A Once In a Generation Opportunity for Credit Unions

NCAA rule changes and state laws that went into effect July 1 opened the door for college athletes to sell the rights to their names, images and likenesses (NIL) for the first time. Most importantly, earn income from these sponsorships.

This “NIL” marketing revolution for college athletes has taken off. Agents are offering their services. There are online courses to assist interested students learn about the possibilities.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has signed a deal with Milo’s Sweet Tea. Milo’s Sweet Tea is based in Bessemer, Ala., southwest of Birmingham.

Not to be outdone in the SEC, Coach Nick Saban announced that  Alabama  sophomore quarterback Bryce Young, who has yet to start a game in his career, has already signed deals using his name, image and likeness that are worth more than $800,000. He has been presented with deals well in excess of $1 million.

Fresno State’s basketball twin powerhouse, Hanna and Haley Cavinder, will be sponsored by Boost Mobile. The Cavinders have more than 5 million followers combined across all of their social media platforms.

And the Arby’s chain of sliced sandwiches are advertising to sponsor running backs in this tweet on July 1.

But why should college athletes be the only focus for marketing sponsorships? Can Credit unions take the NIL concept to the next level and promote their unique brand at the same time?  And gain the allegiance of the next generation of members?

Introducing Harper

Harper has newly arrived on the performance stage as you see by her picture. Nonetheless she is seeking sponsorship, obviously from a credit union.

Harper is open to offers that will include at least three benefits:

  • Credit union membership
  • A 529 plan for her educational options
  • A Roth IRA account for her retirement

She believes her image or likeness reinforce the idea that credit unions are family. Membership covers all stages and needs for life.

Her athletic and professional directions are yet to be fully defined. However she is willing to consider a long term relationship now that could pay enormous future benefits for sponsors.

She will consider granting exclusive territorial rights to her NIL so that marketers do not have to worry about competing against their own “branding” campaigns.

Instead of the uncertainty and brevity of a college athlete’s fame, Harper is offering a financial “put” on her ever-emerging NIL. That content should produce marketing images and stories for at least a generation.

For example: first toy, first steps, first birthday–documenting progress in all of life’s wonderful phases.

Interested credit unions, leagues, CUSOs or even vendors are welcome to contact Harper at this email: harperwinninger@gmail.com. Her “agents” are on standby.

The Cost to Members of Overcapitalization

The concept of an “overcapitalization bias” in the credit union system was the topic of yesterday’s post.

One comment from financial consultant Mike Higgins showed how to calculate the cost-that is money taken from members’ pockets.  Here is his analysis:

I’d like to bring some specific concerns to the table for discussion on raising credit union capital.
The proposed regulation establishes a phased-in 10% net worth floor.  We all know that credit unions will carry a buffer to avoid going below the floor – most likely in the 1.0% to 2.0% of assets range.  So, the new net worth standard from a practical basis will be 11.0% to 12.0%.
This creates a huge safety reserve, before any consideration for CECL.  Recall that loan loss reserve is effectively net worth too, just specifically earmarked to cover anticipated loan losses.
For perspective, there are 600 credit unions with assets greater than $400 million that have net worth below 11% as of the 3/31/2021 call report.  I specifically included credit unions greater than $400 million because they will have to prepare for the higher capital standards as they approach the $500 million threshold.
The current low interest rate environment is making it difficult to accrete capital via asset growth.  This fact must be considered as part of the discussion.
Any net worth requirement is a tax on asset growth.  Raising the net worth requirement increases the growth tax.  For example, a credit union growing 10% per year with an 8% net worth target must produce a ROA (profit taken from members) of 0.80% to maintain its net worth ratio.  If the net worth requirement increases to 11%, that same credit union must now produce a 1.10% ROA.
Credit unions that cannot produce the higher ROA to support the new net worth target will have their ability to grow and serve new members stifled.  It will also make it more difficult to invest in the cooperative to maintain market relevance.
In a perverse twist, credit unions may have to take more risk because of the proposed regulation to produce the higher ROA necessary to maintain net worth.
Ultimately, a higher net worth requirement harms the people credit unions are designed to serve.
I am genuinely concerned this regulation is a gift to the competition because it erodes the advantages credit unions currently hold in the marketplace.  The concept of evaluating risk to determine necessary reserves, especially in outlier situations, is important, but I agree with Chairman Hood, it should be used as a tool and not a rule.

