Divine Inspiration: Pastor, cartoonist answers call of pulpit and pencil
by Jessica Loeding
May 08, 2011 | 2276 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The ability to laugh at oneself is a life skill some never learn. For Trinity United Methodist Church pastor Mike Morgan, the humor in life serves as an inspiration for his comic strip, For Heaven's Sake.

From the pulpit of Mainline Memorial Church, Rev. Righteous meets the challenges of leading a church with a quick wit. Penned by Morgan, the strip was created to "celebrate the faith and poke fun at the foibles of a fictional congregation."

As the leader of a church, Morgan often experiences firsthand the bits of funny faced by his fictional counterpart. And, like his ministry, For Heaven's Sake allows him to grow in his relationship with God - one strip at a time.

Occupation: Senior pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church and creator of the weekly comic strip, For Heaven's Sake.

City of residence: Cartersville

Family: Married for 30 years to Karen Carter Morgan, a first-grade teacher at White Elementary School; two sons: Thomas, 27, lives in Atlanta with his wife, Sara. Thomas is a graduate student at Georgia Tech, going for a PhD in chemistry. Daniel, 22, is a student at Kennesaw State University and works at Play It Again Sports in Kennesaw.

Education: Associate of Fine Arts from Young Harris College, Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia, Master of Divinity from Emory University.

What was your calling to religion and leading a church?

A: I grew up in a Christian home and was baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church as a young teenager. However, my vocational calling to ordained ministry came later, after I had already begun my first career as a cartoonist.

I was working as the editorial cartoonist/newsroom artist for the Macon Telegraph when I first felt the stirrings of God's call to ordained ministry. Karen and I had become quite involved in lay leadership and Christian service at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon. We were shepherding a new group for single young adults and working with homeless people through the church's Macon Outreach ministry. I had also become a certified United Methodist Lay Speaker. As I worked with God's people, studied God's Word, and shared my own testimony of faith, I gradually became convinced that God was calling me to grow beyond my cartooning career.

It dawned on me that editorial cartooning is essentially a negative medium, pointing out problems in our society. Ministry, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to proclaim and practice the solution to society's problems - namely, God's love in Jesus Christ for every human being. So, I quit my newspaper job, enrolled as a full-time student at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, and became a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.

For Heaven's Sake, your comic strip, how did that come about?

A: After graduating from theology school, I moved back to Macon to serve as associate pastor at Mulberry Street UMC. Yes, the same church from which I was called into the ministry. The editors at The Telegraph asked if I wanted to contribute new editorial cartoons to the paper on a freelance basis. Although eager to resume cartooning, I was wary of drawing the sort of hard-hitting political cartoons for which I was previously known. Now that I was a pastor, I didn't want to alienate parishioners who might not share my political views.

Suddenly, I was struck with an idea to create a comic strip about a church. The strip's characters would be the ministers behind the pulpit and the members in the pews. My cartoons would celebrate the faith and poke fun at the foibles of a fictional congregation called Mainline Memorial Church. The Telegraph began publishing my strip on its weekly religion page, and For Heaven's Sake was born. I'm convinced the name came to me as divine inspiration.

What do you use for inspiration?

A: The ideas for my strip actually come from several sources. First of all, church folks are funny. People who take God seriously seem to have a special knack for manifesting their own humanity in humorous ways. However, I'm careful not to make any similarities between the characters in my strip and the members of my congregation embarrassingly obvious. I'm also inspired by the interplay between the gospel message and popular culture. And I always carry a note pad with me to church committee meetings and denominational gatherings in case a speaker attempting to make a serious point inadvertently says something funny. One of my favorite themes is paraphrasing a well-known Bible verse in today's vernacular. And, every now and then, a bit of political or social satire reminiscent of my editorial cartooning days will sneak into a For Heaven's Sake strip.

How long have you been drawing the strip and how many

newspapers carry it?

A: I began drawing For Heaven's Sake for the Macon Telegraph almost 20 years ago, and I signed a contract with Creators Syndicate in 1992. Today For Heaven's Sake regularly appears in about a dozen newspapers. The Daily Tribune News has carried my strip since December 2008. I also receive fan mail from people around the country who read For Heaven's Sake online.

What spiritual advice would you offer to anyone regardless of age, religion and so on?

A: God loves you, and he created you for a reason. Do everything you can to grow in your relationship with God and to discover his particular calling upon your life. Pray, read the scriptures, gather with other people of faith for worship, help those in need, share your spiritual journey with people close to you. Nothing is more fulfilling than becoming the person God intended for you to be.

Any thoughts on the current state of religion?

A: I am greatly encouraged to see people of faith coming together across denominational, racial, and cultural boundaries that once kept us apart. Last week's tornado response efforts and National Day of Prayer events here in Bartow County stand as shining examples of what God's people can do together.

At the same time, I am deeply concerned that many people today - especially politicians and public figures - appear to give "lip service" to religious faith while seeking to fulfill their own desires instead of God's will. True disciples learn from God and grow in God's grace rather than claiming God is on "their side."

What hobbies do you enjoy?

A: In addition to drawing, I enjoy running, hiking, swimming, water-skiing, reading, traveling and listening to music.

What makes Bartow County special?

A: When Karen and I first moved here almost three years ago, we were delighted to discover the natural beauty of the area, the friendliness of the people, and the strong sense of community pride displayed by the citizens of Cartersville and Bartow County. As we have become involved in the community ourselves, we have enjoyed getting to know local leaders who work very hard to make our community the best it can be.

What is your favorite meal?

A: Since I'm trying to be health conscious these days, my favorite meal is one that tastes good and also makes me feel good about what I'm eating.

You mentioned you work while on vacation - where is your favorite vacation

destination and why?

A: Actually, I try not to work on vacation but that's easier said than done. One of our family's favorite spots is Fernandina Beach, Fla. We love the white sand, the blue ocean, and the stately, moss-draped oak trees. We also like Fernandina because it's not too far away.

If you weren't a pastor, what would you be doing?

A: I'd be drawing more cartoons, for one thing. But, even if I weren't a pastor, I would still be active in the church's ministry and still seeking to grow in my relationship with God.