Blest: From Preacher's Kid to Catholic Deacon

Blest: From Preacher's Kid to Catholic Deacon

by John R. Pate


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This book is about how a young man sought to fi nd his way and how God opened the way for him. The story travels through many events, following a young athlete and musician discovering a much different calling upon his life.

A life of faith may have many twists and turns. John Pate’s life changed in an interesting way as God called him from an early childhood belief system to a new one. Talents came forth, along with new directions as to how to use these talents for a rewarding and Blest life.

The intent of writing this story is that hers may be encouraged to be persistent in seeking truth and finding different priorities that add new meaning to their own life. The risks are there to be taken, but the rewards of faith in God are great. In following and trusting God one can experience spiritual fulfilments and legacies to pass on to future generations.

John Pate was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. He received his Bachelor of Engineering (BE) degree from Vanderbilt University and his Bachelor of Science (BS) degree from Lipscomb University. John had a 30-year career in his business dealings with engineered products and systems, primarily, for large computer rooms and telecommunication facilities.

John started and built a company that was involved with many major construction projects throughout the state of Arkansas. Customers included large companies in the state, such as Walmart, providing technical equipment and systems to their computer facilities. John was the only sub-contractor from Northwest Arkansas who was invited to work on the Clinton Presidential Library.

Today, John enjoys interacting with businessmen in the marketplace, as well as ministering to members of the Church as a deacon. For ten years John served as a volunteer prison chaplain and he has been a full-time staff hospice chaplain for the past ten years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781457558986
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Publication date: 07/26/2018
Pages: 190
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Early Years

I was born at Methodist Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, on July 17, 1942. My father, Stoy Lester Pate, had graduated from Harding College (now Harding University) with a major in Bible and Ministry. He first began to preach in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, at a Church of Christ congregation, while he was still in college at Harding. Leaving on Saturday, he and the other preacher boys would travel by train from Harding to their appointed assignments at various church congregations, returning to school on Monday.

My Grandfather Pate was a farmer and an Elder in the Church of Christ. My grandparents were respected, hard-working people who held prominent positions in the rural community. Raised on their family farm near Dyersburg, Tennessee, my father worked hard to get through four years of college during the Great Depression. My father was dedicated and sincere about his work in ministry, working hard, and always doing what he thought best. As I remember, he was very strict and expected me to behave properly at all times.

My mother, Edith Sawyer Pate, had been a popular Memphis radio singer and talk-show host on Station WMC before she married my father. In my imagination, I can still hear the radio show begin with the announcer proclaiming: "From the Blue Room atop the Peabody Hotel in Memphis: 'Here comes Edith Sawyer and the Blue Birds.'" In fact, her scrapbooks contained pictures and articles from the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, including a piece about the Andrews Sisters, and other national celebrities during WWII being guests on her show, and newspaper blurbs about Edith Sawyer. When my mother and father married, she left the music industry. Until I started high school, she was a full-time homemaker; to supplement the family income, she eventually went to work at Lowenstein's, a department store in downtown Memphis.

My Grandfather Sawyer "Pop" was one of the engineers for Illinois Central Railroad, who drove the express passenger train, The City of New Orleans, between Chicago and New Orleans. Being an engineer was a very good job at that time, and Pop was respected at his work. Years later a popular song was written about The City of New Orleans.

I have one sister, Joyce Pate Hurst, a very talented and intelligent person who is one year older than I. Joyce lived in Memphis, and was employed at a bank for many years, winning national awards for her service working with customer financial investments. We enjoy a close and loving relationship. Today, Joyce and her husband, Howard, currently live in Bentonville, Arkansas, having relocated from Memphis in 2013.

My father organized a Church of Christ congregation in our South Memphis neighborhood (1081 McLemore), a densely populated urban neighborhood where most people actually walked to their church. My early family life was centered on the church where I learned a good moral code, respect for the Bible as God's Word, the significance of the Creator and His creation, and the importance of loving and serving God and my fellow man. The mission of the church was first and foremost to preach the Gospel; but also, putting those words into action by ministering to the poor, was very important.

