HATTON, Mo. — There's a big decorative disc hanging on a wall inside an entrance to Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.
Printed on it is one word: "Hope."
"Everybody's seeking it," new pastor Paul Klepees said. "Everybody's seeking something."
Klepees, 30, and his family moved into the parsonage across the road last Wednesday. On Friday, he could be found in an office, huddled over a computer. Don't expect to find him there often; expect to find him out and about, looking for conversation.
"My plan as a pastor is to not be in the office," he said. "I'm interested in supporting people and meeting people."
A change of plan
Klepees is originally from Stewartsville, east of St. Joseph.
"I grew up in town, but my grandparents had farms," he said. "I am the child of a machinist, tool and dye maker and a nurse."
His parents, Clifton and Marlene, and the rest of his family set fine examples for Klepees.
"They were high school sweethearts and they're still married," he said.
He was born in 1987. Klepees attended Stewartsville schools through high school.
"Our district had about 300 kids," he said. "It was a cool way to grow up. I remember being little and the high school kids would come down and do activities with us. And then, when I got to high school, I got to do that."
This sign greeted Rev. Paul Klepees upon his...
Photo by Jenny Gray /Fulton Sun.
When Paul was a child, Marlene became a nurse.
"She went back to school later in life, and she made it look easy," he said.
After high school, Klepees followed in her footsteps by also becoming a nurse. He got his Associate's degree as a registered nurse, and then his Bachelor's degree at Central Methodist University in Fayette.
"I'm a board-certified ER nurse; it's my chocolate," he said, adding it means he finds emergency medicine fascinating.
He worked for three years at Northwest Medical Center in Albany, rolling many tasks into one job. One project was working on re-admission rates and prevention. Klepees said he traveled a lot, but he missed his family. Soon, he realized he needed something else, and that something had been staring him in the face forever.
"This has kind of been something in the pit of my gut since the very beginning," he said of his path to becoming a pastor. "My great-grandfather (Howard Hamann) was a minister. I remember him pointing at a pulpit, and he said he couldn't wait to see me up there.
"He said God had amazing plans for me, that my life would bring light to a dark world."
Klepees said he met his wife, Margie, in college.
"We met in nursing school in the back row," Klepees said. "I sat down next to her in nursing school because I had taken a class with her previously and I knew she always brought chocolate to class — Dove chocolate."
He and Margie were friends for awhile, but love blossomed.
"Our first real date, we went out to Longhorn Steak House and then we went for a walk at a nature center. It was November and it was freezing."
But that date became a framework for their marriage, he said.
"The place that's ours is pizza and a movie," Klepees said. "We laugh so much when we do that little stuff. She's my happy place."
They were married on a sunny day, Aug. 27, 2011. Three sons followed: Gibson, 4; Ezra, 2; and Maverick, 1.
"She is a better nurse than I, but she stays home and takes care of the boys," Klepees said. "She makes it look easy."
Living across the road from the church enables Klepees to share three meals a day with his family, and lets him share in the intimacy of family life, things like reading bedtime stories. The rest of the time, Klepees will forge a place in the Hatton community and work on is Masters degree in divinity, taking seminary-type courses.
He knows life is hard for some people, and when they come to church at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings, they probably woke up at 6 a.m. to get themselves and their families ready. Klepees honors that commitment by striving to encourage and inspire them.
"My hope is you never leave church thinking, 'You're right. I'm a terrible person,'" he said. "The pulpit is a place to fill people with the spirit to get through the next week."
According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression and it is a leading cause of disability. Klepees said that's a disturbing number of people.
"I really design my message to create space for people to connect with God," he said. "That's everything. Everything about that has to fill you with the spirit."
He said he understands how hard it is for some people to keep going.
"The hardest thing they do is get out of bed every day and say they're going to do this one more time," Klepees added. "To do that, and go to church, creates a holy space."
While Klepees realizes he can't solve people's problems, he can be there for them.
"The pastoral relationship is to get in the trenches with other people," he said. "I am willing to sit her and hold your hand while you go through it."
Growth in churches isn't about numbers — it's about relationships, Klepees said.
"I'm a relationship-based guy," he said, smiling. "I'm interested in supporting people and meeting people. I'm not saying I'm perfect. But I try to make love my operating system."
How much better the world would be if people would think about love before opening their mouths or reacting to something on social media, he added.
"How would you change things if you looked at a person and loved them first?" he said.
Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church is at 3639 Route E in Hatton, about 6 miles west of Auxvasse.