Connecting to a higher power
SOLON– Scott Keele Kober used to design power lines to connect communities to the electrical grid. Now, as the Pastor of the Solon United Methodist Church (UMC), he connects people to become a community, and to connect that community to the highest power: God.
The Rev. Keele Kober, also known as Pastor Scott, assumed the duties of Pastor on July 1, taking over care of the Solon flock from the Rev. Carol Kress, who has moved on to the congregation in Gladbrook. A native of Ohio, Pastor Scott is the son of a UMC minister. While growing up, the pastor said people often remarked that he should go into the ministry.
However he initially took a different path opting for studying to become a math teacher. A different path presented itself leading him to math and science, and a career as an electrical engineer. Even though he was immersed in immutable facts, proven theorems and quantifiable data, he was also immersed in his faith and a call to serve. During summer breaks from college, he participated in mission trips. One such trip in-between his junior and senior years to the profoundly poverty-strickened Appalachia region of West Virginia affected him deeply.
“I felt a rekindling of the call to ministry,” he said, “but I was unsure in what capacity.” Upon graduating with his engineering degree, he hired-on with Ohio Power as a field engineer designing electrical power transmission lines. By day he contemplated three-phase vs. single-phase systems and how many kilovolts were needed to do the job. In the evenings and on weekends he served as the youth director for a church while saving up the money he needed to go to seminary school.
“That’s not the kind of power people need,” he said, “the power of the Divine is.”
Pastor Scott attended the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas and earned his Doctorate in Divinity. While there he also met an Iowa girl attending Southern Methodist University, named Karen Keele. She would become Karen Keele Kober soon after.
The couple spent a year in Anchorage, Alaska, where he served in an internship before his first assignment to Grace UMC in Des Moines. Five years later, it was off to West Union for a 12-year stint before the bishop called again with a new destination: Solon. Although appointed by the bishop and his cabinet, Pastor Scott still had to meet with a committee from the congregation, which he found to be very warm and welcoming.
He has a saying which at first seems a bit odd, especially coming from a minister speaking about his own church: “You don’t need us, we need you.” What the pastor is saying is we, the faith community, need people to become a part of it, to strengthen it and further advance the greater community of Christ. Building strong relationships within the congregation, within the community and beyond, and with God are what the pastor is about. He also seeks to build personal relationships with the members of his flock.
“There is a relationship a pastor has with individuals and families that is so unique,” he said. “They let you into their lives as a trusted confidante and I am very blessed to be able to have that relationship.” Part of a minister’s role is to provide counseling and comfort in times of difficulty, whether it is trouble with the family finances or the death of a loved one. While he has often been called to a nearby hospital to meet with people in distress, and is able to bring comfort to total strangers, it is when he has a prior relationship with somebody that he is best able to help. “Building relationships is important to me,” he said.
As would be expected, he also loves preaching the Word of God, but what may be surprising is how much he enjoys preparing the sermon each week. “The crafting of a sermon is a spiritual discipline,” he said. It’s also a weekly challenge. “How can I use this Biblical story and make it relevant to today?” For example, the pastor took the occasion of Beef Days to tell the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) and ask (with a smile), “who is making the sandwiches?”
In the story Martha invites Jesus into her home and makes a meal while her sister Mary sits and listens to Jesus. Martha takes exception to this, and asks Him to make Mary help her. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed– or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
One of the pastor’s goals in every sermon is to trigger an, “Ah-Hah” moment in the congregation when the story written so many centuries ago rings true in their daily lives. Although he holds the title of pastor, he sees everybody who attends the church as a minister to each other and the greater community as a whole, and it is his job to empower them. Thankfully and unlike his previous post, Pastor Scott has a five-person staff to help him not only with the day-to-day operation of the church but in ministering. Karen Schmitt handles business affairs, Kelly Meyer is the director of youth ministry, Julia Andrews West directs the music, Renee Masters leads Christian education and Jon Lorence takes care of the buildings and grounds.
As with any occupation or vocation, there are challenges. One that Pastor Scott sees is declining church attendance nationwide. He noted, “people are so busy, there are so many opportunities, so many things competing for their time.” As he tries to make the Bible relevant to today’s society, so too he says, “The church needs to be relevant” and added some say somewhat jokingly the UMC is, stuck in the 1950s. The church, he said, needs to make an impact in peoples’ lives, and pointed out, “people will attend when it’s relevant to their lives.” Again, building relationships, he feels is vital in this regard. “People still have a thirst for a spiritual life. I see myself as a partner in ministry, we’re going to work out of relationships.” He praised Pastor Kress for the work she did in Solon with the Community Food Pantry and Habitat for Humanity. She has left behind what he called a very community-oriented church, and added he was pleased with the notion that, “we’re here for the community.”
The pastor does not anticipate any major changes in the foreseeable future, but has made one change in the worship services: he granted a request to use the Doxology (a short hymn of praises) again.
Pastor Scott pointed to one of his favorite passages in the Bible, a verse from the book of Micah, 6:18. “And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
The Solon United Methodist Church is located at 122 N. West St., phone 319-624-2251.