Our family lived upstairs in a large aging two-story house. The accommodations were very humble; but, plenty adequate for our family of four. Downstairs was my father's office, a space for youth social gatherings, and two rooms where assistance to the poor was provided. One room was used for second-hand clothing and the other room for non-perishable food, all of which was given away to anyone who had need.

For the first seventeen years of my life this house was home to me. Needy people, along with the men and women of the church, would come and go in and out of my dad's office and the church, which was two houses down at Cummings and McLemore. As a small boy watching all of this, I didn't pay much attention. I thought the church ministering to the poor and feeding the body and the soul was just the way the world worked.

When needy people arrived, my father would take them into the storerooms and fill up boxes with the items they needed. Looking back, I can now see it gave me a secure feeling knowing some of the critical needs in that neighborhood were taken care of by my father and the members of the church.

When I was twelve years old, there was a gospel meeting revivial at the church. At the end of the service, as usual, an invitation went out for anyone who wanted to obey the Gospel to come forward and be baptized. I found myself in a rush of excitement as I walked down the aisle. That night I was baptized by my father.

I had come into a spiritual understanding regarding a message I had heard many times. This was not only a moment of truth and a defining moment in my life, but a deeply spiritual experience for me. I still remember this blessing vividly today.

About a year later, as I was growing physically and mentally, there were troublesome feelings that began to surface. Being young and immature at the time, and trying to find myself, I began to challenge my very strict upbringing and the ultra-conservative, fundamentalist (puritan) teachings of my father and his church. I was taught not to go to movies, swimming pools, or dances; but, I wanted to experience life for myself; so like some typical teenagers, I started going to forbidden places anyway, just not telling my parents. This decision lead me to not be totally open and honest with my parents and contributed to a lack of closeness and spontaneity in our relationship.

I went to church during my adolescent years primarily to socialize and because I was expected to go. My father was the preacher, and I was born into my family's faith. I had not yet considered that I needed to seek out the truth for myself and embrace a faith of my own, nor was this idea generally accepted in the culture in which I found myself.

As I look back, I see that I was blest to have good parents who taught me right from wrong. They taught me that God created the heavens and the earth. We did not know how he did it or how long it took but we accepted this on faith. This made all of the other miracles in the Bible easy to believe.

All in all, during these years, my parents also persevered with my short attention span and hyperactivity. Hopefully, I eventually made them proud, in spite of the needs of individuation working towards an adult perspective that would come.


Music, Music, Music

I cannot imagine writing about my love for music without first going all the way back as far as I can remember. For me, music began with my Grandmother Sawyer, a musically gifted, refined woman with a lovely operatic voice. I believe she could have easily been a professional singer, as was her daughter, my mother.

As a young woman, Grandmother Sawyer sang in the Presbyterian Church choir and was often a featured soloist in the congregation's worship service. Our family was also blest, as she sang around the house.

Grandmother Sawyer had three children: Edith, my mother, and Robert and Hugh, my uncles who were born 12 and 14 years later. Both of the boys were musically talented as well. Robert played the cello with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and Hugh played the piano by ear. Hugh still recalls how people would come out of their houses in his Memphis neighborhood and open windows to hear him beating out the boogie-woogie songs of the day. My mother played the tenor ukulele in addition to singing. My dad could sing as well and was in his college choir.

With these musical genes in the family, when my older sister Joyce and I came along, the family just assumed we also had the family musical talent and so the adults set out to develop these gifts. Joyce started learning piano, then added the flute and also took voice lessons. She excelled in each and later became a teacher of all three. Joyce played flute in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and also was first-chair in the flute section of the Tennessee All State Band (1959). Joyce attended Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis, on a full music scholarship and was first chair all four years, graduating with a dual major in music and education.

