Pastor understands how lives can change
When the Rev. Frank Morgan used to attend services at Tonganoxie's United Methodist Church, he sat with the congregation.
That was in the 1980s when Morgan and his wife, Sandy, lived in Tonganoxie. Morgan then was a fifth-grade teacher in the same school district where his aunt, the late Jean Harman, had taught for years.
This summer, after 28 years away, the Morgans moved back to Tonganoxie. Things are different now for the couple, who recently celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary. Their two children are grown. They have four grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born Oct. 8.
And, during church services today, Morgan stands in the pulpit.
Morgan, who went into the ministry after teaching, said it was a gradual decision to change careers.
He recalled asking former Tonganoxie Methodist pastor, the Rev. Ray Bell, for advice.
"Ray Bell said that as long as the reasons for looking into the ministry seem valid, keep listening to them," Morgan said.
Morgan took his advice.
"And when I looked into it, all the doors seemed open," said the 56-year-old Morgan.
He enrolled in St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., and five years later, graduated.
The pastor said his decision to change careers was a good one.
"I've really enjoyed my work," Morgan said. "I enjoy serving a church. I enjoy being a pastor as much as anything in my life. For me it's a privilege to be able to serve as a pastor."
Though he'd hoped to acquire a position in a multicultural area, Morgan said he sees a different kind of challenge in Tonganoxie.
"My challenge here is to try to build up credibility, to try to help people build an element of trust," said Morgan, who moved here from a Methodist church in Chanute. "And really, just to love people, just to work on affirming people where they are."
This ties in with his strength as a minister, he said.
"It's probably just listening to people, loving people, liking people, trying to talk to people as they present themselves ... giving people the benefit of the doubt."
And, he said, people can change.
"I really feel like Christianity presents us with an instrument to help better society, a tool to improve lives," Morgan said, noting that years ago his faith helped make a difference in his own life.
"I have seen my own self change from being a very angry, destructive person to finding a capacity to love and care for people that I didn't really know existed," Morgan said.
Morgan grew up in a loving family. But times were hard. At the age of 10 he went to work, carrying newspapers in his Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood. Family finances were tight, as a younger brother had died from a rare disease and the family was swamped with medical bills. Morgan split his pay with his parents to help with household expenses.
He learned to be street-wise and carried a barber's razor while making his rounds.
"I used it on one occasion," Morgan said. "I was 12 years old and had four guys jump me, they wanted my money, I was collecting for newspapers on a dark street at night. I hit one across the face with a metal collecting book, I hit one in the teeth with my fist, then got out my barber's razor and we both kind of backed away from each other."
Though no one was injured from the razor, Morgan wound up with blood poisoning from hitting the boy in the teeth. He spent a week in the hospital.
At 14, he worked Saturday nights at the Kansas City Star, in Kansas City, Mo., and in the middle of the night he'd walk back across town to his home in Kansas City, Kan., not the best area for a young teen to be walking at night.
Despite the dangers and temptations, Morgan said, there were people who believed in him. And that made all the difference in the world.
"I had a lot of people trying to help me put my life on the right track -- not get me into crime or drugs or something where I could get into trouble," Morgan said.
And today he's grateful for the way things have turned out.
"I've been married for 34 years, we have two wonderful kids, three grandkids and another on the way," Morgan said recently. "My bank account doesn't look like anything but that's OK. I've been blessed with a lot of friends, blessed with a spouse that I'm crazy about -- what can I tell you -- I've been blessed over and over again and again."
Morgan paused, then added, "I can tell you that God works miracles because I can tell you He turned my whole life around."