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North Idaho roots give pastor rapport with people

Having grown up in Sandpoint, Bob Evans sees himself as continuing to live an adventure as he has returned to North Idaho to serve the 30-member Wallace United Church of Christ and the 35-member Osburn Community Baptist Church five minutes away.

Bob Evans
Bob Evans uses music to draw people.

“Serving these churches the last three years has taught me to speak to conservatives and progressives, and to love both.  They are all the people of God and are people I’m used to,” Bob said. 

Identifying as an adventurer in life, he worked 17 years as a commercial fisherman in Alaska.  He’d return to Idaho in the off seasons to log and mine. So he understands North Idahoans’ work experiences, everyday lives and love of the outdoors.  He talks their language.

“I’m an adventurer in the theological spectrum, too,” he said.  “Having left the area and returned, I preach to people who have traveled and those who always lived here.

“I’m learning how to speak with compassion to those who hold fundamentalist Christian views, choosing parts of the Bible to justify war and hate Muslims,” Bob said.  “I speak to them with compassion, seeking to understand and find a way to talk with them.”

When he sees people pick on people on the edges of society, however, it stirs his feisty side because he remembers being picked on as “a small guy.”  He said he has “broken through” to some who thought they were supposed to take the Bible literally.

“People want to talk about God’s love for them, not be threatened with hell. To get them out of a bar or off drugs is tough,” said Bob, who goes into the bars to talk with people who would not come to church.

He also understands their rejection of church.

As a second grader in a Methodist church in Missoula, Mont., he became “a fan of Jesus,” but was puzzled about Jesus “being murdered on a cross then resurrected.”  That led the Vietnam vet to study the Bible, then leave the church and practice Buddhism for a while, which shined more light on his Christianity.

In 1991, a Lutheran minister doing a boat ministry in Alaska, took on his questions about Christianity.

I realized Christians were asking the questions I was asking.  I was ready to come back to a church of compassion and justice,” Bob said.

In 2001, he went to Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine, graduating in 2005 in a program in which he simultaneously completed an undergraduate degree at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka and the master’s of divinity.

Bob chose Bangor, a UCC seminary with students from many mainline denominations, because it was a progressive school in a small town.  He was student pastor in Kenduskeag, Me., and shifted from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the UCC, going in-care with Newport UCC.

Starting in ministry at 61, he incorporates his lifelong love of music—from playing in a teen band, groups in Portland and Las Vegas, and on a TV show in Toronto—to communicate to people in the church and community.  Bob has played, taught and composed country, fusion, jazz and rock music.

“Because people want a message of hope, we have a service with music to draw people from the community for great songs with good theology,” he said.  “To love people into faith is tough, even though they want love.”

Aware that people hear the same sermon or music in different ways, he has also developed a coffee house service that includes a Scripture story, songs and a meditation that apply to everyday living.

Music pulls more people from the community more than a traditional service,” he said.

“Music speaks to everyone,” said Bob, who describes himself as a product of 1960s and 1970s music.  Songs like “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” “ Try a Little Kindness,” and “Blowing in the Wind” say more to him than some hymns.

“They speak to people in the pews, too,” he said.

Songs help him tell of real life. “I Saw God Today,” performed by George Strait, speaks of seeing God in childbirth, a flower blooming through cement and in everyday life.  For Bob, it’s “the heart of the gospel without threatening theology.”

He also does many songs written by Charlie Packard, songs about spiritual struggles.

Bob played Charlie’s song, “Over the Wall,” at an Annual Meeting.  It’s about “walls created by our problems from God’s point of view.” Drugs are a wall for some unemployed young people in the area.  Church polity is a wall for others.

“God calls us over these walls,” he said.

“Hasty Words,” another song Bob often sings, warns about hurting friends with words and urges people to let love and forgiveness flow freely.

Despite the Silver Valley’s reputation as being conservative, he said, there are many progressives.  The UCC church, which had tabled a decision on open and affirming before he came, voted to be open and affirming after he came.

“I encouraged them to reflect on what their hearts were telling them.  I visited people one-to-one.  People realized everyone is fully human, created in God’s image and loved by God.  If we know something is right, we need the courage to stand for it,” Bob said.

While some clergy colleagues see him as a heretic, he works with others on ecumenical Thanksgiving and Easter services, and reaching out to serve poor people with meals and donations to the food bank.

For information, call 208-753-6351 or email


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © November-December 2010


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