Ride-sharing pastors take their ministry on the road

Seungsoo (R.J.) Jun and Robert Stutes, elders in the Virginia Conference, serve as drivers of a ride-sharing service. Both drive for Uber and share in the article below how they are living out their call in a different way.

Can you share who you are?

RJ: My name is Seungsoo Jun, serving Raleigh Court UMC in the Roanoke District. People know me as R.J. I’m honored to serve Raleigh Court where our church is focused on becoming a blessing to the community. I only drive once or twice a month, but I enjoy the time meeting people outside the four walls of the church.

ROBERT:  I am Robert Stutes, and I am in my sixth year serving at Mount Pleasant UMC in Roanoke.  I am a retired member of the Texas Conference, but we chose to make Roanoke our place to retire and have been able to serve “on loan” since 2013.  Now in retirement, I am serving Mount Pleasant part-time (¾).  As a part-time pastor, I am able to mix in Uber driving as a way to interact with the community.

  Robert Stutes and Seungsoo (R.J.) Jun are pastors and Uber drivers.

Why did you start driving for Uber?

ROBERT:  Somewhere years ago I heard about pastors who would spend a few hours a week tending bar and finding that they had some amazing meaningful encounters that never would have happened in the church building.  While I admired those “edgy” pastors, I knew this would never happen for me.  I would feel like a fish out of water at a bar and just could in no way envision myself in that role.
When I heard about Uber coming to Roanoke and Blacksburg back in 2009, I very tentatively decided to experiment with it and quickly learned that spending a few hours giving rides through Uber was helping me see my community through an entirely new light.  I was also surprised to learn that meaningful conversations sometimes happened in the short amount of time I spent with a passenger.  Like R.J., I shared this with the Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) at the very beginning.

RJ: One of our members came to me asking for help finding a part-time job. I immediately thought of introducing Uber to that member. I asked Robert if he could meet up with us and share his experience driving for Uber. The three of us got together for a meeting, where Robert shared information on how to become an Uber driver, and how he loved his experience. After the meeting, I came out thinking it might be awesome to try this. It seemed like a good opportunity to reach out to the community. I needed some kind of motivation to get out of the four walls of the church. I shared my thoughts with our SPRC, and they were supportive of my idea. Then I made sure that I got the blessing from our District Superintendent, and she gave me her blessings. I signed up as a driver and waited for the right moment to start my Uber experience.

How was your first experience driving?

RJ: I was nervous. I cleaned up my car, filled up with gas and waited. When that first chime rang, my heart started to pound. I drove to the pick-up spot and met this couple who were about to meet with their friends. I told them how it was my first time driving! They were supportive! They were excited for me! And I was able to drop them off to their destination. Right after I dropped them off, there was another call and a group of college girls called me. I drive a Honda Fit, and when they saw my car they said, “Will we all fit?” Surprisingly they all fit comfortably, and I was able to safely drive them back to their dorm. That is when I learned that driving Uber is to provide a safe and comfortable ride to the customer's destination.

ROBERT:  Honestly I was a little bit scared, but I quickly learned that nearly all of the customers were friendly - even the ones that were a bit tipsy!  One of the things I learned early on is that drivers must quickly learn to be socially perceptive, as there are customers who want to chat, and there are other customers who want me to be invisible. This is actually a valuable skill transferable to other settings for pastors - as we increase our sensitivity to paying attention to where others are.

Share a funny moment while driving.

RJ: I was called by a young customer, who was fairly drunk. The GPS was acting weird and I couldn’t find the pickup point. It took me about 10 minutes to get to him. As we were driving to his destination, the GPS fell from the windshield, and every hard turn I made he was crying out ‘Jesus.’ In my mind, there were two thoughts flying around – that is not the right way of using Jesus’ name and I might not get a five-star rating. My driving was not that horrible, but when he blurted out Jesus’ name again, I had to say something. So I said,” Maybe we started off on the wrong foot. “He agreed and we started to talk, and I dropped him off at his destination. A couple of weeks later, I got another call and got to pick up this young person again. He saw me and shouted to his friends, “‘Yo! This is my favorite Uber driver!’”

ROBERT:  I picked up a very affable couple at bar at closing time and (as often happens) she asked what my other job was.  When she found out I was a UMC pastor, she said “Oh my, I love United Methodists.  I used to attend a UM church in Orlando, Florida.  United Methodists are so humble.  I just love them; they are so humble.”  And then she really cut loose and said “United Methodists, #### yeah (expletive deleted)!”  I had to wonder if that might be an even better slogan than “Open hearts, open minds, open doors!”
Well one more - I was driving one night in the DC area.  It’s definitely more intimidating to drive in DC, and I picked up three young men who all sat in the back seat.  I did not think about the fact that I had bluegrass music on the radio, and it only took a few minutes before one of the young men said, “Excuse me, can we do something about that music?”  I quickly allowed them to plug into my aux cord, and the volume raised quite a bit and the music style went through a radical transformation!

Any downsides to the ride-sharing service?

RJ: I have to keep my car extra clean all the time. Or when it comes to a time I need to drive, I need to make sure I take my car through a car wash. I’m not really good at cleaning my car or keeping it clean. However, you need to make sure your car is clean for that five-star rating.

ROBERT:  You aren’t really an Uber veteran until your back seat has been baptized by...(vomit).  However, the customer does get dinged for the cost of a cleanup!

What has been the joy of driving for Uber?

ROBERT:  I only discuss my day job when folks ask, but it actually happens a lot.  I have learned a lot about my community and I have been surprised how many times a relatively brief conversation has turned to deeper things.  More than once I have ended a ride by having a prayer time, and I even had a young man visit our congregation twice.  Naturally, he later ended up at our local megachurch, but he was very appreciative of our congregation helping him re-enter the faith community after having spent a very, very rocky semester at a local college and after having to leave school, along with losing his driver’s license.

RJ: I get to meet people outside the walls of the church. On my Uber driver profile, I wrote, “I believe people are good.” My belief is proven right every day. Almost every person I met proves that people are good. Some are Christians and some are not. However, when you have a face-to-face interaction, most of my customers are very nice! Most of the time, I share that I am a pastor. Many are intrigued to hear why I am driving.
After driving Uber, I found another reason why I needed to drive, besides meeting people outside the walls of the church. In the area where I serve, the public transportation ends at 10 p.m. and doesn’t run on Sundays. Many of the hourly wage workers who rely on public transportation call an Uber to get back home. I wanted to help them out. So I started reimbursing their Uber fare by giving out electronic gift cards. Some of our members heard what I did and started to hand me piles of gift cards. At the end of the trip, I give them the gift card and say that our church wanted to encourage them after their hard day of work.

Final thoughts?

ROBERT:  Not every experience is positive.  I have conversations that leave me rather sad.  And even eavesdropping often proves to be a great eye-opener.  You hear the good, the bad and the ugly.  Sometimes I just have to keep my mouth shut and say a little silent prayer for a wandering child of God.

RJ: I think every pastor should try this out. You get to be a community driver, counselor and sometimes a pastor. It is a great way to survey your community. It is a great way to see the life of people. It is a great way to serve. It is a great way to pray and live out your faith.


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