Ninety-eight-year-old retired United Methodist pastor Tom Slate’s Puyallup home looks a bit more like a library than a home.
A voracious reader, even as a boy, Slate’s home contains a small library. The living room houses several floor-to-ceiling book cases containing about 200 books, all sorted according to topic. A large storage room in the rear has housed as many as 10,000 books.
“So far, I’ve given away 2,000 of those books to a friend who ultimately will inherit all my books,” he explained.
Eager to find more used books of interest, he continues visiting the library two or three times a week, adding to his personal library.
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Eclectic in his interests, collecting scholarly books on the Bible, art and architecture, he also enjoys books on political issues as well as religion. Slate has collected and read almost everything written by the British author GK Chesterton, who was a poet, writer, philosopher, dramatist, lay theologian and the creator of the fictional priest-detective series, Father Brown.
Since he no longer drives, he may be seen riding around town on his tricycle when others are not driving him. Longevity does appears to be a family trait, believes Slate, the eldest of a brother and two sisters.
“One of my sisters was 91 when she died, and my father died just six days shy of his 100th birthday,” Slate said.
Slate has had quite a life serving in the ministry.
The first question was asked before his first church appointment was if he was a coffee drinker.
Slate recalls thinking that it was a strange question. After completing his seminary training at Boston School of Theology, he headed to Washington state shortly before the church’s annual Pacific Northwest District Conference was scheduled.
“I was informed that my name would be submitted as someone who was available for a congregational appointment,” he said.
Apparently, Slate was being considered for an appointment to a Swedish church where coffee drinking was important, hence the question.
“By the time I began serving, I had become a coffee drinker,” he recalled with a laugh.
From that first church, he spent his pastoral career serving Washington congregations until his retirement in 1981 from Morton United Methodist Church. Slate now attends the Puyallup United Methodist Church, where he remains engaged in the life of the congregation, occasionally preaching, teaching, visiting members and helping wherever he is needed.
Retiring to Puyallup was really a fluke. Not long before his retirement, he drove through Puyallup on his way to a meeting in Des Moines. Having some extra time, he looked around the community.
During the span of his 36-year pastoral career, Tom Slate is most proud of the good relationship he enjoyed with the congregations he served.
“I decided to go into a real estate office to tell them what I was looking for and ask them to contact me if they found something I might be interested in,” he said.
Before leaving, Slate was shown the property, which ultimately he purchased.
Slate’s path to the ministry began at the age of 15 when he attended a Youth Institute in his hometown of Glendale, California. Such gatherings, he recounts, were used to recruit youth for the ministry. He completed his undergraduate degree in philosophy at George Washington University before entering the seminary.
Also recognized as a scholar and historian, Slate considers the year he spent attending Pontifical University, a private Roman Catholic University, in Salamanca, Spain, a career highlight. During his studies, he became interested in the writing of Lazare Meyssonnier (c. 1611-1673). Meyssonier’s “Pentagon of Medicine and Philosophy” was written in Latin in 1634. Slate began translating the manuscript, but by the time he had completed about a third of the book, he elicited help from someone who was more of a Latin scholar to complete the task. The translated book with Slate’s introduction and postscript was released in 2016 by Maverick Publications. .
From Spain, Slate went to England, where he spent two months visiting the places where John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was born and grew up, and where Methodism began. Always interested in the internal doctrines and disciplines of the Methodist Church, he found that experience to be highly gratifying.
During the span of his 36-year pastoral career, Slate is most proud of the good relationship he enjoyed with the congregations he served. He considers himself as being more easy-going than some of his contemporaries.
His one regret is that did not marry. “At the time, it was difficult to meet someone,” he explained. “It was like being under a microscope.”
According to Slate, congregations had specific roles they expected a pastor’s wife to play. “I knew a number of pastors who left the church because some wives refused to accept that role.”
Slate now sees himself as being out-of-date and probably more conservative than some. And though there have been many changes in the church over the years, he still believes that the ministry is a good profession for a young person.