Jefferson Street pastor enjoys faith, fellowshipPublished 12:00am Sunday, October 14, 2012
The Rev. John Kramer has been pastor at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church for a little more than three months, but his first experience there was as an inadvertent choir member.
That was 15 years ago. At the time, Kramer was on vacation and visiting Natchez, and had gone to the Jefferson Street church office to say hello to the then-pastor Curtis Moffett. Making their way back to the church sanctuary, Kramer and his wife, Mary, had to pass the choir room.
“They pulled us in because we’re both singers,” Kramer said. “So the first time I saw worship at Jefferson Street was from the choir loft.”
Time passed, and the Kramers made a second trip through Jefferson Street as tourists.
But the third time Kramer walked through the doors at the church, it was as the congregation’s assigned pastor. He started the last weekend in June.
Kramer grew up Methodist, attended the University of Southern Mississippi and attained a graduate degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, which at the time was on the approved list of schools for Methodist seminarians.
He began the early years of his ministry doing church music and youth work in Baptist churches, starting in 1978. In 1984, he was named an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Tupelo, and in 1989 he was given a two-church charge as pastor.
More recently, Kramer spent the last nine years at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Oxford.
His philosophy of ministry, Kramer said, came from some advice he got from a seminary professor he had asked to boil down the essence of a successful ministry.
“He told me, ‘Love God, love people and drink coffee,” Kramer said. “The first two parts of that are the two great commandments, and the second part, what he was saying was to sit down and have conversations with people, get to know them.”
Kramer said the pastor he remembers best from his own life is the one who invested time in getting to know him, and that’s one reason he keeps a pot of fresh coffee in his office.
Even for those who don’t drink coffee, Kramer said he tries his best to learn everybody’s name and take an opportunity to learn about them.
“People really do want good, sound preaching that helps them in their spiritual life, but they also want a relationship with the pastor,” he said. “Christian fellowship is really a wonderful thing.”
In addition to those who come to him, Kramer said he likes to make home visits, and every other week he leads the Jefferson Street preschool program in a devotional. Likewise, because of his own history of working with young people, Kramer said he likes to know the church’s youth.
“My first weekend here, I played ultimate Frisbee with the youth,” he said. “I am 62 years old, and I like to stay active, but after the first half I felt like I needed to take a break. But (Youth Director) John Hudson said, ‘Your team needs you,’ so I had to walk back out for that second half.”
But that’s all part of the equation — you have to know someone to disciple them.
“The national and state goal (of the United Methodist Church) is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and that is what we are trying to do with the children, the youth and the adults,” Kramer said. “That is the bottom line.”
During the week, Kramer reads the Methodist lectionary as part of his spiritual discipline, and he said he tries to find a biblical text from those readings from which he will preach on a Sunday.
“The lectionary is good because it is helpful in keeping us from staying on the same basic thrust, so I try to find my biblical text from that,” he said.
But ultimately, Kramer said, his ministry is dependent on the work of God. Citing a verse that was instrumental in his own life, Kramer referenced John 6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
It is God who calls and changes people, he said.
“We have to have changed lives,” Kramer said. “I can’t do that for people. All I can do is give the example from the pulpit and from teaching and having relationships with people.”
Settling into a new ministry at Jefferson Street — and within the Natchez community as a whole — has been relatively easy because of the friendliness of the people, Kramer said.
“They are good people, kind people, who have looked after us almost to the point of embarrassment,” he said.
John and Mary Kramer have four adult children, Jessica, who lives in Indianapolis, Jennifer, who lives in Louisville and Laura, who lives in Oxford.
Their daughter Katherine is a junior at USM.