools that did that. That was their historical model. And they made no qualms about it. “This is who we are. This is what we do. And if you want the type of education we can give, great.”

I’m doing several weddings with some Jewish folks. And interestingly all of them either went to Catholic or Episcopalian schools because the education was better. Now they had to go to chapel. They had to say the prayers. They may or may not have believed in them. But that was all part of the process and they made the decision that for the education they were receiving, they would put up with the other stuff.

Do I think it has value? Yes, I think the education they are getting is a quality education. It provides some strong Christian moral teachings. And I think for people who want that and can afford that, it can be a very beneficial thing.

PJH: Have we gone too far the other way in protecting the rights of citizens? I mean, it seems many people today interpret the protections of the Constitution as: I have the right to not have to hear someone else exercise their rights when it comes to free speech and freedom of religion. For instance, locally, prayer at the rodeo was suppressed because a few people were uncomfortable listening to others – perhaps the majority – express theirs.

PH: I guess the way I would say it is I think in many ways we have become a nation of minority rule. Some of that is very justifiable. But we are not a nation of majority rule in a lot of ways. If a person is upset about something that happened at school, or at the rodeo, they can raise a stink and threaten a lawsuit. Now all of the sudden it gets down to the fact that 95 percent of the people would not have been offended or may have very much wanted it, but because we are protecting the one or the two or the three percent, it’s easier to say we just aren’t going to go there.

PJH: A minority voice crashed our Elk Fest twice. Operation Save America and pastor Mark Holick nearly hijacked our town. What was your response?

PH: They have every right in our society to do that. I think it’s tragic the way they do that. I think at times it borders on not just offensive but illegal the way they go about it. Mary Erickson initiated a wonderful program two years ago that was an equally legal and positive response within this community. I was fortunate enough to jump on the bandwagon with Mary to do that. I think it was appropriate, civil and community driven. It had nothing to do with the issue of pro-life, pro-choice, that whole debate. It was just we, as a community, choose to dialogue and deal with it differently. And we don’t want this type of obtrusiveness and offensiveness to come into the debate.

I was very fortunate the last time they were here to be videotaped in church on Sunday and make their website with the quote: “Evangelical, Presbyterian minister is no more Christian than a poached egg.” [Laughs].

PJH: Do you still follow baseball? Who’s your team?

PH: Historically, my favorite team is the L.A. Dodgers because I grew up in Southern California. I started listening to the Dodgers on a little transistor radio when I was eight years old.

PJH: Is Vin Scully not the best?

PH: I went to sleep as a kid listening to Vin Scully call those games.

Vision for the future

PJH: Ben Pasquale is pretty young. Is he ready?

PH: That’s the big question. Only time will tell. You could bring in the wisest best pastor in the world and bring him in here and they may not make it. Their spouse or their kids may not like it. There are all sorts of things that can happen so really it’s in God’s hands. So you look at what you can look at. And what I know about Ben Pasquale is he loves God. He loves Jesus. He is a good student of the scriptures. He is a thoughtful, prayerful leader. He builds great teams. And he has a vision for where God should lead this church. Those are the things I look for. Yeah, you’ve got to flush those out and jump in and make those things happen. You’ve got to do the work that goes with it. But if you don’t love the Lord and you don’t really know or study the scriptures. If you are not a person of prayer, if you don’t have vision. Those are the things when you’ve got to say no, no, no, this isn’t the right place for you. So he has the right stuff. Now, he has to grow with that.

What I learned when I was his age, I went to a little church up in the Pacific Northwest. The average age was 65 and I was 32. I had a young kid. My son Isaac was the only toddler in the church. It should not have worked. But the people of that church were committed to making it work. And I think ultimately that’s what it comes down to in any congregation. Do the people want to make it work? Will they pray for that leader? Will they support that leader? Will they encourage that leader? Will they participate? All those things are what make a church family work. And I believe we have these types of people here. They are certainly what has allowed me to accomplish what we’ve accomplished here.

PJH: Sooner or later, everyone starts seeking the answers to the same questions: Where did I come from? Where am I going? What does it all mean? The search sometimes leads to faith. That’s where you come in.

PH: It’s a tough question for our day and age. Because there are an increasing number of “nones.” Not nuns, but nones. That’s one of the rapid growing religious designations on America. There is also a huge segment of our population that is being called de-Christians. They used to be part of a Christian faith or church but something happened and they haven’t necessarily abandoned their faith but they’ve removed themselves from the organization, the institution.

We live in a very turbulent time when it comes to the issues of faith. I liken it to marriage. There are a lot of people that I know who love each other deeply and are not married. I also know some people who are married who don’t love each other. If I had to choose between the two, I’d always say love each other and don’t be married. But I think they go better hand-in-hand. Because we need the structure of marriage and the commitment of marriage to get through the tough times when love may not be as smooth as we would like it to be. That commitment, that mutuality, that agreement to walk hand-in-hand down the road of life is really important.

I believe there are people that love God that don’t go to church. I know there are some people that go to church and I really wonder whether they love God. If I had to choose between the two, I would say love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – and your neighbor as yourself – and forget the religion thing. But I think they go together marvelously well just like marriage.

Because what the church does is it provides some structure, community and support for people that are on a spiritual journey to come to know God better.

What I would say to somebody who is at this point is just jump in and start swimming. If I want to learn Spanish, at some point I either have to start making some friends who speak it fluently and ask them some tough questions because I don’t know diddly about it, or I’ve got to go to Mexico and immerse myself, or I’ve got to go to a class that teaches it. But somewhere, if I really want that, I’ve got to take a step to begin to expose myself and learn it. I think the same thing is true for faith. We can have all the faith we want but if we have to grow and deepen and expand and broaden, then at some point, I have to enter into some sort of community or learning experience where I feel safe, comfortable, but also can grow and can learn and question. And that’s what I would encourage people to do.

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