The Overcapitalization of the Credit Union System

Twenty-five responses were filed responding to NCUA’s request for comments on the appropriate NOL cap for the NCUSIF.  One provided an insightful context for their remarks.

This excerpt from the Ohio Credit Union League  points out a larger industry bias.  This observation is especially relevant in view of NCUA’s proposal to raise the well capitalized standard for credit unions over $500 million in assets.  This new net worth option called CCULR, would raise the well capitalized compliance standard 43% in two years, from 7% to 10%.

Here is their partial comment:

. . .we wish to register a general objection to the notion of unnecessary over-capitalization of the credit union system wherever such an idea takes root. Except for a relatively small proportion of outliers, where ordinary supervision serves as an appropriate intervention, credit unions themselves are strongly capitalized to the extent that the primary buffer (natural-person credit union capital) against shocks to individual credit unions or the credit union system, is deep and broad.

Prior to the pandemic (December 2019) the average total capital ratios for U.S. and Ohio credit unions were 11.87% and 11.89%, respectively. As the pandemic began receding (March 2021), these metrics remain thoroughly robust (10.51% and 10.53%, respectively) despite the tremendous stresses of a global pandemic, global recession, and stimulus-driven ballooning balance sheets. The abundantly healthy capital levels and ratios in credit unions served the intended purpose quite effectively and in essence, shielded NCUSIF from material impact.

The regulatory process, perhaps beneficially, engenders a bias for more capital at the credit union level (seemingly, ever-stronger balances and ever-higher ratios). Yet this bias must be tempered by business discipline to ensure that capital balances in credit unions and in the NCUSIF remain strong but not excessive, so the various costs of capital are reasonable (even supportable).

To the extent that we witness what appears to be strong NCUA bias for more capital (unnecessarily larger balances and unnecessarily higher equity ratios) and noting the nexus of this concern to NOL strategy, we draw attention to the potential disruptive and costly over-capitalization of the credit union system at the credit union level, in NCUSIF, and particularly in combination. In this context we reiterate our call for the return of the NOL to its previous strong and proven level of 1.30%


A Devastating Regulatory Burden- “The Juice is Not Worth the Squeeze”

(part 2 on NCUA’s new capital proposal)

The new capital proposal’s complexity and burden is evidenced in that eight senior staff were required at the board presentation. If the agency needed eight, how many senior credit union employees will have to be involved to respond and implement it?

The new rule is 126 pages on top of the 424 pages of the 2015 RBC rule. 530 pages in total.

This proposal imposes three different plans: the 110-year old simple leverage approach for credit unions below $500 million. For credit unions over $500 million, some will have a choice between the not implemented RBC or the new CCULR. An untold number would not qualify for CCULR under the reg, so they will be forced to use the untried RBC.

Mandating $24 Billion Addition to Restricted Reserves

The CCULR alternative raises the well-capitalized minimum to 9% on Jan 1, 2022, and 10% on Jan 1, 2024. The 117 credit unions below the 9% level would have just months to raise an estimated $3 billion to be at 9% or fall under RBC. No estimate was given for the net worth shortfall for these 117 at the 10% level.

The rule also states: Subordinated Debt would not be eligible for inclusion as capital under the CCULR framework unless the complex credit union is also a low-income designated credit union.

NCUA estimates complex credit unions eligible for CCULR must hold approximately $24 billion more as regulatory capital than the total under the RBC proposal. So why would a credit union not opt for RBC?

Regulatory Coercion

NCUA’s logic is that the “simpler” CCULR calculation will cause credit unions to opt for it since 48% of complex credit unions now have total net worth exceeding 10%.

NCUA offers this regulatory “alternative” for credit unions to avoid the burden and unknowns of RBC. All that is required is to reclassify 3% of assets now in net worth from unrestricted retained earnings to the rule-mandated legal reserves, a 43% increase.

