I first met my dear friend Paul back in the late eighties when he was a student at our own Gardner Webb University. Paul was a part of a group of students that were called a FOCUS TEAM. This group of seasoned 18-20-year-old students were the cream of the young Christian crop, sent out by the University as ambassadors of goodwill, exemplary champions for Christ, and just plain old good PR for our beloved GWU. They also provided youth ministers, like me at the time, a weekend off from the rigors of playing with the church kids. The FOCUS team simply took care of a weekend of in-depth bible study, intense reflection, and community building that I had planned for them.
My friend Paul was a member of that first team that led my group at Mt Olive Baptist Church. To this day Paul and I like to share the old stories and they are usually uncensored and very transparent with each of us still declaring the sincere belief in the sufficiency of Christ regardless of what we said or did. My dear young friend called a couple of Sunday nights back and said, “Andy I have Kristen (his wife) and my daughter and her boyfriend in the car with me right now. Tell them the HANGING ROCK STATE PARK SNOWBALL STORY.” He then said, “and by the way, you are on speakerphone.” This is a common courtesy among those of us who can venture into the questionable areas of storytelling at times. He was essentially saying keep it PG.
I tried to share the riveting narrative but as most of you know my mind has a tendency to check out at particular times of the day or night. This was one of those times. I rambled for a few moments and left a car full of individuals who wanted “the scoop” on Thee Most Rev. Paul somewhat disappointed. I informed my friend I would write the story, “I can do that!”
I decided I would share it with you…
Heavy snow had fallen in Stokes County, and it had lingered for some time. I was a young youth minister who seldom let snow, sleet, hail, or tornadoes interfere with my slate of life-changing activities for young people. The cause of Christ must be fulfilled. If I am not mistaken there was some doubt as to whether the team would be able to make it to our area. Without going into detail, they made it for the Friday through Sunday event. I always wanted to show our visitors the Beauty of Stokes county. So I planned a little hike to Hanging Rock State Park which to this day is my favorite place.
The trail was still thick with the snow from earlier in the week and that was a problem. I had a youth group, snow, and hands on those youth group members’ arms with the potential for forming snowballs and muscles with the ability to hurl these frozen orbs. I always wanted to be The Cool Youth Minister. You know what I am talking about: responsible enough for the parents and irresponsible enough for the kids. There is the possibility that I could’ve started a snowball fight. This is not an admission of guilt but God allowed a snow skirmish to develop. It eventually reached a point when I had to do the unthinkable…I had to be an adult. I started with a mild response, “Okay, kids we have had enough fun someone’s gonna get hurt.” I soon escalated my adult behavior as I said, “it’s time to stop,” and added the serious facial expression. The snowballs slowed to a trickle. It was time for the Wrath of God to be heaped upon the disobedient youth group as I unleashed some serious rhetoric. The snowball tossing ended and we continued the hike only to be interrupted moments later by a lone snowball that connected with my back or backside. I turned to release the terrors of Sodom and Gomorrah on the young people of Mt Olive Baptist Church. As my eyes met theirs it became apparent that the final snowball of the day was not tossed by one of the kids but by the future highly respected Rev. Paul. I scolded him but gave him a good evaluation when GWU asked for one. He was young. He was discovering ministry and trying to be responsible enough for the parents and irresponsible enough for the kids. I gave young Paul the benefit of the doubt because others had done likewise for me.
Just as an addendum to my comments – the next year Paul returned with the group. He was welcomed warmly as a FOCUS TEAM LEGEND. We traveled to Hanging Rock once more and God in His infinite wisdom sent snow for our hike.
A young underclassman joined us on the hike and according to the script a snowball fight broke out, and after the intensity reached dangerous levels I reverted to my responsible adult role. The snowball tossing tapered off and eventually stopped and then one more was thrown. It was the young rookie trying to make a name for himself amongst the young guys and girls in our tribe. It was then that the rather mature Paul looked at me and said, “He’s a freshman.”
I just gave him “The Look,“ and words were not necessary.