Getting On the Bus
The nature of a pastor’s job not being an 8-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule means some pastors have recognized the opportunity of being able to take a second job serving their community, hauling the community’s most precious cargo.
Rev. Rebecca Mulford“Every year, I ask myself how I am able to serve my community,” Rev. Rebecca Mulford said. Since last August, she has been doing that by driving a school bus. She started riding as a monitor in 2020, but when the school really needed drivers, she took the step to get trained and licensed. She found the training, not just the driving, to be intense.
“You have to know all of the parts of the bus, including what’s under the hood,” she said.
The schedule makes for early mornings.
“When driving the bus, I get to see the sunrise,” Mulford said. “Seeing the sunrise reminds me of the broadest part of my calling, which is to spread the love and light of Jesus to as far as the sunlight reaches.”
She gets to the bus shed at about 6:15 in the morning and finishes up her second route around 8:45 a.m., which means she can be at church by 9. As soon as she drops off the high school and middle school students, she runs the route again, picking up the elementary school students. She drives about 95 miles a day, around the south part of the Smithville school district, out in the country.
“Smithville is a small town, and a lot of the homes are in rural areas with narrow roads, which has put me in a tight squeeze with other drivers every so often,” Mulford said. “Psalm 23 said, ‘thy rod and thy staff they comfort me …’ it doesn’t say there won’t be a tight squeeze every now and then, sometimes we all need a tight squeeze from God.”
She sometimes gets to have a front-row seat for exciting times. She drove the cheerleaders and dance team to the state high school football championship, which Smithville won, closing out the season undefeated.
The biggest challenge is keeping focused on safe driving while making sure the students are behaving safely on the bus. She typically has 50-80 students on the bus.
“The elementary kids like to try to move around a lot,” she said. She also had to break up a fight among middle school students. She likes having the opportunity to serve as a positive adult role model in the lives of the students.
“I get to say good morning to everyone when I pick them up and have a good day when they get off, so at least they get to start and end the day on a good note from me,” Mulford said. “I pray every day on my route, especially in the mornings. When I pass by homes and neighborhoods where I know congregation members live or families that I know of that are struggling, I pray for them as I pass by.”
Rev. Mike Keith
Rev. Mike Keith has been at the bus driving gig considerably longer. He first drove a school bus in Fayette when he was a student at Central Methodist University. Back then, the buses didn’t have power steering, power brakes, emergency exit windows and ceiling hatches, or half-a-dozen cameras watching the interior and road. It did have a manual five-speed transmission with high/low axles versus today’s buses with automatic transmissions.
He picked up driving a bus again when serving as pastor of Wilkes Boulevard UMC in Columbia, so he could have a little extra money without having to go to the church for a raise. He later drove a bus for several different school districts while serving as a United Methodist pastor. Now living back in Columbia at age 74, he’s been retired for a while, but he’s still serving as a pastor in New Franklin. He’s still driving a bus in Hallsville.
Keith likes to drive, and not just buses. His former driving jobs have included operating a tow truck and hauling cargo in a box truck, sometimes across the country. He recently took a job delivering Dominoes pizzas to pay for his new hearing aids, which cost several thousand dollars. With the tip money from the pizza job, he made a spring break trip to Florida to visit family.
He found the bus driving schedule works well with his schedule as serving as a pastor.
“You can usually be at your office by 9 in the morning after completing your route. In the afternoon, you spend from 3-5 on the route. People usually want to schedule appointments with the pastor between 10 and 2,” he said.
Unlike some other part-time jobs, bus driving also means holidays off, a week off at Christmas and spring break, and summers off. Keith has found that extra time usually isn’t required but is there for the drivers who want more hours doing field trips or sports. And you get to spend time with children.
“If you’re going to drive a bus, you’d better like kids,” he said. “I like the kids, and they like me.”
The school bus driving jobs also sometimes came with benefits. Keith found he could add his wife to his medical insurance from the school cheaper than he could add her to his insurance policy from the United Methodist church.
“I understand that because the pool of employees in the United Methodist clergy system is probably considerably older than employees at a school district,” he said.
Some school districts have cut benefits for drivers. Some districts contract out a bus service, and those services sometimes do not offer benefits. Keith thinks that is the primary reason you hear about a shortage of drivers.
Keith makes $80 per day driving his two routes. “That wouldn’t be enough if it kept you from getting to a regular job, but it works well as a second income,” he said.
Because he’s over 70, he has to take the skills test to renew his Class B driver’s license every year. He’s not complaining.
“I don’t think that’s a bad idea,” he said. “When you get to be that age, someone needs to be checking on you. People can develop bad habits or get forgetful.”
When Keith introduces himself at the beginning of the year, he tells the students that he is a minister.
