From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 103, Number 11 - November 16, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Harry Peatt likes to incorporate music into his services.
Religion and politics

by Annie OíBrien

A recent Pinedale transplant from Connecticut, Harry Peatt has committed his life to providing spiritual and psychological guidance. A minister with the United Church of Christ (UCC), Harry came to Pinedale to work as the acting pastor at the Congregational Church of Christ. He is a licensed mental health counselor and a folk and country musician, who once performed before Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Where are you from? What did you do before coming to Pinedale?

I grew up in Stanford, Connecticut. There I belonged to a Methodist Church. The young minister and his wife got me interested in becoming a clergyman.

I went to southern Methodist University and then received a full scholarship to Yale Divinity School. I was ordained in the Methodist Church and got a job in Hempstead, Long Island, but Iím a country boy at heart and didnít like all the planes flying over my head [from JFK International Airport]. It just didnít feel like home to me.

In the UCC, youíre a free agent, which means no one, no bishop, tells you where to minister. I returned to Stanford and became an associate pastor of a UCC church. While I was in Stanford, I met a fellow minister who had been studying at a Freudian organization called the Herbert Holt Institute. I started thinking about becoming dual vocational in the clergy and the mental health field.

After getting a degree in pastoral counseling from the Andover/Newton Theological School, I interned at rural mental health agencies. Among other things I ministered at 16 churches, provided inpatient alcohol counseling and worked as a mental health counselor to postal workers in Vermont and Massachusetts.

At 65, I wasnít interested in totally retiring. I saw a posting for an interim or acting minister here in Pinedale beginning November 1. Within days, I was here.

Do you like it here?

Iíve only been here for six days , but I find it to be a very friendly place. People seem a lot more open than back in New England. Itís going to take me a little bit of time to adjust to the altitude and to the homesickness that goes with making such a big move and leaving all my friends and family behind.

What is the most challenging part of being a minister?

There are many challenges to being a minister in this day and age. I think living in a world in which the general population is so divided is one of them. We know thereís a cultural war going on. Within the same congregation, there can be people who have entirely different views about whatís going on. As a pastor, youíre expected to provide meaningful and inspirational sermons and relate the historic Christian faith and our issues in todayís world. In order to do so, you have to start with the Bible and Christian traditions, which represents a challenge because people have so many different ideas about theological concerns. So I would say diversity in our society is challenging to a minister.

Why did you decide to take on two professions?

My father, who was a deputy sheriff, strongly advised me to become a lawyer, but the church was like a second home to me. After a couple of years in the ministry, I saw how some ministers I was well acquainted with had been unfairly treated by their congregations. A senior minister was asked to leave by the bishop and the congregations. I thought he was a very good man, and I couldnít understand why the congregation wanted him to leave. I felt that if I had another profession, I would be freer to preach the gospel and be myself and wouldnít have to rely totally on income from the Church. Jesus and his disciples were never paid for anything they did. I never forsook the Church. Sometimes I would work part-time at churches that couldnít afford a full-time minister.

Do you think the clergy should be involved in politics?

The clergy should not involve themselves with politics when it comes to endorsing political candidates. But the clergy has both the right and the duty to instruct their flock in regard to what is morally right and what is morally wrong. And often this throws the church into conflict with political processes because the church is talking about the same issues from a moral perspective. The politicians are talking about them from a very different perspective.

What political issues do you think the clergy should provide guidance about?

The issues on most votersí minds are the war on terror, the economy and illegal immigration, but the bottom line issue for me is the breakdown of the moral order today in society.

What do you mean?

In the world in which I grew up, at a time when perhaps 95 percent of the people in town had some affiliation with a church or synagogue, most people had very definite ideas about what was right and what was wrong. Certain decisions by the courts about what constitutes freedom of speech have had some very serious consequences in terms of what our children see and listen to.

Itís getting harder and harder for parents to be parents because the government is taking over the role of what was considered to be the sacred duty and trust of raising children.

What do you like to read?

Between my fourteen years in school and working 70 hours a week, recreation for me is gardening, hiking and being in the outdoors. I tend to read books and journals that help me formulate ideas. Iím not one to sit down and read Ulysses or some sort of 999-page novel.

Right now Iím reading The Purpose Driven Life. The central thrust is that the only thing that gives meaning to life is God and I believe that to be true. I canít resolve the problem of evil, but I believe God is good. He is not he source of evil in the world.

What spiritual/theological issue do you struggle with most?

I wrote my doctoral thesis on the topic of encountering the demonic in pastoral care. Despite my very liberal education at Yale, Iíve come to believe there are spiritual forces of wickedness that are seeking to destroy what God seeks to create.

Who do you admire most?

When George Bush was asked that, he answered ďJesus.Ē I would not want to put Jesus second in any way, but I have a great deal of admiration for Billy Graham. When I was younger I attended several of his crusades. I also admire other television evangelists like Dr. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge Ministries.

If you could have any other job, what would it be?

Iíd like to play at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and have one of my songs published.

Photo credits:  Annie OíBrien

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