Fathers, perhaps one of the most overworked, overstressed and under-appreciated members of the traditional family, are more important then ever, according to one father whose nurturing responsibility has suddenly exploded to many thousands of people.
In a move that surprised many, the Rev. Michael Rhyne, married, the father of three girls and just five years as a pastor, was elected last week as bishop of the Allegheny Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The synod is comprised of 116 churches in Cambria, Somerset, Bedford, Huntingdon, Blair, Clearfield and Centre counties with 80 pastors and membership topping 30,000.
But as Rhyne prepares to leave his two tiny congregations in Newry and Geeseytown, Blair County, with a combined attendance of 90, to become shepherd for the multitudes, he is keeping one thought in mind.
“When everything goes away, my family will be there,” he said.
Being the husband of Karen and the father of Lillian, Ella and Willa has been, is now and will continue to be his top priority, he said.
“I think too many people underestimate the value they have in the lives of their children,” he said in an interview at his century-old church in Geeseytown. “We dads don’t understand our role in the development of our children. Dads can bring a lot to the table.”
He speaks of the emotional table of the family, but bringing food to the dinner table and keeping the family’s head above financial water is growing more and more difficult, Rhyne said.
“Dads are worried. They wonder if they will be able to make it,” he said. “They’ve got to work to make ends meet, I know I’ve worked lots of jobs – 100 hour weeks.
“But never underestimate how important you are in the life of your child.”
While Rhyne has vowed this significant new calling as bishop will not push him back into 100-hour weeks, he admits it will take substantial chunks of his time as he attempts to shepherd the many pastors and the flock in each of the churches.
A native of North Carolina, Rhyne was educated at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, did graduate work and earned his degree to preach from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
But the preaching part came after several years involved in the theater and teaching theater in a handful of southern universities.
“At age 30, God decided I was going to seminary,” he said of the calling he received after he was married and with his first child.
When it came time for a church assignment, Rhyne thought he could be effective in an Appalachian ministry, something in the coal fields of Kentucky or West Virginia.
The telephone call five years ago from Bishop Gregory Pile, who he is replacing, made him realize Appalachia also is Cambria, Somerset, Blair and other counties in Pennsylvania.
When Rhyne went to the Allegheny Synod annual conference at the Blair County Convention Center a little more than a week ago, he had heard that his name was one of many which surfaced as possible replacement for the retiring Pile.
During that first day of the conference, his name popped up as the seventh choice.
While not sure he was looking for such a huge commitment, he also knows God is very numerical, he said, and the number seven comes up a lot in the Bible.
“But I still was not open to that, then Jesus started saying to that maybe I should be,” he recounted.
He telephonef his wife to let her know what was going on. The response was troublesome.
“I don’t want you to be bishop,’’ he recalled her saying of the six-year term.
“She was worried with three kids I’m going to be on the road a lot and she didn’t want to be a single mom.”
But she couched her concern with a commitment that he should follow God’s lead.
He didn’t withdraw his name, and by Friday night, he came in third place. He spoke to the body of pastors and tied for second place.
The final vote Saturday morning he ended up in first place.
“That was very shocking. I had never, never, never thought that I would end up moving into first place,” he said.
As he struggles to keep things in perspective and prepare for the change, he reminds himself that his role has not changed, just expanded.
“I’m still a shepherd, to the pastors and all the people and all the churches,” he said. “It’s not about me. If it was, there is no way I could do this job, because I know Jesus Christ leads me and guides me.”
As Rhyne talks about shepherding, his thoughts return to his family.
“Truly, I understand how hard it is being a father, but I also know that God gives us each other – our spouse, our children and he blesses us with friends and family,” he said.
Kathy Mellott is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.