Keith counts the children as they get off the bus, and he makes sure he can see them before he pulls away after dropping them off.
Keith says the students on his bus are good kids, but they are still kids. The biggest problem he has to deal with is them getting up and moving around. For that, he carries a book. If the students are getting out of their seats, he pulls over, parks the bus and starts reading his book.
“When they ask what I’m doing, I tell them I’ll start driving again when everyone is sitting down, and I don’t care what time they get home,” he said. “Then I go back to reading my book.”
That method is very effective for the drive home – but doesn’t work for the ride to school. But it’s rare that he has any trouble.
“I’ve been on this route for five years. They know me and know my rules,” he said.
After Keith underwent surgery, a girl from his bus and her grandfather went to the bus barn and cleaned Keith’s bus for him as a surprise because they knew he couldn’t do that for himself. Keith saw to it that the girl got some recognition for it in school.
“Everyone hears about it when a kid does something wrong, and I think we need to talk more about it when a kid does something right,” he said.
Rev. Clint Lambeth Rev. Clint Lambeth started driving in the Joel E. Barber C-5 School District located in Lebanon in 2007. He is currently driving for the Webb City R-VII School District. He was looking for ways to connect with people in the Webb City community, and since he had bus driving skills and experience, he thought that this would be a great opportunity to make himself available to family and students. It also gave his church another way to form a relationship with the school. Driving has given him a window into the lives of people outside the walls of the church.
“It has allowed me to see the joys and struggles of families on my bus route,” he said. “I drive in a less affluent area of the school district, and I can see first-hand the struggles that they have in trying to make it through day-by-day. I see the importance of the Webb City CARES (Community and Resources Embracing Schools) program, which provides a bridge between the community and local resources with Webb City R-VII School District.” Each week, Webb City CARES provides weekend snack packs to students on his bus route and other routes which are less fortunate and experience hunger.
His role has put him in a position to extend his ministry.
“I had an opportunity to invite a family on my bus route to the church which was seeking spiritual guidance,” he said. “They have become an important addition to our church family. During the pandemic, I was blessed to help hand out food to students through a drive-thru program that the school hosted.”
Rev. Kobey Puls
Rev. Kobey Puls is a 3/4-time Associate Pastor at Cameron UMC. He was looking for extra employment with a work schedule that is conducive to his first job as a pastor and wanted an opportunity to meet more families in the community. Driving a school bus was just the ticket.
“Over the last three years, I have been able to build many relationships with the kids on the bus and their families, teachers and coaches at the schools, and the other bus drivers as well,” he said. “The kids on the bus know that I am a pastor. Many of them ask questions about our church and are excited to tell me about their church; some of them have even felt comfortable coming to me with their concerns and their anxieties.”
“What a blessing it is when the younger ones give me hugs, and the older ones offer fist bumps and fun handshakes,” he said. “Of course, there are the kids that try your patience and push the boundaries; those are the kids that I pray for the most.”
As a driver, he also sees the hurt and brokenness in the community. He hears first-graders discussing the war in Ukraine. He sees stress created by the precautionary measures of the pandemic. He notices the middle school girl who sits quietly staring out of the window every morning and afternoon, and he prays that God will give her a reason to smile that day. He sees how some siblings are so loving towards each other, and others physically and verbally abuse each other.
“I see all of this and think: this is ministry. This is where Jesus gathers,” he said. “And I can’t but pray: ‘God, let me be your love in this brokenness. Let me be your joy in this laughter. Let me be your words in this hurt. Let me be you to the little ones who didn’t even know that our town has a church. Amen.”
Rev. Arch Philips
Rev. Arch Philips is pastor for the three-point charge of Browning, Haseville and Linneus, but the three churches still only make up a half-time appointment.He needed another job to supplement his income and found school bus driving to be a good fit. “I make it a habit to call each student by name and to wish them a good morning or have a great evening.” Philips said. “For some of the kids, that will be the only friendly face and voice they see and hear until the next time they ride my bus.”
Philips sees his role as a bi-vocational pastor as giving him an opportunity to extend his ministry to people outside of the church.
“We see the evil, the hurting, and the lost on a daily basis, and people see us. They see how we handle life, not from a pulpit but from right where they are, which sometimes ain’t easy, brother,” he said of bi-vocational ministry. “I give all the glory to God for this calling, and I have the utmost respect for all who chose this ministry.”
“When a student comes up and asks, ‘You’re a preacher, right? Can you pray for my grandma, my dad or mom, sister or brother?’ I cannot describe the feeling other than to say, ‘You all can keep your full-time (pastor appointment)!’ God has blessed me with a ministry that is challenging and rewarding,” Philips said.