By the Rev. Marlene Mutchler, vicar of St. Bede’s, Forest Grove
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Gospel Reading for January 26, 2020, Matthew 4:18-19, NRSV).
My grandfather Edward taught me to fish from a motor boat on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. We saw kingfishers, and alligators, and miles and miles of everglades during our expeditions. I learned from him how to bait a hook and how to cast, especially how to snap the rod at the end to make the line fly out with that satisfying sound long into the water.
I wasn’t great at fishing. I caught some fish. The point was more about being with Grandpa. Maybe it was just that Grandpa was one of the few people in my life who thought it was worthwhile to teach a girl to fish. It made me feel human. There was never a question when we visited about whether or not I would or could come along; I was always invited.
Today whenever I see a rod and reel I think about being with him, laughing in the hot sun and coming home with my skin smarting, covered with a towel or whatever I could find as the shadows lengthened.
Long before I knew him, my grandfather had wanted to be a Pastor and somehow decided to come all the way out here to Portland from Michigan to attend Western Theological Seminary. He was a mason (actual bricklayer, not the club member) and built a small cinder block house at 625 NW Kelly in Gresham. (I know because that address is written in his very-well used King James Bible that I now own.) Last time I checked Google Earth, the house was still there. The weather didn’t agree with my grandmother and her allergies, so the family moved back to Michigan.
Flash forward about 70 years. After my family moved from Michigan to Oregon for Wade’s job, I was looking for an educational path to pursue a call to priesthood in the Episcopal Church and decided to study locally at George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary) while also taking classes at Church Divinity School in Berkeley for Episcopal studies.
Little did I know that Western Theological Seminary had merged some years back with George Fox Seminary. When I found that out, I truly felt like I was following in my grandfather’s footsteps by learning to fish for people and maybe finishing the work he started. The man who taught the girl to fish also, likely inadvertently, instilled in her a desire to fish for people. My studies for the priesthood really kicked into gear after Grandpa Edward died. I wonder what he would think of me now?
When my grandfather and I fished together he was not just catching fish, he was fishing for me. He taught me that I mattered. I was worth his time. It also modeled for me a way of being with people with no agenda other than love. It gave me the audacity to believe that the divine spark also resided in me. Learning to fish for people is not just about saying “God” and “Jesus” every other word. It begins by recognizing the divine presence already within our neighbors.