Vice Chair Hauptman explained the tradeoff this way in his opening statement:

. . .all of that (prior wording) is an (admittedly long) way of saying that a simpler-yet-higher capital standard isn’t just useful because it saves time and effort. It’s also a way of protecting the system from the problems inherent in any risk-weighting process.

This is not choice, but regulatory blackmail. Here’s one example of how NCUA says this coercion will be applied:

While a qualifying complex credit union opting into the CCULR framework, is required to have a comprehensive written strategy for maintaining an appropriate level of capital, such strategy may be straightforward and minimally state how the credit union intends to comply with the CCULR framework, including minimum capital requirements and qualifying criteria. In contrast, complex credit unions that do not opt into the CCULR framework will be required to have a more detailed written strategy. The NCUA intends to review the written strategies during the supervisory process.

A Lack of Respect for Process and Credit Unions’ Track Record

Springing a completely new capital requirement to augment one that has yet to be tried with at best a 90-day implementation timeframe, is regulatory autocracy. It shows total disdain for credit unions’ proven record of capital management.

Throughout this rule there are many movable definitions and unexplained criteria. The definition for “complex” has no meaning other than asset size. Even that simplistic approach has moved from $50 million, then $100 million and finally to $500 million to define what “complex” means.

Using this superficial asset criteria, NCUA throws its complex blanket over every large credit union. Even the $5 billion State Farm FCU with minimal products would be included.

The proposal uses two different definitions of net worth in the numerator of the capital ratios: one for CCULR and a different one for RBC. (Page 49 proposal). Net worth means one thing and then another. This overturns GAAP accounting by whatever the regulator puts in rules.

Both capital options provide four ways to calculate average assets. This makes intra-industry comparisons at best uncertain.

Even the illusion of capital choice is incorrect. Credit unions can move from one capital plan to another within the same quarter in one part of the rule. However, in another section, NCUA can stop that. Under a new Reservation of Authority, NCUA can prevent a credit union going from one standard to the other.

Credit Unions’ Capital System Is Fundamentally Different from Banking Options

Banking regulators ended the RBC requirement in 2019. The rule requires only a simple tier 1 leverage ratio which is exactly the historically proven credit union practice for measuring capital adequacy.

NCUA has kept RBC and added another banking solution overlooking fundamental differences when comparing the two systems’ capital options and purpose.

The cooperatively funded NCUSIF can provide capital assistance if that is the best solution to address a problem.

This NCUSIF’s role supporting member owned cooperatives is very different from the FDIC’s. NCUA is authorized and has used capital injections and other support (208 guarantees) to return credit unions to self-sufficiency. The FDIC cannot assist privately owned firms to restore their financial solvency.

Banks have two primary equity sources: share capital and retained earnings. Generally, the two are split about 50/50. Bank equity comes in many forms: preferred shares, subordinated debt, public and private common equity. Moreover, there are different organizational structures: bank holding companies and stand alone to increase capital flexibility.

$1 of Credit Union Capital is Worth More than $1 of Bank Equity

Moreover, $1 of credit union retained earnings is much more valuable than $1of bank earnings. The taxation of bank earnings means that each firm must earn $1.25 to $1.50 to retain $1 in reserves. Also, shareholders expect to be paid dividends on their shares or see appreciation in their stocks’ market value.

Credit union capital is Free in all respects. All sources of bank capital have requirements that do not make them “free” when choosing options.

Action Needed Now

When Board Member Hood asked staff if the majority of credit unions opposed the 2015 final RBC rule, staff replied:

“Yes, a majority of the comment letters opposed the proposal in its entirety, and many suggested the rule be withdrawn.”

So why can this comment outcome be different? I think two factors can lead to the withdrawal of this rule:

  1. The rule lacks any data, objective criteria or historical analysis as the rationale for increasing the risk based net worth ratio. There is zero objective evidence for the rule.

When commenting, must show the history of their capital details to demonstrate the credit union’s record in managing risk. Include capital plans and other documents to demonstrate your competence.

