There are people you meet along your journey that make you appreciate the ordinary yet amazing things of life. The person I’d like to introduce you to is one of these, outside the extraordinary. I first met Matthew Pechanio at a family baptism when the grandchildren were born. Besides being a runner and craft beer maker, he is the pastor of Ascension Anglican Church in the Chicago land area. As I’ve pondered his wonderful impact on my grandkids as their pastor, I thought I’d invite him to share more of his life and his calling with us.
Q ) Your genuine friendliness really impacted me when I first met you over five years ago. What is your back story?
A ) I like people (most of the time). Being friendly and taking an interest in others shows love in our culture. Most people I interact with don’t need money, or food or any kind of material help. They don’t need to learn to read, or some other skill that is necessary for survival. But people need to be heard, need to feel like they matter and then other people care. So I do that, because it is the primary way I can fulfill the Golden Rule.
Also, I did not grow up in a home where this was present. Rather than continue the pattern of isolation and indifference that I experienced growing up I decided in my late teens and early 20s to be different, to take an interest and develop meaningful relationships. Others in my family did not, and to this day they live an isolated and indifferent kind of life. Sometimes our backgrounds solidify who we are, but other times they propel us to live differently.
I grew up in a quiet home in Elmhurst, with parents who provided for every material need and instilled in me faith in God and a commitment to learning and morality. In college and beyond I began to explore a wider world, and press into an even deeper Christian faith. Pressing into people’s lives became the vehicle to serve God.
Q) When did you start running?
A) About 7 years ago, in my late 30’s. I never liked running and used to say that I would only run if I were being chased. But one day sweet Kris (wife of 20+ years) was running on a treadmill and I wanted to talk with her, so I decided I could run on an adjacent treadmill to have a conversation. I managed a mile in 12 minutes. Having survived this I attempted it again the next day and gradually added mileage while reducing my time. And by the spring of the next year after 6 months of running I finished my first 10k race. Four months later it was a half marathon. I love running and have been in 4 marathons (probably done with those) and find it to be a peaceful and healthful practice.
Q) What are some of your other interests and hobbies?
A) Brewing beer (see below), reading and listening to Yes. I read a variety of things, mostly non-fiction, and usually have multiple books going at one time. I enjoy theology and religious studies as well as literature dealing with current events and contemporary trends and ideas. History and social studies are also popular with me. I also love backpacking, hiking, camping and riding my bike. Being in nature and with animals (especially greyhounds) are essential components of who I am as a person.
Q) How did you end up making your own craft beer?
A) About 10 years ago a friend of mine was trying to unload his equipment. I thought I could give it a try, especially since the set-up was free! My wife said that I’ll never be able to do it and that this hobby wouldn’t last. Well, 100+ batches of home brew later, she may be right – but I wouldn’t count on it!
Q) How did you and your lovely wife Kris meet?
A) We met in the fall of 1991 in college, at NIU in DeKalb. We were both part of a campus ministry and became friends before starting to date in late spring of 1992. We married in October of 1994.
Q) Did you decide to become a pastor before or after you were married?
A) Long after. I had a strong inclination in college to work in Christian ministry, but it wasn’t until after several years of marriage and some experiences in the ministry, and some very solid and fruitful years teaching high school Bible and religious education classes that I made a transition to pastoral work. That transition occurred between 2003 and 2007.
Q) At what point did you know you would be part of the Anglican denomination?
A) In the late 90’s I became very disappointed with our church experience in that I was longing for a more intellectual faith, and one that was connected to the wider church, the ancient church and the sacramental church. Returning to the Catholic church of my youth didn’t seem to be the right fit, but coming across contemporary Anglicanism (which emphasized “three streams” of expression: the evangelical, the catholic, and the charismatic) was a Godsend. The Anglican Church was a wonderful bridge between the Catholicism of my youth and the evangelicalism I had experienced in my 20s.
Q) The pivot points we experience in life don’t often come up. Would you mind sharing one pivot point in your life where you knew everything would be radically different had you chosen differently?
A) In 2003 I took a backpacking trip to the mountains of central Oregon. It was pivotal in that it set me on a course to experience the outdoors and embrace my embodied-ness as a being who is a part of a wider world. Not only did I develop a love of nature and being outdoors in it, this opened up a whole new set of practices that flow from my understanding of the work of creation and our role within it. For example, my enjoyment of the outdoors led me to learn more about the environment, take up causes and issues that help to protect it (including vegetarianism) and develop activities and rhythms that keep me rooted and in touch with the natural world.