Pastor takes athletic approach
by Kelly Feser Eells
While Paul Bergmann, Ojai Valley Community Church's senior pastor
since February 1998, loves what he does, he laughingly admits
that he never pictured himself leading a congregation.
"Had you told me in December of '97, 'Hey, Paul, in less
than a couple of months you're going to become a senior pastor,'
well, I'd have had trouble believing it." Indeed, "unbelievable"
was one of the first things Bergmann's wife, Kathy, heard him
say after being offered the position. "I was really flattered,"
he said. "I looked at my wife and said, 'Can you imagine
that?' because, if anyone was really comfortable where we were
(San Diego), it was her."
He explains that, in addition to the successful graphic design
business Kathy had built up over seven years' time, there was
family to consider. "Her parents lived up the street, mine
lived nearby, and our kids were doing really well there. But
she's amazing; her response was, 'Have you prayed about it?'"
Smiling, Bergmann remembers his teasing reply: "Well, look
at you getting all spiritual now.'"
'Pastor Paul,' as he is affectionately called by parishioners
and colleagues alike, credits local resident and private investigator
John Jenks with introducing him to, and later keeping him in,
the Ojai Valley. "John was working on a case, and his initial
contact with me concerned an informant who'd said he'd played
football for UCLA" - where Bergmann was an All-Conference
(Pac-10) Champion wide receiver, had been named All-American,
and had helped lead the Bruins in back-to-back Rose Bowl victories.
Though the informant's claims were "totally bogus,"
his and Jenks' resulting friendship has been anything but. "He's
really involved with kids, the community, and after he found
out what I did, he said, 'I'd love to get you involved in the
schools up here.'"
What Bergmann did was lead seminars and inspirational talks at
schools, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, churches, prisons,
etc., for Sports World, Inc., a Christian ministry organization
founded by Dr. Ira Lee Eshleman, former National Football League
chaplain and head of its Chapel Program. Recognized by President
George H.W. Bush at the National Charity Awards in 1990, Sports
World's speakers bureau is comprised of professional athletes,
all of whom share personal life experiences with their audiences
in order to help them " recognize the consequences of their
"It's a great privilege to be able to grab the attention
of young people," said Bergmann. "Using the platform
of athletics to talk to kids about the substance of our faith,
that helps give them the power to say no" when necessary.
"I think the neatest part for me," he added, "was
speaking to kids. With all due respect to the separation of church
and state, my talks at schools were very ethics-based. I didn't
proselytize, but I didn't apologize, either."
In fact, "I remember a person coming up to me after a talk
and saying, 'I'm an atheist, but I really liked what you had
Other memories he prizes include the time he was having coffee
in an Alabama coffee shop, not far from a high school he'd spoken
at four years earlier. "This nice waitress looks at me and
says, 'Are you Paul Bergmann?' And it turns out she remembered
the stories I'd shared, and then she said, 'I still have your
football card on my dresser mirror.'"
Bergmann actually has two football cards: one, issued by Sports
World, includes his mailing address, and the other, issued by
Topps Bubble Gum Trading Cards, commemorates the years he played
for the Jacksonville Bulls, Oakland Invaders, and Kansas City
Chiefs before retiring from pro football in 1988. "Someone
just saw that Topps card on e-bay," he chuckled. "He
told me, 'You don't want to know what it went for.'"
His Sports World card, however, yields his richest memory. "I
got a lot of letters, which was great, and I'd answer all of
them. But this one kid, well, it was three or four years after
I'd spoken at his school. 'You came to my school,' he wrote,
'and what you said impacted my life. I'm going to become a pastor.'
That blows Rose Bowls away."
Bergmann's passion for his work was evident to Jenks, who, in
December of 1997, arranged for him to speak with Nordhoff High
School's football team. Soon thereafter, he was asked to speak
at an OVCC men's group meeting and, later, at a church breakfast.
"Though they were without a senior pastor, I never expected
their asking me to consider applying for the position. While
I was, again, very flattered, it hadn't ever occurred to me."
On the contrary, Bergmann was then enjoying his 10th year with
Sports World - "They're family, really; I was exposed to
some of the greatest Christian minds in the country" - and
deeply involved with his San Diego church.
So, when he was invited to meet with church elders a few weeks
later, "I considered it more of a theological discussion
than an interview. It was really amazing; I'd been trained biblically,
even ordained (as a licensed minister of the Evangelical Church
Alliance), but I resigned myself to that." He laughs, "And
I dominated the conversation, like a big bag of wind. I wasn't
tap dancing, but, still, they were pretty quiet."
Which is why, when he was offered the job several days later,
his initial response was disbelief. Now, however, he cannot imagine
being anywhere else. "I wasn't unrealistic," he concludes.
"I knew I could fall flat on my face. And Kathy was open
to that. I remember taking the pulpit that February and thinking,
'If I can just make it to June.'"
More than four Junes later, Bergmann is looking forward to OVCC's
fifth annual Easter sunrise service. Between providing one-on-one
counseling; oversight to the church's on-site school; serving
on the boards of the Ojai Pregnancy Center, Ojai Valley Family
Shelter, Evangelical Church Alliance, and remaining active in
Sports World, he doesn't have time to worry about "writer's
The Bergmanns have been productive in other ways, as well. Their
fourth child, Grace, was born here, welcomed by siblings, Nicole,
Joshua and Jared.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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PAUL BERGMANN at Ojai Valley Community Church.