Teacher of the Year is part-time preacher

The Rev. Michael Funkhouser had told his church folks about the big honor he had received. And he’d told them he was counting on them to keep him humble.

Two weeks later, Funkhouser stood in the pulpit on a Sunday morning and noticed everyone in the pews wore a jacket.

Since this was October in West Virginia, he didn’t think much of it.

That changed when his parishioners rose as one and doffed their coats. They all wore T-shirts saying, “Our Country Parson is West Virginia Teacher of the Year!” They turned around — again on cue — to show Funkhouser his face on their backs.

“Guys,” he recalls telling them, “that’s not going to help with my humility.”

Trending Local

Local pastors — non-ordained, and in most cases without a seminary degree — are growing in number and taking on more roles in The United Methodist Church. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
Read the full the series about growth of local pastors in The United Methodist Church.

Funkhouser was indeed the 2013 West Virginia Teacher of the Year, which took him to the White House, and provided other trips for him and his wife, Ann.

But he continued to lead three rural United Methodist churches. The bivocational pastor’s life is a scramble, but Funkhouser believes it has stretched him in good ways.

“Teaching made me a better minister, and ministry made me a better teacher,” he said.

Funkhouser, 57, grew up in Wardensville, West Virginia, went to West Virginia University, and came home in 1981 to teach high school English.

He combined old-fashioned pedagogy — requiring sentence diagramming and assigning Dickens and Shakespeare — with innovation, such as having students study how music advances the plot in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

He made extra money coaching, and started the girls’ volleyball program. Funkhouser knew little about the sport. When, before the first match, his girls asked how to warm up, he remembers saying, “Go shoot hoops until the other team comes out. Then do what they do.”

Starting as lay speaker

More than a few of Funkhouser’s students would go on to become colleague teachers in Wardensville. Kathy Strawderman is one, and attends one of his churches, Shiloh United Methodist.

“He’s a minister, but he’s more of a friend,” she said. “I’ve been around him for so long. He was a coach to me. He was a teacher to me. And he’s definitely a role model.”

Funkhouser was singing in the Wardensville United Methodist Church choir in 2003 when the pastor mentioned a training event for certified lay speakers.

“I went home and told my wife ‘I know I don’t have time to do this, but I think I’m supposed to,’” he recalled.

Funkhouser went on to local pastor licensing school, and in 2005, he was appointed to lead the Shiloh, Willow Chapel and Bethel United Methodist churches part time.

See related slideshow

The Rev. Michael Funkhouser leads three churches in rural West Virginia with the help of his wife Ann. Photos by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
The Rev. Michael Funkhouser leads three churches in rural West Virginia with the help of his wife, Ann.

Click here to view slideshow.

By then, one of his and Ann’s children had gone off to college, and the other was about to go.

“We kind of cleared that part of the nest out and filled it up with our churches,” Funkhouser said.

For 10 years, he and Ann have gone from church to church to church on Sunday morning, hitting Willow Chapel at 9, Shiloh at 10 and Bethel at 11. The rides in between can be interesting.

“My wife’s not afraid to let me know if a sermon is not working,” Funkhouser said.

Ann — a retired music teacher — is his ministry partner, playing the piano as needed, and joining him in visiting the sick. She helped form a “charge choir” among the three churches.

When it comes to baptisms in the Capon River, though, Funkhouser turns to Buddy Stickman, a former Baptist in his flock.

“He makes sure I don’t lose anyone,” Funkhouser said.

Growing churches

In Funkhouser’s years, the churches have grown. He gives all credit to the members. He speaks with emotion of how supportive they were when he had to be away as Teacher of the Year.

But church members say it is the Funkhousers who have demonstrated great faithfulness.

“They are incredibly caring people,” said Deborah Fitzner, of Shiloh United Methodist.

One example of that care is in neckties. Funkhouser owns about 150, and while many feature Bible verses, others have emblems that recognize the occupations or hobbies of church members. It might be a tractor for a farmer or a favored flower for a gardener.

When the time comes to preach a funeral, Funkhouser tries not only to personalize the message, but also to wear a tie that honors the deceased. 

This June, after 34 years in public education, Funkhouser officially retired. Then he signed on as a substitute teacher.

As for ministry, he plans to step up the pace.

“My first priority is going to be these three little churches who have been so patient with me,” Funkhouser said. “They get the first bite of the apple.”

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

Mission and Ministry
Tim Tanton (center, in red), chief news and information officer for United Methodist Communications, shares updates with African communicators and other UMCom staff during the 2019 General Conference. World Press Freedom Day, observed May 3, commemorates journalists and highlights the difficulties they face while reporting truth. File photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News

World Press Freedom Day and the church

Tim Tanton with United Methodist News talks about giving voice to the voiceless and why freedom of information is essential not only for society but for the church.
The Rev. Tom Berlin (left) presents a copy of his book, “Courage,” to Massachusetts National Guard Chaplain Chad McCabe in the chapel at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. McCabe, whose unit was assigned to help provide security at the U.S. Capitol after the January riot, contacted Wesley Seminary asking for Bibles, novels and board games for troops stationed there. Photo by Lisa Helfert for Wesley Theological Seminary. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Church responds to chaplain's call to help soldiers

A National Guard chaplain got Bibles, games and 150 copies of a new book about courage when he turned to Wesley Theological Seminary for help keeping soldiers occupied in Washington in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection.
The Rev. William B. Lawrence.  Photo by H. Jackson/Southern Methodist University.

What would Jesus tell the US Capitol rioters?

The Rev. William B. Lawrence examines the claims of Scriptural authority by violent protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.