A pastor who could not reconcile himself to a Christianity that prized legalism over love

Ray Hofer

Ray Hofer 1951–2011

Ray Hofer loved country music, the radio show Car Talk, his wife Emma’s cooking, and fixing trucks. It would take a while after meeting him to guess he was a pastor. Yet his faith meant so much to him that at age forty-four, with his five children, ranging in age from ten to sixteen, he and Emma left the security of their conservative Anabaptist church in Minnesota because he could not reconcile himself to a Christianity that prized legalism over heartfelt love. As he wrote in an open letter to the congregation:

Could we come together sometime soon to make it clear where we stand? I myself am willing to give up everything I have – my self-will, and my opinions – and to give up my service [as your pastor]. Do with me whatever the Spirit tells you to do with me. We so easily say, “I want to give my life to Jesus.” But are we living a Christian life? Do we truly love each other? Do we trust one another? Some of these questions could be answered with a definite “No.” It is high time we turned around and made a new beginning. Jesus never said “Wait.” He said, “Today, if you hear my voice . . .” I am a poor soul. Please help me.

Moving to the East Coast, Ray and Emma joined the Bruderhof. There, he was soon asked to renew his calling as a pastor. He became known as a mentor who never offered advice without listening deeply first, and for his deadpan humor. 

Ray died of cancer at age fifty-nine. He didn’t want to die – “You try being the one who won’t be here this time next year” – but he was faithful to his calling to the end.

When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead. The search goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.
Flannery O’Connor, writer
Keith putting the final polish on a completed monument sign for Danthonia Designs

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