After retiring from parish ministry in the summer of 1995, Paul Graves quickly realized that he was going to miss writing his weekly sermons.
“I used preaching, in part, as a way of ordering my own life, making sense of things,” Graves said.
So, determined to keep up his writing, Graves, 78, sent an essay to a longtime friend at The Spokesman-Review, and the newspaper ran it in what was then the religion section. The page rarely featured local contributors.
“That didn’t sound right, so it got me thinking a little,” Graves said. “You know, what would it take for a local pastor or writer to get involved?”
So, he got in touch with Kathryn DeLong, the features editor at the time, and, in March 1996, she invited him to start contributing content on a monthly basis that is now known as the Faith and Values column.
Over the years, the pieces that have stuck with Graves the most are often the most personal.
“I’ve written an occasional letter to my grandchildren,” he said. “And it blew me away in a very gratifying way how much people responded to those columns.
“Because I’ve simply tried to share some of my own values … the things that I feel most passionate about. It’s been kind of a no-holds-barred series.”
Oddly, perhaps, for a Protestant, Graves often takes inspiration from two Catholic writers, the Rev. Richard Rohr and Sister Joan Chittister in particular.
“They’re both concerned with social justice, but she’s more in your face,” he said. “She’s a strong believer in ordaining women, as I am, and she’s been on the Vatican’s case about it for some decades.”
At one point, Graves hoped to rename the column Letters to a Faithful Skeptic, after a series of sermons he preached during the 1980s. The editor – he couldn’t quite recall which one – was not on board.
As a former United Methodist minister and self-identified faithful skeptic, Graves has always tried to work with an open mind, to bring inclusivity and compassion to his approach when discussing issues of social justice and sexuality.
“I want (my grandchildren) to know where their grandpa stands in terms of including people … and seeing the world as a place of joy,” he said. “Because that’s the faith that I’ve grown up in and have tried to develop.”
Graves has received his fair share of negative feedback from some of his more religiously conservative readers. But there have been plenty of positive interactions to balance them out, he said, recalling countless email and phone conversations with readers from Spokane to the Philippines.
Outside the Faith and Values column, Graves runs a consulting service for elder advocates and maintains another column for the Bonner County Daily Bee called Dear Geezer, in which he writes about his experience living with “a youthful attitude under the disguise of graying hair and wrinkles.”
Most recently, Graves has started putting his writing skills to use in an entirely new genre. His first children’s book, “Sox Looks for Home,” is set for release in May through Keokee Press in Sandpoint. Illustrated by Julie Coyle, the story follows Sox, the Graves family cat, on his many expeditions away from their home in Sandpoint.
With 25 years of Faith and Values behind him, Graves offered the following advice to aspiring columnists: Write what you know about, what you want to know about and do so as authentically as you can.
“It’s still a joy for me to write,” he said.
The Rev. Paul Graves can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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