  1. Hauptman and Hood are open to listening and learning. If they are to object to this dramatic extension of regulatory micromanagement, they must be armed with information to counter the unproven assumption that credit union capital is not sufficient.

Hood closed his Board meeting statement:

The world has changed since 2015. The reality is RBC should be a tool — not a rule. If it is effective in identifying risk, put it in the examiners’ toolbox, but the last thing the NCUA should do is impose it on credit unions as an operating model. The juice just isn’t worth the squeeze for risk-based capital because this is a regulatory burden with limited benefit. Again, we already have a risk-based net worth framework as required by law, so this is not needed.”

I would add one thought, what if there is no juice? How many credit unions faced with a 500-page new capital rule will just give up and close?

Credit unions rarely fail from too little capital. They fail because their leaders’ spirits are broken. This could be the final straw for many boards and managers.

The Most Cataclysmic NCUA Proposal Ever

Last Thursday the NCUA board asked for comment on a new capital rule that would:

  • Raise the well capitalized threshold from 7% to 10%, a 43% increase, in less than six months;
  • Establish three separate, different capital rules and provide NCUA the power to override a credit union’s choice;
  • Require credit unions that choose the new 10% option to hold $24 billion more in required regulatory net worth than under the Risk Based version passed in 2015;
  • Set 60 days only for comment with implementation of the Board’s decision by Jan. 1, 2022

If approved, the result would significantly undermine credit unions’ ability to serve their members and the system’s financial soundness.

Three Capital Standards

NCUA’s proposal introduces a whole new capital standard alongside RBC. The RBC rule from 2015 has yet to be implemented. There is no actual credit union experience with either RBC or this second higher minimum capital standard called CCULR, or Complex Credit Union Leverage Ratio.

The accelerated, short time frame for this far-reaching change is unnecessary and unwise. In the 8 years since NCUA proposed RBC, banking regulators evaluated their experience and dropped it as a requirement. Now NCUA retains RBC and adds another banking creation without any analysis or data for either option.

The most cogent reaction to this proposal was by Board Member Hood who opened his questions by saying: “Mr. Chairman, after serious study and consideration, my preference would be to table the risk-based capital rule indefinitely—or even repeal it—and fine-tune the risk-based net worth rule as needed.”

The Most Restrictive Rule Since Deregulation

This race to alter credit unions’ proven capital framework will severely lesson the system’s strength and resilience. Both options constrain the most important decisions a CEO and board make about their business model: how much and where to invest in member value versus how much to keep in reserves.

RBC is a regulatory tax on every asset transaction made by a credit union. To avoid this regulatory capital tax credit unions can use CCULR, the new “simpler” option. This would increases a credit union’s restricted earnings by 43% versus the current 7% capital requirement.

The most important operational judgments for members are no longer a credit union’s to determine. Rather, NCUA defines a single definition of balance sheet risks, weighs them, and then sets the minimum capital using an untried formula.

All credit union’s transactions are treated identically for the same asset risk whether located New York, Peoria, or Charleston. This one size fits all denies the objective reality that every credit union’s operating environment is different.

NCUA then reserves the authority to change a credit union’s decision or to modify its weightings, definitions and the required capital minimum at any time. Just as it does in the current proposal!

Existing Capital Approach Has Stabilized Credit Unions for 110 years—Risk Based Net Worth Approved by GAO

The proposition that credit union’s minimum capital standards have not been sufficient is false. NCUA provided not a single example, data or historical event to suggest otherwise.

In 1998 the well-capitalized threshold was raised from 6% to 7% as a political compromise to the suggestion that credit unions expense their 1% underwriting in the NCUSIF. There was no accounting or factual basis for this change.

In 2004, GAO reviewed NCUA’s implementation of this new PCA risk based net worth concept and concluded:

We are aware that NCUA is constructing a more detailed risk-based capital proposal . . .and that any proposal should be based on the premise that risk-based capital be used to augment, but not replace, the current net worth requirement for credit unions. The system of PCA implemented for credit unions is comparable with the PCA system that bank and thrift regulators have used for over a decade. and

. . . available information indicates no compelling need. . . to make other significant changes to PCA as it has been implemented for credit unions.