Being the youngest and also being a little boy who liked to roughhouse and play ball, I initially didn't show much interest in music. In fact, I thought it was all a little bit too sissy. However, upon the insistence of my parents, I started taking piano lessons.

I did not like to play the piano at all, and although the music teacher was very encouraging, piano was just not my thing. She even tested me and found I had perfect pitch, probably thinking that knowing this fact might capture my interests. At one point my piano teacher, Miss Mary Ann, asked me if I had practiced any since my last lesson. I meekly confessed I had not. Miss Mary Ann gave me my money back telling me she didn't think she was helping me learn the piano. Eventually, I wore all of them down and finally, after a couple of years, convinced them I should quit piano.

However, the musical part of my life was not over. When I was thirteen years old I decided I wanted to play the drums. I loved hearing the drums played and, to me, this seemed more of a boy's instrument and fit my image of myself better.

First, I bought a set of drumsticks, a rubber practice pad, and a book of beginner drum lessons. Through my brief marginally-successful piano career, I had learned the basics of music, including timing, so I breezed through the book in about a week and then bought the next more advanced book, and the next, and the next. My interest grew and I completed all four books in a very short time.

As music was an important part of my family, my parents were encouraged that I might stay with this instrument as they could see I enjoyed playing the drums and was eager to learn more. So they sent me to a local music store to take lessons. After three or four lessons, Mr. Poe, the drum teacher, said he really didn't think he could teach me anything more than I already knew. With his recommendation and at fifteen years of age, I joined the Memphis Musicians' Union, and was paid to play drums in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Poe was head of the percussion section and I played first chair snare drum with the Memphis Symphony for the next four years.

I had also joined the high school band and as a ninth grader became first chair and head of the drum line. As a tenth-grader I was selected through competition, to be a part of All Memphis and All West Tennessee bands, and was first chair in the Tennessee All State Orchestra. As an eleventh-grader in statewide try outs, I was selected first chair snare drum of the Tennessee All State Band.

Probably due to some really lively pep sessions in the high school auditorium that rocked-and-rolled with dancing cheerleaders, I was blest to be voted "most talented" in my senior class. I received a full music scholarship to Memphis State University and as an incoming freshman was selected to be first chair snare drum and head of the drum line.

About that time (without my parent's knowledge), I went underground and became a rock-and-roll drummer known around Memphis, eventually playing with some early pioneer rockabilly and rock-and-roll bands. I played briefly with Carl Perkins, one of the originators of the rock-and-roll sound that was started in Memphis in the middle to late 1950's and early 1960's. The term "million dollar quartet" was: Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

To pursue a career in pop music I would have had to go on tour performing in rock-and-roll shows. I knew I didn't want that difficult life on the road that was different from the life I desired, so I never seriously considered it.

Now, as I look back between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, I was blest to experience a relatively short, but successful run in the field of music, rubbing shoulders with people who were or became successful recording artists.

However, I would go no further into the musical world. I had accomplished all I wanted on the musical front and was ready to move on to other things like family, education, and a more permanent occupation. However, I will never forget the fun that I experienced for a short and exciting time.

I have not played since; but occasionally, I still think about it and smile. I thank God for putting that gene pool into my DNA that brought so much fun into my life. I thank God for the enrichment and affirmation music provided, not only giving me an advantage during my performing years, but also enhancing a lifetime of appreciation and enjoyment of music.

My original 1950's period drum set, at their request, was donated to the Highway 67 Rock-and-Roll Museum in Newport, Arkansas, in 2015. Many years later, I had an inspiration that my music (talent) was given for all eternity and I would be involved in the music in Heaven. (I smiled!)



A history of my life's journey would not be complete without mentioning my participation in sports and the important part sports played in my young life. Let me make it clear up front I was not, nor have ever been, a great athlete. Any small success I may have had in sports was due to a lot of effort, sweat, and a great deal of perseverance!

