John Shearer: Methodist Bishop Richard Looney Pens Humor Book

Friday, October 1, 2021 - by John Shearer
Bishop Richard Looney with his new book
Bishop Richard Looney with his new book
- photo by John Shearer

A United Methodist bishop can sometimes draw solemnity from those around him or her due to the dignified position as a leader of the large Christian denomination and the seriousness of people’s faith.

However, Bishop Richard C. Looney has also been known over the years for drawing a few laughs. Quick witted, he has shown a skill for putting a listener at ease with a funny story, often with a tale from his long ministerial career or childhood as the son of a preacher.

Now, the former area pastor’s stories have gone from the pulpit to paper with the recent publication of his humor-focused book, “The Fun of Being Looney.” The book tells his life story through small anecdotes rippled with humor and features a key theme – that being a Christian is supposed to be a joyous experience.

He even uses Jesus as an example, saying in his description of the book, “People flocked to Jesus to share in the joy He exhibited. In sharing joy and the promise of abundant life, Jesus exhibited a delicious sense of humor.

“Remember the man with a log in his eye trying to remove a speck from the eye of a neighbor?”

Bishop Looney – who began his ministerial career at Rising Fawn, Ga., in the late 1950s and later served at White Oak UMC from 1968-72 and as Chattanooga District superintendent in the late 1970s – said he had the book in mind for several years.

People who were used to hearing him tell jokes said he should do a humor book, but through conversations with others decided to expand it into an autobiographical book and later one around the theme of joy in the Christian faith.

“It grew into the humor of Jesus and how our faith is supposed to be joyous,” he said.

With support from the Rev. Charles Maynard, a fellow United Methodist minister and well-known East Tennessee storyteller, who grew up on Signal Mountain, the book was published by Market Square Publishing and is available online for $14.95.

All proceeds benefit the United Methodist Church’s Foundation for Evangelism at Lake Junaluska, N.C., where Bishop Looney has also served, he said.

For Rev. Looney -- whose 6-foot, 6-inch frame and deep and scratchy voice also emit an image of a 1950s or ‘60s Western TV or movie star – his humorous outlook on life started with his name.

He jokingly wrote that his friends told him that several looneys had been elected bishop previously, but he was the only one with the name to match it.

Bishop Looney said that he is not necessarily a natural storyteller of the long variety, despite still preaching sermons well into his 80s with little-to-no notes due to training learned from his preacher father and being blessed with a semi-photographic memory.

Also, nothing often comes to mind for him when people ask him directly to tell a joke, he added.

But he said that during a conversation, some related anecdote will usually pop into his mind, and he will share it. And that is how he got his reputation as a joke teller.

During his sermons, he is also known for his easy-to-understand-but-thoughtful delivery after opening them with a quick story of humor.

As Rev. Looney talked during the interview, he literally began practicing what he preaches and shared a couple of stories. In one, he said that he and some other young preachers were at a chicken restaurant while attending a Methodist gathering in Western North Carolina years ago.

“We were having a rollicking time,” he quipped. In fact, someone saw them laughing so much that the person, according to Bishop Looney, said, “They are so drunk, they think they are Methodist preachers.”

He also told the story of when he was serving as the bishop of the South Georgia Conference after being elected in 1988, and the people there were known for spoiling a bishop. He found out that was true when one person dumped 50 pounds of pecans into his car trunk.

His reply to the kind gesture was: “I’ve already gone to heaven.”

In the book are countless other stories both humorous and heartfelt, including some related to his time in the Chattanooga area.

His first pastorate after seminary was the three-point circuit of Byrd’s Chapel, Cave Springs and Rising Fawn in Dade County, Ga., which had about 160 members in the three churches combined.

He jokingly said young preachers given multiple churches used to say that the number of churches you were given was representative of the number of talents you had.

Although Bishop Looney remembered being told by one member that he was among a long line of greenhorn preachers right out of seminary those churches kept getting, they warmly embraced him, and he appreciated that.

“I am sure there will be a special place in heaven for small churches that loved and encouraged greenhorn preachers like myself,” he wrote.

Elsewhere in the book, he tells of another young preacher who came back to his home church and delivered with confidence a sermon. Afterward, he asked an older minister what he thought of the sermon, and he surprisingly received an honest appraisal that the young pastor just read it, he did not read it very well and that it was not worth reading.

Of his time as Chattanooga district superintendent from 1976-79, he said the local area then was a great mix of urban and rural, and small and large, churches with varying styles of worship. “I was inspired and challenged by the new understanding of the greatness of the Church,” he wrote.

