By Robert Lucke
Rev. Joe Easton is the interim minister at Van Orsdel United Methodist Church in Havre.
He is a minister of the "Brother Van" mold so much that calling him Brother seems as natural as referring to the Havre Methodist church as Van Orsdel.
Easton has not been in Montana all that long. He got his start in Denver.
"Becoming a minister really all started to happen with me kind of in one day," said Easton, smiling. "I lived in Denver sort of when you head down toward Five Points - that is where I grew up. I was ten years old and selling papers. A Sunday school superintendent came along and he got me started then. And the pastor and his wife and family guided me."
That was an Assembly of God Church. Later, Easton turned to the Baptist faith, too. It wasn't until he was 28 and attending Iliff Theological Seminary that he became a Methodist.
"I had found that there was a lot more opportunity for ministers in the Methodist church," Easton related.
Easton had churches in Colorado and Wyoming before coming to Montana 12 years ago.
Why Montana? Easton explains.
"I had always read about Montana in Field and Stream and magazines like that. It was one place that had a lot of mystery about it. I came to Townsend first. I was there for seven years and then spent four years in Roundup," continued Easton.
At Roundup Easton was a circuit rider minister, ministering to people and churches in Ryegate and Levina as well as Roundup itself.
Easton retired out of Roundup and took a three-month stint at Van Orsdel while they search for a permanent minister. That three-month job has turned into a year at least.
Some people say that mainline churches are not doing well nationwide. Easton disagrees.
"I don't think they are doing so badly. I can remember when I started, the independent churches were breathing their last. It's like cycles. I think mainline churches may get smaller and really it's all about temperament. There are different churches for different temperaments," said Easton. "Some people worship by jumping up and down and hollering. Other people would be embarrassed by that. Different churches for different temperaments."
There is one problem with mainline churches as well as with others.
"You know some mainline churches get so immersed in education that they start to doubt the very story that gave them their existence," said Easton. "If you kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, you won't have any more golden eggs."
Easton is very positive about Van Orsdel in Havre.
"At Van Orsdel at least some of the people, and some of the youngest people, are looking for a vision of their own. Some people have been doing the same things so long they can't even remember how those things got started in the church," said Easton, laughing. "But young people want a vision, their own vision and that is good instead of doing the same old things until they become rote without ever adding anything new."
Easton is concerned with church lay people and churches themselves in this country.
"Churches and laymen all go through the onslaught of ministers from different seminaries. I feel sorry about the laymen who get bombarded with all their stuff. You know John Wesley, Martin Luther, and St. Thomas believed it. Just basic faith, that's what we need from a minister," continued Easton. "That Jesus Christ came from heaven to save us from our sins and our destiny is to spend eternal life with him. That is a hard story to dispel. What are you going to put in its place? Why, that wonderful story is what keeps Joe Easton ticking."
"That is what sustains me," said Easton. "The story says there is something beyond this world. That place is heaven. That transcends the word. Our destiny is in that place!"
And then there is Easton's singing. That is in the tradition of Brother Van as well. It is glorious! People come to church just to hear him sing. And they get a message along with it.
Easton thinks that when his stint at Van Orsdel is over, he will go back to Roundup and maybe write a book or do something with the Internet.
Nice thought, but probably the minute another church needs him, he will be there. That's in the tradition of Brother Van too.