My dad was very interested in all kinds of sports, particularly basketball and baseball. Growing up, he had played sports and even participated in basketball, baseball, and track for two years in college at Freed-Hardman College, now University in Henderson, Tennessee. When I was a little boy my dad would frequently take me to ball games. Besides church, ball games became the primary common-interest activity that we shared together as father and son.

As I became old enough to play sports myself, he encouraged my participation, which resulted in my playing basketball and baseball through all my teen years. Highlights of these activities were: being a member of the 8 grade basketball team at Cummings Elementary School who were the Memphis city champions, swimming instructor at the YMCA, American Legion baseball, and also earning three varsity letters in basketball and three varsity letters in baseball at Memphis Southside High School.

I want to share just one athletic story from my past, which after many years I still remember in vivid detail. The time was 1958 and the place was Bellview Park at Bellview and Parkway Streets in South Memphis. My high school, Southside, was playing our arch rival, Central. In all sports, Southside vs. Central was always the biggest game of the year in Memphis. To beat Central in anything was a major achievement!

Central was the original high school in Memphis, and also the largest. Southside was next to the largest high school and was in a more working class neighborhood. The following is a snapshot of my part in one of the games; in the colloquial language of the day.

A large crowd had gathered under the lights for this highly-anticipated baseball game. The stands were packed as this was our most important game of the year and the score was very close.

After one out, our pitcher Richard Boone, a big south paw, became wild. He threw four balls that our catcher, Carol Langston, had to be a great athlete to even catch.

Following the four straight, wild pitches, something a little surprising took place. Coach Bragance looked at me and shouted: "Pate, go warm up."

I was not even thinking about getting into the game, as I was only a 10th-grader. The backup catcher got his glove and started to the bull pen. I was still standing there as I asked myself: "Did he mean me?"

The catcher yelled: "Come on, let's go!" We quickly made our way out to the bull pen.

Our pitcher now had a man on first base, and he then threw four more balls that aren't even close to being in the strike zone. Central now had men on first and second.

So, Coach called: "time out," and went out to the mound. After a few seconds, I heard him yell: "Pate, get out here!"

So after only throwing a few warm-up pitches, I went out to the pitcher's mound. Coach got right in my face, and with 'fire in his eyes' and 'garlic on his breath,' he yelled: "Just get the ball over the plate!"

So with maximum adrenaline I threw my first pitch as hard as I could, right over the plate.

The batter had a 'take' signal to get a look at the new pitcher. The first ball was a fast ball, right down the middle, so now the batter was eager for the next pitch, which is also a fast ball, right down the middle. The batter swung with all his might and the ball took off to deep left field.

Our left-fielder went back, back, and leaning on the fence, he reached up as high as he could, jumped up, and caught the ball. Okay, two pitches, and we now had two outs, next batter.


Excerpted from "Blest"
by .
Copyright © 2017 John R. Pate.
Excerpted by permission of Dog Ear Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I. Background,
The Early Years,
Music, Music, Music,
The Love of My Life: Sandra,
Blessing of Two Sons,
Education and Occupations,
II. Faith,
Combining Work and Faith,
Winds of Change,
Community Graces,
Prison Ministry,
Tears, Tears, Tears,
Changing Priorities,
God's Intercession over Time,
Random Acts of Kindness,
My Lament,
III. Honduras,
A Life-Changing Cultural Experience,
'92 Mission Trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras,
IV. Catholic,
How I Became a Catholic,
My Experience in Mexico City,
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
My Confession at Lourdes,
Lesson Learned in Rome,
How I Became a Catholic Deacon,
Becoming a Deacon: the Formation,
Moving to Northwest Arkansas,
Our Chapel,
My Life as a Deacon,
Learning to Preach,
V. Chaplain,
Call of a Chaplain,
Stories from a Hospice Chaplain,
VI. Other,
The Montreal Adventure,
Looking back,
My Tribute,
Appendix A: Dan,
Appendix B: Bibliography,
Appendix C: Key to Writing your Life Story,

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