Presbyterian minister and Ninety Six native J. Patrick Vaughn has a plush toy rabbit once given to him by a young boy who attended his church only twice. Vaughn kept it in his office for more than 20 years and it makes appearances in the minister's video blogs.
Vaughn, now pastor of Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, said he never knew the child's circumstances, only that he was from a rural area and the child's eyes "showed he was desperate for someone to care for him," yet the boy reached out to Vaughn and gave him the rabbit.
"People come to church and bring their brokenness," Vaughn said. "They are looking for someone to hold on to them. If you are hurting or abandoned, as Christians, it is our responsibility to love you."
As a way to reach out to those who might feel disconnected, for whatever reason, Vaughn said he started his video blog -- or vlog -- "The Unlikely Preacher," at theunlikelypreacher.com and at www.indexjournal.com and a series of those video reflections has evolved into his first book, "Unlikely Glimpses of Grace," a 64-page book, published by Chai Cafe Productions, which Vaughn intends as a daily devotional.
Last week, Vaughn had a book signing at the Greenwood Starbucks and talked with the Index-Journal earlier in the week about what led him to ministry and the church today.
"I really didn't grow up in the church," Vaughn said, noting he didn't attend church regularly in his youth, but he was active with a church youth group. At the time, Shell Dula, current chairman of the Greenwood School District 50 board of trustees, was affiliated with a youth group at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Ninety Six, and Dula was Vaughn's teacher at Ninety Six High School.
Dula said Vaughn lived a few doors down from the church and was "very involved in the youth program."
"He was a tremendously smart young man, who could get along with anybody," Dula said. "He was also a deep thinker and that translated to his ministry."
Years later, Dula happened to hear Vaughn preach several times at a church he was serving in the Charleston area, while a child of Dula's was attending medical school.
While a student at Lander University, Vaughn said he studied political science and business, but received a degree in interdisciplinary studies.
"I wanted to teach religion and philosophy at the college level," Vaughn said, noting then-Lander University president Larry A. Jackson encouraged Vaughn to apply to Princeton Theological Seminary.
"I did that, but I didn't realize until later I would have to work in a church in order to graduate," Vaughn said. "It never crossed my mind that I would have to do that in order to be ordained for graduate study."
At 22, Vaughn officiated at his first funeral, for a man who died a sudden, tragic death. From that moment forward, Vaughn said he realized working in the church was what he wanted to do.
"I thought, 'This work has meaning. This work has purpose,' " Vaughn said.
Vaughn was ordained in 1987 and went on to receive a doctor of ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in 2002.
"I really don't get into denominational politics," Vaughn said. "What I do know after more than 20 years in ministry is that it is painful for those who leave the church, whether they are church members or people who work in a church. It is also painful for people who stay, when there is a rift in a relationship.
"Jesus calls us to stand with those on the margins," Vaughn said, noting Jesus sets forth examples of compassion toward the ill, tax collectors, women, children and others who were socially excluded in his time. "When people spend so much time arguing, rather than accepting, we forget about caring. God's love is radically inclusive."
In the first reflection in his first book, Vaughn writes, "Jesus is the one who knocks down all kinds of social taboos and barriers to embrace..."
The book is an extension of his vlog, where he discusses a number of topics and occasionally interviews others, including University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, of Delaware.