Photos by Von Mitchell Eckert Presbyterian ChurchHomework.
Teachers usually give it right as the bell rings. "Now class, I want you to do all the even problems from 2 to 100. It will be due tomorrow at the beginning of class." A chorus of groans ensues. Real strategists try to dart out before the teacher delivers the boom, as if claiming ignorance will change the due date. The assignment is made all the more despicable to a kid by the fact that the answers to the odd problems are in the back of the book. For high-achieving students, the routine of homework starts early in their scholastic careers and takes on a tidal regularity. The ebb and flow of practice is taking them one step closer to perfection.
Most adults don't have it anymore — one of the perks of putting formal schooling in the rear-view mirror. But at Eckert Presbyterian, parishioners get a dose every Sunday, and no one's trying to get out of it.
"I enjoy the homework," says Marilyn Colbaugh, a lifelong member of the church. "I listen to what she's going to say."
Pastor Jo DeVinny is the teacher, preacher and minister of Word and Sacrament at the Eckert Presbyterian Church. She arrived there in the fall of 2008, but a story as big and bright as hers could only originate deep in the heart of Texas.
“A successful life is finding what it is that God made you to do and daring to do it,” says Pastor Jo.She was born and raised in Lubbock, a sixth-generation Texan whose family settled there in the 1830s. Faith was always important in her family. "I gave my life to the Lord when I was five years old," says Jo. "I was raised Southern Baptist. My Grandmother Roberts, who lived with us a great deal of the time and died when she was 100 years and 5 days old, was a very strong lady. She's the reason I'm a Christian. She had a big Hurlbut's Story of the Bible. She read to me from that every night. I thought that's what every kid had. It had pictures. That's how I knew what Moses looked like. She decided I was ready when I was five years old and we prayed the Believers' Prayer."
Though her family was rich in faith, they didn't have the money to send Jo to college. So she took a job at Reese Air Force base as a clerk typist. She met and married a young airman there whom she eventually put through college at the University of Minnesota. Upon graduation, he received a job assignment as a forester in Montrose. Jo says she had two boys "but lost the marriage and considered going home to Texas, but by then, the late 1960s, Montrose felt like home." So she took a job as a legal secretary and stayed.
"Then my dad died," says Jo, "and to keep from going crazy, I signed up for the local drama group, the Magic Circle Players. We decided to do "Oklahoma," and I was cast opposite Dave DeVinny, who was just getting out of the Army and coming back to be with his dad in the family business (DeVinny Jewelers in Montrose). He was Will Parker and I was Ado Annie in the play. On New Year's Eve in 1969, he proposed to me. We were married on Valentine's Day 1970."
Dave and Jo had another son and for 15 years Jo partnered with Dave in the jewelry business. "When our youngest son was in high school," says Jo, "I said to Dave that I always planned to go back to school for my undergraduate degree and asked if it was okay with him if I did that [at that time]. He's Dave, so he said, 'Sure. What can I do to help you?' So I went to Mesa State and did my undergraduate degree as an English major." Jo, a voracious reader, had designs on becoming a creative writer. But God had other designs for Jo's life.
Prompted by God's leading, Jo served in a number of roles at Montrose Presbyter-ian Church before graduating from seminary in 2002. "Just as I was getting out of seminary and ready to be ordained," says Pastor Jo, "our senior pastor and associate pastor received 'calls' from churches in Kansas City and California that were too good to refuse. So suddenly my good buddy, who's a retired pastor, and I were the only available warm bodies at Montrose Presbyterian and our council asked us to take the church on an interim basis. So George Moore and I co-pastored that church for two years. I was ordained with that 'call.' Just as we were getting that job done and the new pastor came, Durango asked me to be an interim pastor for them. So I did that for a time. Then Delta called."
Jo DeVinny, the minister at Eckert Presbyterian Church, believes God has a plan for each of us.Pastor Jo pastored the Delta church for 12 weeks in the summer of 2007 while their pastor was on sabbatical. Just as she was finishing there, Eckert called and wanted her to come be an interim pastor, and the rest is, as they say, history.
The winding road that brought Pastor Jo to Eckert landed her in one of the area's most beautiful classrooms — the Eckert Presbyterian Church. The peaceful campus, complete with parsonage, sits at the corner of Highway 65 and North Road, right in the middle of town. "The church was meant to be the heart of the community," says Pastor Jo.
Indeed, the heartbeat of Eckert is turning 100 this year. According to the church's website, it found its beginnings when the "new, raw, rapidly growing agricultural community of farmers and tradespeople recognized the need for a spiritual focal point at an early stage." The building is comprised of native stone, "collected and hauled to the site entirely by volunteer labor."
Through two World Wars, a flu epidemic, and times swirling with change, the Eckert Presbyterian Church has stood like a lighthouse in the community, a beacon of hope to countless locals. Marilyn Colbaugh is one of them. Her parents were members and she's attended the church since she was born. "I've always been there," says Marilyn, "and we're still pretty much a nice church family. We help each other out. I wouldn't change it for anything."
A normal service at Eckert Presbyterian lasts 60 minutes. But it's the culmination of a far greater investment by Pastor Jo DeVinny.
"It takes me three days to pull a sermon and worship service together with research and everything," says Pastor Jo. "Usually it's pretty straightforward because I believe God has brought me to this particular place for this particular time, and I know my people. I kind of know what they're struggling with and what's important to them. That's always where I begin: What would God be trying to speak to these people? Then I hope I get there with a sermon."
After the sermon comes a homework assignment. "The homework is usually based in the message," says Jo. "I script so I can keep things to a reasonable time frame. I have a manuscript that I've prayed and prayed and prayed through. But sometimes I'm in the pulpit before I know what the homework assignment needs to be for that week."
The homework might be anything from striving to be kinder to pondering how to live our lives to the fullest. Then she adds before dismissing the congregation, "And you can do it because you're the beautiful people of God."
"That's my heart," says Pastor Jo. "I believe you're not an accident. I believe God made you having known who you were going to be forever. I believe your name has meaning. I believe He knows where He wants to take you. I believe He has a dream for your life."
Just like He had a dream for hers. "I look back at my life and I think that even then God knew he was going to call me to do this. I didn't have a clue, and it was a long time coming because I had a lot of work to do on myself, but God finally got me to the place where I am now. Amazing. God is amazing."
Your homework this week? To have a successful life, per the challenge of Pastor Jo.
"A successful life is finding what it is that God made you to do and daring to do it," says Pastor Jo. "If it's a God-call, it almost always requires a step of faith. Don't get so busy that you don't have time to sit down and think about the possibility of God."
Amen. Maybe the answers are in the Book after all.