Rev. Dr. John David Schule, longtime pastor of the Federated Church of Martha’s Vineyard, died at home surrounded by family on March 12 after a long battle with lymphoma. He was 89.

Reverend Schule was known for this thoughtful sermons, humor, Scottish ancestry and compassion, especially in the face of adversity. In addition to serving as pastor of the Federated Church for 20 years, he was a co-founder of Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard.

In an interview with the Vineyard Gazette, as he prepared to preach his last sermon at the Federated Church upon his retirement in 1998, Mr. Schule said his favorite time of day was the quiet of morning when he wrote his sermons.

“Sermons are made on the anvil of life,” he said.

John Schule was born on Jan. 22, 1931 in Norwalk, Conn. He was educated at Norwalk High School, Berkshire Christian College and Gordon Divinity School. He received his masters from Columbia University and doctorate from Hartford Seminary. He was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1958 and began his ministry at Church of the Advent in Danbury, Conn.

Jeanna Shepard

He counted writer, theologian and priest, Henri Nouwen, as one of his early spiritual mentors.

“Henri once told me that maybe I should be a monk, for part of me values the quiet time, the meditation,” Mr. Schule said in the 1998 interview with the Gazette. “There is a lot of energy that comes from silence.”

Mr. Schule channeled this energy into service, working with the Island community and building his congregation. When he arrived at the Federated Church in 1978 there were about 50 families involved. At his retirement in 1998 over 300 families were part of the congregation.

During his time at the helm of the Federated Church he had lived in the Mayhew Parsonage. Upon retirement, Mr. Schule thought he would have to leave the Island as purchasing a home on the Vineyard was out of the question financially for a retired pastor. 

Then an anonymous donor stepped forward.

“One day he approached me, he wanted to know if I could give him a few minutes time. I thought he had a personal problem,” Mr. Schule told the Gazette. “We went to lunch.”

At lunch the man offered to purchase a home in Edgartown for the Schule family to live in.

“I became unglued,” Mr. Schule said.

Mr. Schule built a small chapel in the backyard of this new home. Each year at Christmas, the chapel and backyard would fill up for a tradition of carols. In 2018, the chapel was moved to Featherstone Center for the Arts for the community to enjoy.

In his retirement, Mr. Schule remained active in the community and occasionally filled in to preach sermons at other churches around the Island. And he continued to write in the early mornings, submitting pieces to the Vineyard Gazette and other publications from time to time.

In 2015 he gave a talk at MIT called Time and Space.

“What I surely know about time/space? It is short! It is rather sad that it took stage 4 angio neuro blastic T cell lymphoma to put an exclamation point on that awareness. Let me share with you what the last three years at Dana Farber taught me,” he said, outlining the elements he had found that make up a good and spiritual life. Thankfulness led the way.

“Gratitude is our most direct line to God,” he wrote. “If we take time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something for which to be thankful. Let us rejoice, as the psalmist rejoiced, in all things that are present. All else is beyond us.”

A memorial service is being planned for late spring or early summer.