Credit unions start with no reserve capital. The cooperative approach of reserving from earnings has been sufficient to sustain the industry through both macro events and decades of financial innovation including:

  • Introducing share drafts, mortgage lending, member business loans, credit/debit cards;
  • Building out distribution capabilities including branches, call centers, Internet Retail services and shared ATM and branch networks;
  • Investing in CUSO’s to bring scale and collaborative solutions for member value;
  • Incorporating the latest financial tools including ALM risk modeling, derivatives and hedges, and off balance sheet servicing to manage risk;
  • Building capital to navigate deregulation and open competition, the FSLIC crisis and ultimate industry shutdown, two FDIC insolvencies, numerous recessions, the Great Recession 2008-2009, and the recent COVID economic shutdown and recovery,

Credit unions have demonstrated the ability to establish appropriate capital levels to meet every risk itemized in the RBC rule plus dozens of other events and changes that no model could incorporate.

Board and management have managed their individual capital levels to correspond to their business plans and the local economy in which they compete. Now NCUA wants to override that proven practice with a rule that treats each asset’s risk the same wherever and however the credit union operates.

Tomorrow’s blog will document the proposal’s unprecedented financial and regulatory burdens.

Summer Eye Candy

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in—what more could one ask? A few flowers at our feet and above the stars.”   All flowers are home grown.

Tall red hibiscus-perennial

Tall white hibiscus -perennial
rdered from Breck’s-Can’t remember name. perennial

Annuals–black-eyed susan, blue salvia, geraniumsGeraniums: annuals, but my wife makes me bring them in for winter   
Annual-zinnias, true sun worshippersCanna-perennial, but must be dug up in  fallPotted  geraniums-three  year  old  annuals!Mandavilla- definitely annual.  Wife’s  favoriteMy  row  of  sweet  corn.  Ready  for harvest.

Credit Union History for Understanding Today’s Cooperative System

America’s Credit Union Museum is collecting oral histories of system participants to help future generations understand their cooperative roots.

Fifteen videos are now posted. Interviews are from retired leaders such as Carroll Beach, Dick Ensweiller, Brad Murphy and John Tippetts. Persons still active include league presidents Tom Kane and Caroline Willard, and Sarah Canepa Bang, the senior policy advisor to NCUA Vice Chair Kyle Hauptman.

Episode 15: The Deregulation Era

My first contribution discusses deregulation. It describes how Ed, Bucky and I learned with credit unions in Illinois to navigate the disruptive economic changes occurring in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. We went to NCUA using these lessons on a national scale.

The talk is 24 minutes. If your time is limited, here are some topics to scroll to:

3:00 Where the cooperative model fits on America’s economy

5:00 Learning about regulation and credit unions at Illinois’s DFI

12:10 We take our experiences to NCUA

14:00 Communicating what deregulation was; why it worked

16:15 Upgrading the NCUA’s internal capabilities

20:20 the PennSq bank failure

The Value of Oral History

The museum’s initiative to record individual’s credit union experiences will be invaluable to visitors and scholars. They are easy and fun to listen to, especially if you know the characters.

Hearing these examples will stimulate interest in cooperative history; more importantly it can give perspective on today’s topics.

Deregulation was not a political ideology, strategic blueprint or onetime response to a changing economy.

In credit unions it was nothing less than building a better system of “cooperative credit in the United States.” It turned upside down the practice of government making everyday business decisions for credit unions.

Rather that responsibility was now in the hands of those closest to the members-management and boards.

Most importantly these changes were developed mutually with full dialogue and participation by all segments of the movement.

When Leaders Lack Confidence in their Organization

What would you think if you learned that Warren Buffet was shorting Berkshire stock? Or Elon Musk prefers driving a Lexus?  Or Jeff Bezos doesn’t want to test fly his Blue Origin Space capsule?

None of these situations is true.  And because the opposite is the case, observers’ trust in these leaders and their organizations is sustained.

