He was my first real pastor. He was a visionary beyond his years. A leader, not a follower. The impression he made on my life at a young age would last a lifetime and little did he know, nor I, that God was using him to groom me to be a pastor some thirty years later. He lived in what I would call the “golden age” of the organization he was a part of. It was a time when diversity of belief was embraced, not ostracized. A time when unity about what we believed was valued more than being divisive about what we didn’t agree on. It was 1976, I was twelve, when my parents left the small church they had attended for years to get me to his church, Calvary Tabernacle. My life would never be the same.
In a moment I went from a church of 50 and a youth group of two or three to a church of nearly a thousand and a youth group of a hundred. More importantly, we went from small vision to extra-large vision. We went from, what I felt was boring church, to nearly every service being like a major spirit filled event. He had all-night concerts with groups from all kinds of organizations and conferences with the best of contemporary speakers of the day from diverse associations. He had the best of ministry, powerful worship services, creative children and youth ministries, a radio broadcast, and two traveling and recording groups: the Calvary Four and the Calvary Brass. He continually brought in young and creative speakers. Just a few I remember were a 21-year-old fiery evangelist named Anthony Mangun, a crazy preacher and magician named Jeff Arnold, and a dynamic young minister by the name of Phil Munsey. He also brought in the best of his contemporaries. Hearing and seeing these men would be a part of what would lead me to my call to preach the gospel.
This visionary pastor that forever changed my life and shaped how I would pastor was N.A. Urshan. He lived in an era when most every organization had lots of rules, yet he seemed to follow his own path, and thankfully, in his time it was tolerated. I’m not sure he would have survived in the culture of his organization today. He was a revolutionary leader, not a follower. He was firm yet gentle, compassionate, kind, and full of grace. It sounds funny now, but at the time, the changes my parents made in our life and home once they started attending his church seemed radical. I went from not being able to go bowling to my youth group going bowling. I had a love for basketball, so when I found out the Butler boys were in the band and choir and still got to play basketball on their high school teams, I was sold. Beyond that, in a time when TV was taboo for many churches, at his church it was allowed. I will never forget when my family got our first TV. We had arrived! My mom once approached him over one of the “issues of the day,” make up and cut hair in his youth choir. His response left an indelible mark on my heart. He basically told her, I’d rather have people in my choir with some struggles than not in church, incredible wisdom. He was a man who was passionate about the Word, the name of Jesus, and the power of God. He was connected to his city, his times, and was respected by businessmen and civic leaders. In fact, in some circles it was the belief that if you wanted to be mayor in Indianapolis, you needed to go through Pastor Urshan.
One of the most profound moments with him in my life was when I was 15. I had not been spirit-filled but desperately wanted to play my trumpet in the band at the church. My parents arranged a meeting with him and in the meeting, he offered me a deal. He said, you pray in the altar after services, and I will let you play your trumpet. I thought about it for a moment, looked at my parents, and then him, and said, “no deal.” He looked bewildered and shocked and the look on my parents was one of horror. On the way home I was made aware that I turned down an incredible gesture from one of the most powerful men in Christianity, that I had made a terrible mistake, and I think they may have grounded me for the rest of my life. Many years later, after he had moved on to the role of superintendent of a Pentecostal movement, I ran into him while getting on a flight. I didn’t realize he was on the flight but as I was passing through first class to get to my seat a hand reached up to me, it was Pastor Urshan and he said, “excuse me son, aren’t you the Hudson boy, the young man that turned down my offer to play your trumpet in my band?” I sheepishly said, “yes sir,” I was the man and then briefly told him I was in seminary and was preparing to be a pastor. He smiled and said, “very good,” and I moved on to my seat. It would be one of my last encounter with him and even in that moment I didn’t realize how much he had impacted how I would pastor. Our last encounter with him was at an altar, he had been pacing the platform would suddenly he spotted Mary. He made his way over to her and said, “young lady a revival will come through you, it will involve women and children, and God has a special and unique anointing on you.” Those words have stayed with Mary and I from that evening on.
Today as I write its thirty years later. I’ve been in full-time ministry for nearly 35 years, and just recently closed out my pastorate. Pastor Urshan left this life nearly 20 years ago, just a couple years after we started Life Connections. If you were to ask me who I most tried to pastor and minister like, I would tell you, N.A. Urshan. While I loved the ministries of men like Anthony Mangun and James Kilgore, it was N.A Urshan’s ministry that I patterned my pastorate after. He was cutting edge, not afraid to go against the grain of tradition, had amazing integrity, and treated people with dignity and respect. He taught me to love the Word and how to present the Gospel with grace and class. Though you are in your heavenly home, I honor and thank you for teaching me as a young man to love the Word, to lead, not follow, to be my own person, and to have a unique ministry, not a copycat.