Pastor led to ministry through journalism, auto industry, Army


The Rev. John R. Scamehorn firmly believes that the Lord led him on a path to the ministry, even though he did not become an ordained minister until he was 49 years old.

Looking back over his various careers, he says, he realizes his earlier jobs were preparation for what he is doing now: spreading the word of Jesus Christ as leader of St. John's United Methodist Church's 600-member congregation in Hampstead.

"If you're going to do visitation, then you're a door-to-door salesman; and if you're going to create programs, then you're doing public relations," the pastor, 62, said.

"If you're going to be running a business -- and that's what the larger church is -- then you need to be part of a big corporation like Ford. If you're going to communicate with people, that's what the newspaper does.

"And if you're going to prepare a sermon, then you need to know how to write," he said.

Mr. Scamehorn has done all of the above. He did every kind of newspaper reporting there was to do at the Niles, Mich., Daily Star and Battle Creek, Mich., Enquirer and News. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.

He spent two years in the U.S. Army as a reserve lieutenant. He worked in public relations for Michigan Blue Shield and Ford Motor Co.'s News Bureau, where he promoted Ford's racing cars and other products.

"I've driven on all the superspeedways in the country except for Texas," he said.

His newspaper jobs also gave him a chance to fly Pipers and jet fighters while getting the story.

Mr. Scamehorn and his wife, Irma -- his high school sweetheart whom he married in 1953 -- have four children.

In 1973 came a turning point for Mr. Scamehorn, at what was probably the lowest point in his life.

He was jobless for the first time in his adult life, having been let go from Ford when it cut back its public relations staff; his father died; he had family problems precipitated by alcohol abuse; he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day.

He had lost the sight in his left eye in an accident while driving a Ford Shelby racing car in 1964.

"I was really looking for some change, for something I could hold on to," Mr. Scamehorn said. "We had been through a lay mission at church, and several of us were at the altar at Bell's Chapel United Methodist Church in Camp Springs [Prince George's County].

"I was saying a routine prayer and I suddenly heard a voice that said, 'You've got it wrong, John. I didn't die for any us or we, I died for you.' At that point, I felt as if 500 pounds literally had been lifted off of me," he said. "It was 9:30 p.m. Sept. 30, 1973, and my life has not been the same since."

He stopped drinking that night, cold turkey, and stopped smoking the following January after a church group laid hands on him and prayed. That spring he got a job as a door-to-door insurance salesman, keeping it for three years until he entered Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

While attending Wesley, he was a student pastor at Zion and Centenary United Methodist churches near Cumberland. Mrs. Scamehorn helped out by doing ministerial work through the week while he attended classes.

After graduating in 1981, Mr. Scamehorn stayed at Zion and Centenary for two years as a full-time pastor before moving on to nearby Mount Savage United Methodist Church for four years.

His last pastorship was at Bedington United Methodist Church in Martinsburg, W.Va., where he served the 325-member congregation for seven years. Hampstead, nearly twice the size, is a big change for the Scamehorns.

"There's just a lot more going on here, partly because there's more people and partly because there's more enthusiasm -- people want to do things for the Lord," said the pastor, who gave his first sermon at St. John's on July 3.

Both Scamehorns are pleased with their new home and church and the reception they've received. Both feel this is where the Lord wants them to be.

Mr. Scamehorn is still getting to know his congregation and community and their needs. Then he will look at creating church and social programs to meet those needs. His first priority, he said, is spreading the Gospel.

"If we're not founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we're just another social agency," he said. "The church's identification is with Jesus Christ, rather than something that is more obscure in the secular groups."

He said the pastor alone does not run the church, but shares the ministry with the congregation.

"Some of us are called to the ordained ministry, but we are all called to be ministers, to be about the work of Jesus Christ," he said.

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