A Credit Union Example

Seven years ago, in October 2015, NCUA over the objection of board member Mark McWatters, approved a final 424-page RBC rule. This was NCUA’s second attempt to impose this new reg which was as equally unsupportable as the first.  Both attempts were universally opposed by credit unions.

One of the rationales for the rule stated in the 2014 NCUA Annual Report was “the issuance in 2013 of new risk-based capital rules by the FDIC, the office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.” (page 12)

Certainly, an impressive endorsement by banking regulators.  However, in September 2019 the FDIC with the full concurrence of the Comptroller and Federal Reserve removed RBC requirements for all community banks under $10 billion.  Did NCUA follow its peer’s decision? No, It plodded on, kicking the can down the road even though one of their primary justifications was gone.

What the Rule Says About NCUA’s Self Confidence

But there is another insight, besides bureaucratic obstinacy, to take from the final proposal.

The agency published a two-page summary — Risk Weights At a Glance –as the final summary of absolute and relative risk of every possible balance sheet asset. Three judgments are illuminating.

Credit unions investing in the capital of the CLF have 0 risk.  Since the CLF has not made a loan for over a decade, it suggests how the agency is thinking about the CLF’s role assisting credit unions in the future.

The FHLB’s do make loans to credit unions. To qualify for these, a credit union must buy stock in the bank. NCUA determined these stock purchases should be assigned a 20% risk weighting.

Even though no FHLB organization has ever failed, the agency believes there is still a small risk.  But it is nowhere near the risk of a credit union investing in a CUSO, which requires a 100-150% weighting.

But the most ominous risk is for credit unions’ 1% capital deposit in the NCUSIF.  According to the chart, the 1% deposit cannot even be counted as an asset.  It must be subtracted in full from the numerator of the credit union’s net worth and from the denominator’s total of all risk weighted assets.

It is counted as having no value despite having been untouched for almost 40 years.  It is an earning asset, withdrawable in a voluntary liquidation or conversion to private insurance. On both credit union and NCUSIF balance sheets it is carried at full value.  Multiple national accounting firms have stated this asset “fairly presents” both aspects of this transaction.

What would subtracting this asset mean for the NCUSIF’s Risk Based Capital ratio!  If credit unions cannot count this as an asset, how can NCUA include these deposits in the NCUSIF’s net worth?

One interpretation is that this is just one of many foolish aspects of the final RBC rule which becomes effective January 1, 2022. But there may be more intention than one might think.

A Scary Thought

This NCUSIF total write-off of the 1%  from net worth, like the hypothetical made up examples first above , points to an uncomfortable reality.  This is an agency whose leaders lack confidence when managing the ever growing resources credit unions provide.  And if they lack the understanding of this cooperative fund’s operations, what message is sent to credit union members?

Today the NCUSIF equity level above the 1% deposit totals over $4.7 billion.  Should a loss of that magnitude or more occur, the primary question will not be about the status of the 1% deposit, but where was the regulator?

The cumulative loss rate for he NCUSIF over the past 12 years and two financial crises, is 1.5 basis points.  To project a loss at least 20 times this recent real world experience, is deeply troubling. (2,000 percent, i.e. 30/1.5)

That potential accountability is why the agency wants to eliminate the 1% from credit unions’ net worth today.  NCUA wants to avoid explaining how its oversight allowed such a situation to develop.

Now that is a scary thought.




What is the Value of a Strategic Plan?

Jim Blaine, former CEO of State Employees Credit Union North Carolina wrote:

Credit union strategic planning is about as useful as Bermuda’s long rang plan for global domination

Some very successful CEO’s have focused on operational performance as the best road to the future.   And done very well.

The Role of the Plan

Most credit unions will not follow Jim’s observation.   Planning is an annual ritual, often the key part of a board retreat.

These plans are a way of communicating within the organization and when necessary, to external stakeholders.

What matters however, is performance results, not the paper intentions.  Until outcomes are identified and tracked, a plan can be just a political exercise.

The Benefit of  Paper  

Many plans describe strategic priorities, projects and projections.   The test of these goals should be the questions they appear to respond to, if not stated outright.  Questions can be concrete or qualitative.

