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.”
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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.