Mountain View Lutheran Church, Edgewood, Wash.
Eagle Scout; retired U.S. Navy commander

When I got involved in my congregation, it started with the children. My wife and I wanted to be part of the children’s ministry because we had been greatly influenced by a practice called Godly Play, in which you play with children in a circle on the floor that is holy ground. And from there, we teach stories in a very interactive way. We both have a heart for children, and that heart for children led us into the program at Mountain View. We have continued to grow with those children over almost 20 years.

I was raised in Rochester, N.Y. I’m the oldest son of two that my mother had with different fathers. She was a single parent. And we lived in the housing projects—the first one in Rochester. I had the responsibility of taking care of the house; she had the responsibility of working. She worked all day and all night at two full-time jobs. At the age of 13, we moved from the projects into our own home.

I first got connected with the Lutheran church through two little old white Lutheran ladies who were wandering in the projects with flannelgraphs, looking for a place to do a Bible study. And it occurred to me that they could come to our house. I asked my mom and she said, “Bring them.” So they came to our house, on the fourth floor of building seven, and they were there every Monday. And my mother, though she was working, would stop and make pastries for the kids we could round up from the building we lived in. And they would sit in our living room and have the Bible study.

When I was 10, I saw a movie called The Light in the Forest. What I remember from watching it is in my head I heard, “If God exists, he exists in the woods.” And that stayed with me and is still with me. I started looking for God, and in my looking for God, I learned that I needed to be in the woods. So I was sitting on a bench in the projects with some of my buddies, and I said, out of nowhere, “Let’s go join the Boy Scouts. They’re meeting in the building that we’re sitting next to, building three.” So I just went down and said, “We want to join the Boy Scouts,” and they said OK. And that’s how I got started. I also recognized that the Boy Scouts went into the woods, and since there were no woods in the projects, I needed this. We went to the woods with the Boy Scouts camping. I learned to cook outdoors, learned to hike, and I instantly loved it.

I thrived in the woods. I loved being there so I wanted to hike, I wanted to cook, I wanted to canoe. I wanted to learn how to do it in a really good, professional way. I loved the swimming. I wanted the lifesaving. I wanted to do whatever it took to retain a high proficiency in the woods. Scouting gave me an opportunity to do all of that but more. I wanted to learn how to live in the woods. And so I kept after every merit badge that took one to the woods.

I acquired the rank of Eagle Scout, but the organization wanted a different prototype for their first Eagle Scout, and I was the first one for Troop 147 in Rochester. They wanted to have someone who had a family that was a father and mother and children. That wasn’t my family, nor was it the prototype family of those who lived in the projects. So emotionally I shut down on the notion that I had made Eagle, because in my mind what they were asking for was a family that we weren’t in.

However, quickly after that, Dr. Charles Perham, a high school teacher of mine, decided he wanted to take me canoe tripping in Canada. So everything I learned in the Boy Scouts I immediately transferred to canoe trips. I would spend the next two summers in northern Canada doing firefighting, leading canoe trips and search-and-rescue operations, and fine-tuning my skill mix in canoeing, which would lead me to the University of Michigan. And that would lead me into the U.S. Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and then into the Navy.

The day I went aboard ship and went to sea and learned what it was like to be at sea, I loved it and I never looked back. As an 8-year-old, I always wanted to go west around the world. I wanted to see the world, all of it. And from that first ship until roughly eight years ago, I’ve been traveling the world.

In the last 60 years there’s only been one person who’s ever asked me about my scouting days—Darel Roa, a member of Mountain View. His father was in the Boy Scouts and he’s a Boy Scout. Darel, for eight solid years, bugged me about why I wouldn’t participate with Troop 525, which meets at Mountain View, and I wouldn’t tell him. He knew that I had become an Eagle, but he didn’t know why I wouldn’t participate. He asked me, “Well, would you mind coming to a Scout fundraiser?” To get him off my back, I said OK.

That was the first time ever that I had an opportunity to stand as an Eagle.

That night, at the conclusion of the chaplain’s testimony, the chaplain said, “Will all the Eagle Scouts in the audience stand up?” For me, that was the first time ever that I had an opportunity to stand as an Eagle. I must admit, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to stand or not. But I chose to stand up because I had in fact achieved the award. I just hadn’t had it awarded to me. And when I stood, there was an emotional break in my own spirit.

I went home and told my wife the story. But that emotional break opened a floodgate of memories. I knew I was an Eagle Scout. I knew I had received the award, but I had no proof of it. Darel was able to go to Rochester and find my original written record that showed when I progressed through the ranks, make a copy and present it to me. And that’s how it started. In June 2023, more than 60 years later, I formally received my Eagle Scout medal at a Court of Honor ceremony held at Mountain View.

I pray for the Lord to make himself known to us daily. I look for him daily. I know the world is his responsibility, not mine. But my job is to hear his voice and do his will. It’s a daily operation. There’s a slogan in the Boy Scouts to do a good turn daily. So I make sure I do a good turn daily—somebody something, someone, even if it’s my dog. We’ve all got to do something good for somebody else.

I’m a Lutheran because I love Martin Luther. And I’m a Lutheran because I am forever remembering those two little old ladies who wanted to come and spend time teaching me about the gospel. I never forgot them because I’m not sure where my mind would be if I had not had time with them.

If you’d like to nominate someone for “I’m a Lutheran,” email

John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.

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