For example: how do I know if my credit union is becoming more or less relevant in my members’ lives?  What advantages of cooperative design can we use more fully?  How does my team show pride in what they do?   What is the basis for our future confidence?

Leadership is asking the right questions about the short and long term.  In 1983-1984 credit unions began asking NCUA was there a better way to reach the 1% equity goal for the NCUSIF besides double premiums?   That questioning led to a unique cooperative-inspired outcome.

Answers may be uncertain, but the first step in ongoing success is at least looking in the right direction.



The Moral When Answering Life’s CALL

Most people believe their life has a purpose.  In John Calvin’s theology every person’s work is a responsibility assigned to him by God.

So in the Presbyterian Church’s Calvinist doctrine of occupational calling, becoming an ordained pastor is a response to this belief. Here is one pastor’s story of the experience, with a moral.

“It was late Spring 2011. Adrian had graduated from Princeton Seminary, our student housing had expired, and I was still in the process of finding a job. Maewynn was 6 months old. We sold nearly everything we owned, even my beautiful Camaro (some people thought it wasn’t “car-seat friendly”), and packed up what little we had left on the top of Adrian’s parents’ hand-me-down Toyota Corolla and headed west. We were moving back in with my parents in California.

We were making good time. Every morning I checked the oil and made sure we had water and food and diapers in the car. Every morning except, of course, for one fateful morning. We wanted to visit Devil’s Tower and get all the way to Cody, WY, an 8+ hour drive, that day. We left early. The car was running rough. We stopped in a small town in Wyoming and asked for a garage. The mechanic looked at our Toyota with a sneer: ”Don’t do imports.” We pressed on.

The oil was leaking, I was sure of it. There were no towns now, just 360º of grassland and cows in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains. We had run out of water. And diapers. We made it down a big hill, and coasted to the top of the next before a sickening mechanical noise whined from under the hood, and the car came to a dead stop. We were alone with the wind.

I grabbed my flip phone – one bar of service! I called the number for AAA. There was a town only 35 miles away! We waited thirsty, hungry, and alone. Our shining knight came an hour later in a tow truck, missing three front teeth. We were elated.

I held baby Mae in one arm as I tended a stress-induced bloody nose with the other, and we rode in the tow truck.

At Stan’s Auto Body we got the bad news: the engine block was cracked and our car was totaled. The nearest car rental was 40 miles away in Sheridan. I called the Avis at the regional airport there: “I’m sorry, hon, but we don’t have any one-way rental cars available. Oh, and don’t bother calling the Hertz, I answer that phone too.

Somehow we ended up at a Mexican restaurant, and I looked at Adrian and said, “We will be no more than 24 hours in Buffalo.

Then my phone rings. It’s Agnes Schneider! Co-chair of the GPC search committee! “Rachel, we’d love to have you come down from New Jersey for a final interview for the job!

I’m a little farther than New Jersey at the moment, Agnes,” I said, and I filled her in.

Well, get to LA as soon as you can and we’ll get you out to DC.

We found a place to stay: a series of tiny log cabins run by a 7’ mountain man and his 4’6″ wife. The next morning we returned to Stan’s, and sold our car to Mike’s Bottom Dollar Auto. As we filled out the paperwork, the garage phone rang. A mechanic looked up and said, “It’s for you.

Hi, ma’am? It’s Cheryl from the Avis. Turns out we have a Malibu that needs to get back to San Francisco. You can rent that if you can get to Sheridan today!

Bottom Dollar Mike, may God bless his soul, loaded up all our worldly possessions in his gigantic Chevy truck and drove us the whole way. We loaded up the (Chevy) Malibu and finished the trip. I flew out to DC and was offered the job as Director of Christian Ed. at Georgetown Presbyterian Church. The rest, as they say, is history.

Pastor Rachel

P.S. The moral of the story is: I should have kept the Camaro. ”

A question for readers:  When telling your call’s story, what will be the moral?

PSS:  Rachel has a new future as the SeniorPastor of Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church in DC starting this month.