Garrett-Evangelical’s Vibrancy Inspired Steven Poole to Create an Endowed Scholarship
January 2, 2021
Rev. Steven Poole (G-ETS 1986) was at a crossroads when he decided to create an endowed scholarship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
“I was frustrated and struggling with where The United Methodist denomination was going, especially on the issue of inclusiveness to LGBTQ persons,” he said. “I thought, I’m either going to walk away, or I’m going to try to turn the dial a little.”
While pondering how to turn the dial, Poole remembered a story by Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled. In the story, a group was frantically rescuing people who had fallen into the river. One of the rescuers stopped helping people and started walking up the river. The other rescuers asked him: “Where are you going? Why won’t you help us here any longer?” The man replied, “I’m going to try to figure out who is throwing people in.”
“That concept of going up the river was what made me ask myself, where is there vibrancy, and life, and hope in the church?” Poole said. “And that brought me to Garrett-Evangelical.”
Poole called Rev. Dr. David Heetland, then vice president of development for Garrett-Evangelical, and said he wanted to make a difference. Heetland talked to him about what it took to create an endowed scholarship. “He gave me a number that would be helpful to start with,” Poole said. “I sold some stock that I had inherited, and we put down the first stone in the foundation.”
With that gift, Poole created the Steven Poole Endowed Scholarship. His intent is to contribute to it annually until it will provide a full scholarship for a student. Poole has also included Garrett-Evangelical in his will with the proceeds going to his scholarship.
Poole grew up in Flint, Michigan in the 1960s and 1970s. His entire family was active in the Trinity United Methodist Church, a more progressive church known for its interest in social justice. His father, a full-time journalist with the Flint Journal, was also the part-time organist at the church. Poole was part of the youth group and was heavily involved in mission projects and trips. “I really can’t separate my memories of growing up from my memories of the church,” Poole said. “We were always there.”
After high school, Poole went to Albion College in Albion, Michigan and majored in anthropology and sociology. For much of his teens and early adulthood, Poole said he felt “some kind of calling” and knew he ultimately wanted to be either a teacher or a minister, but he leaned toward the ministry. “I had such a great experience and association with the church,” he said.
That feeling, along with the encouragement from others, made him consider seminary. “I knew that I was called to do something in professional ministry,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew it would likely require a master of divinity.”
Wilbur Franklin, the dean of the Chapel at Albion College, pushed Poole toward Garrett-Evangelical because he knew it would match his theological perspective and because it was a strong school academically.
During spring break of his senior year of college, Poole visited Garrett-Evangelical and was impressed with the vibrancy of the students and the energy and excitement of the professors and the staff. “There was just this feeling that something exciting was going on there,” he said. “And then the other piece was, I saw the focus on social justice. I knew I would be surrounded by Chicago and Evanston and the opportunity to see theology in real life. Theology wasn’t just something you studied at Garrett-Evangelical; it was something you did. I drove away from Garrett-Evangelical thinking, this is where I feel at home, and this is where I can see myself.”
In the fall of 1983, Poole arrived on campus. “It really did live up to what I imagined it to be,” he said.
In addition to being academically challenged, Poole took classes with professors who were actively involved in the world and in the classroom. Poole remembered that on one cold, cold January night, one of his professors loaded him up in his station wagon and drove to a church on the south side of Chicago. That night he saw Jessie Jackson on a stage in a church basement raising money for the Rainbow Coalition and preaching. Another time, he and another student skipped a class and went to hear Desmond Tutu preach. “Those were the kinds of opportunities I wanted,” he said.
Poole graduated from Garrett-Evangelical in 1986 and was ordained in the Detroit Annual Conference. He was appointed to three, small rural churches in the thumb of Michigan: Riley Center, Berville, and West Berlin United Methodist Churches. After two years, Poole became the associate pastor at a larger congregation, the First United Methodist Church in Saginaw, Michigan, where among other things, he worked with the youth for five years.
While in Saginaw, Poole had an opportunity to take a contract as an associate pastor at a large, progressive Methodist congregation in Melbourne, Australia. The two years at St. Michaels Uniting Church taught him many things, he said, including that a church focused on mission and social justice can also be financially viable and successful.
The most unusual thing about St. Michael’s Church was the focus on both mind and spirit. The senior pastor was an ordained minister and a psychologist, and the congregation was deeply engaged in both the spiritual and psychological journey. This led Poole to a much deeper understanding of ministry to the whole person that would significantly impact his calling and ministry
Armed with new ideas, Poole came back to the United States and was appointed as associate pastor at Newburg United Methodist Church in Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. It didn’t take long before Steve received another calling, this one from the heart. Shortly before leaving for Australia, he had met a woman named Joyce who lived in Seattle, and at the end of his first year back from Melbourne, he requested a leave of absence and moved to Seattle to pursue a relationship that has lasted for more than 25 years.
Two years later, they married and shortly afterward opened a 10-room inn near the University of Washington, which they ran together for 20 years. “We met some wonderful folks, created our own business, and got to make a lot of choices about our lives,” Poole said about the experience.
However, his calling to ministry did not go away. In addition to running the inn, Poole worked part time on the staff of University Temple UMC. Later, he decided to do a one-year residency in clinical pastoral education and fell in love with chaplaincy. For the next 15 years, Poole was a chaplain in hospitals and hospice. He also completed his master of organizational leadership at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
His last job before he retired was director of mission integration at the Providence Portland Medical Center, where he was responsible for ensuring that the Mission of the Sisters of Providence was reflected in the daily operations and the strategic decisions and practices.
After he retired, Poole became a member of Garrett-Evangelical’s Board of Trustees, and he currently heads up the Committee on Trusteeship, which recruits, trains, and develops trustees. He also talks to prospective students and alumni in the Seattle area and has recently become steward for the class of 1986.
Poole said he likes to be involved at Garrett-Evangelical because it allows him to experience the energy that drew him there in the first place. “I feel like I am a part of what Garrett-Evangelical is doing, and that feels good,” he said.
He urges others to support Garrett-Evangelical annually and to put it in their wills. “This is how you can make a difference,” he said. “This is how you can make sure that the next generation is prepared in a way that they can be effective leaders and that they can help heal the church.”