He also praised the longtime district office administrative assistant Ethel Starnes and her work. He wrote that one time he was to be gone for three weeks on a mission trip, and someone asked him who would look after the district while he was away. Referencing Ms. Starnes, he quipped, “The same person who looks after it while I’m here.”

Bishop Looney’s career has also included serving as the senior pastor at the large downtown churches in both Johnson City and Knoxville: Munsey Memorial UMC and Church Street UMC, respectively.

He currently has the honorary title of bishop in residence at First-Centenary UMC in downtown Chattanooga. He occasionally still preaches there when filling in for one of the ministers or by invitation, and he had followed his lifelong involvement in music by singing in the First-Centenary choir until not long before the COVID-19 outbreak of early 2020.

In summing up the book, Bishop Looney added that he hopes it is worthwhile to any person of the faith, including pastors who often deal with the sadness of their church members regarding family deaths and personal illnesses.

“Laughter is renewing and healing,” he said after telling yet another story of some advice he once received: that preachers should enjoy preaching because people don’t want to go and watch the minister suffer.  

* * * * *

Jcshearer2@comcast.net

 

- photo by John Shearer

TDOT Contractor To Close Portion Of Tucker Road In Collegedale

New Hamilton County Marriage Licenses

Local Youth Program Volunteers To Clean Up Brainerd Rec Center


As part of the SR-317 Apison Pike Reconstruction project from SR-321 (Ooltewah-Ringgold Road) to Layton Lane, TDOT contract crews will close a portion of Tucker Road (from Spalding Drive to 5400 ... (click for more)

Here are the new marriage licenses from the County Clerk's office: ZACHARY EUGENE GARDENHIRE SHEYLYN GRAE SCHRIMPSHER 903 SPURLING DR 607 JACKSON RD HIXSON, TN 37343 HIXSON, TN 37343 ... (click for more)

Students with Bridge Chattanooga will volunteer with the Chattanooga Park Stewards to clean up the Brainerd Rec Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1, from 3-5 p.m. Bridge Chattanooga uses nature and ... (click for more)



Happenings

TDOT Contractor To Close Portion Of Tucker Road In Collegedale

As part of the SR-317 Apison Pike Reconstruction project from SR-321 (Ooltewah-Ringgold Road) to Layton Lane, TDOT contract crews will close a portion of Tucker Road (from Spalding Drive to 5400 Tucker Road) within the project limits to allow for the completion of construction in areas currently under existing traffic. The closure will enable the contractor to finish this section ... (click for more)

New Hamilton County Marriage Licenses

Here are the new marriage licenses from the County Clerk's office: ZACHARY EUGENE GARDENHIRE SHEYLYN GRAE SCHRIMPSHER 903 SPURLING DR 607 JACKSON RD HIXSON, TN 37343 HIXSON, TN 37343 FREDRICK EUGENE SIVELS KELLI EYVONNE JOHNSON 1400 SAN HSI DR 1400 SAN HSI DR CHATTANOOGA, TN 37412 CHATTANOOGA, TN 37412 WILLIAM GUY MORGAN TRACY ANN PURSLEY 11677 WALKER RD 11677 ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Bradley County Sheriff's Office Seeking Man Who Pointed Gun During Road Rage Incident

The Bradley County Sheriff's Office is attempting to locate a white male who pointed a gun at another driver during a road rage incident on Nov. 18. Authorities said, "At approximately 2:15 p.m., the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office responded to a road rage incident on Harrison Pike/I-75 overpass where a white male driving a blue/purple Kia pointed a handgun at a black Toyota ... (click for more)

Mobile Home Destroyed By Fire And 3 Cats Perish In Sale Creek Sunday Morning

A mobile home in Sale Creek is destroyed by fire Sunday morning. At 11:28 a.m., a neighbor called 911 reporting heavy smoke coming from a mobile home. The Sale Creek Volunteer Fire Department responded to 385 Border Loop and arrived on the scene reporting heavy smoke coming from the eaves of the mobile home. One team of firefighters entered the home, conducted an initial search ... (click for more)

Opinion

End The UTC Sports Nightmare - And Response (2)

UT Chattanooga’s loss today to the College of Charleston was embarrassing. I believe Coach Paris has done great things since he has been there, and hopefully today's loss will wake them up. But no losses could wake up the football team that should have been 9 and 2. The women’s basketball team, I know they have several good players out, but the trend since the loss of Coach Foster ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Georgia Picked By 6½

So help me, I can hear the legendary Bear Bryant telling his players: “Bingo, we got Georgia right where we want ‘em, They are cocky, fat and sassy … all we got to do is keep our wits about us and do the things we know we can do. I know we can do it. Now, let’s get ready to play Georgia the game of their lives …” The trouble is Coach Bryant died almost 40 years ago and this week, ... (click for more)