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Minister mixes hogs and gospel

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rev, Kenton Van sits on his 2007 Harley-Davidson fatboy. The minister at First United Methodist Church is an avid cyclist.(Laurie Sisk/Tribune)
The Rev. Kenton Van, pastor of First United Methodist Church, first received his calling to serve the Lord at the age of 11.

"It came out of the blue," Van said, smiling. "I ran from it a lot of my life, but I finally gave in."

Van said it took until he was almost 30 years old before he answered the call. But his life before the clergy was definitely not lacking in excitement.

Before entering the ministry, Van, the son of a marine who lived all over the U.S., worked about four and a half years as a communications clerk for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Diego, served as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Marine Corps, worked as a security guard for Donny and Marie Osmond during taping of The Donny and Marie Show and worked armed and unarmed security at the San Diego State University Sports Arena and LaCosta Country Club in San Diego.

Van completed his first year of seminary at Claremont, Calif., before transferring to The St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., where he received his master of divinity. He later attended Drew University in Madison, N.J., where he received his doctorate of ministry degree.

"It's a professional degree, much as a doctor of dentistry or a doctor of medicine, as opposed to a research degree," Van said.

Van's reasons for coming to Fort Scott are simple.

"The Bishop told me to come here," Van said laughing. "We have an appointive system in the United Methodist Church and one of the agreements we make as clergy is to go where the Bishop sends us."

Outside of his professional career, Van is an avid motorcyclist. The reverend was able to merge his professional career with his love of motorbikes during the church's first Bike Blessing last June.

"I've done it in several churches that I've been at, but this is the first year we've done it here."

Van said about 20 cyclists attended the event and he plans on putting another one together for next April.

Van, who rides a 2007 Harley-Davidson Fatboy, said he has attended the annual Sturgis Rally in Sturgis, S.D., about eight times.

"That's enjoyable, but like any place, it has its seamy side, but if you don't look for that and just go for the rest, it's kind of like a big state fair for motorcycles," Van said.

Van said he began riding in the late 1970s and early 80s, but quit to raise a family.

"I bought my first Harley in 2001," Van said. "I did quit riding for a couple of years after that because I had a good friend that was killed by somebody texting, so I sold everything I had and just walked away from it -- but I found that the call to ride was too strong, so I started riding again."

A member of the Harley Owners Group, Van has hopped on his cycle with the American Legion and the Christian Motorcycle Association. Van said he also was a member of the American Legion Riders in Mulvane when they founded The Patriot Guard, a group formed to protect the dignity and well-being of those being protested by the Westboro Baptist Church.

"I was part of that movement from the very beginning," Van said. "It's amazing how much it has grown. What they (Westboro) are preaching is hatred and fear. What I have tried to do as a pastor and a clergyman is to show that the hatred and fear -- the whole ball of wax they are trying to sell -- really has nothing to do with the gospel. I don't concentrate so much on what they are doing as I do on trying to care and support the people we are ministering to and the people that are out there standing the line, protecting the families."

And so far as anyone who says that Rev. Van might be a little different, his response is simple and swift.

"I try to be. I take it as a compliment."

Van's roots are colorful to say the least.

His grandfather was in Vaudeville and his grandfather's cousin was the warm-up act for famed magician Harry Houdini. Van also is the great-great-grand nephew of abolitionist, activist and writer Harriet Beecher-Stowe, who many embrace as a national treasure. Her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin is an American classic and she spent much of her adult life working to abolish slavery.

"South of Wamego, there is a small community out there. Lyman Beecher was a preacher in Connecticut, who sent crates of Bibles with rifles underneath them.

That church is still out there today. It's called The Beecher Bible and Rifle Church. He had a daughter named Harriet Beecher, who married a man named Stowe." Van said. "I was jazzed when I ended up out here in Kansas and realized that church existed."

Van, like his great-great-grand aunt, is a mission-minded individual and believes his clergy at FUMC is as well.

The church has put faith into action on numerous occasions, including disaster relief after the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo.

Van has served at the 342-member FUMC in Fort Scott for a little more than a year now and in that time has continued the church's weekly free meals to the community on Wednesday nights. The meals began about a month before Van arrived and he felt it was something that should definitely be continued.

"We just finished the first year of Feeding Families in His Name," Van said. "Anybody and everybody who wants to can come and have a free meal. A lot of people come here because they need to make whatever income they have stretch and there are also a number of people who come here because it is a place where they can come and eat with someone else and have some socialization as well."

Van said volunteers serve about 150 meals at the beginning of the month and a little more than 200 at the end of each month.

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