Ten years ago, Belleville native Rob Dyer was a successful electrical engineer living with his wife and young daughter near Washington, D.C.
But he wasn't happy. Something was missing.
Last month, the 1989 Belleville West grad took over as pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Belleville. He and wife Sarah now have four children, Ally, 12, Nathan, 9, Austin, 8, and Carson, 5.
"If you would have told me 15 years ago I'd be living in Belleville, being a pastor," he said before a Sunday morning service, "I wouldn't have quite believed it."
But there he was in the sanctuary, putting on a silly disguise to grab the attention of young members. As Pastor Slick McCheesy, he wore dark shades and a moustache that didn't quite stay on.
"We don't have to know all the answers.
"Have faith and trust in God to give us the big answers."
Even if you're not sure you want to hear them.
Answering the call
As far back as high school, Rob considered the ministry.
"This is the snob I was," he said. "I thought, 'I am too smart to be a pastor. I'm way too good at math and science.'"
The high school valedictorian earned an electrical engineering degree from Princeton University in 1993 and a graduate degree from Purdue University in 1994.
"I went with a Washington D.C. start-up software company (Opnet Technologies). It was doing well. I wasn't ready to hear from God.
"It's terrible to say, what made me pause the most was not just giving up the money, but giving up the career. All the studying, knowledge and skills. ...
"I loved what I did before. I think I was pretty good at it."
The two professions do have things in common.
"I had to do a lot of presentations before," said Rob. "Once you had to present in front of a three-star general, doing it in front of 250 people who love you and want to do a good job for you, it's easy."
Wife Sarah, then a stay-at-home mom, was a good sport.
"It was kind of a relief," said Sarah, who is now pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. "Although he was good at engineering, he felt he was supposed to be doing something else. He didn't know what. He was unhappy. ...
"Happiness is so much more important than the money."
A different life
The Dyers learned to live on less, much less, when Rob attended Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va.
"I wondered, 'How are we going to afford this?'" said Rob. "It really went much more smoothly than I thought it would."
He continued to do engineering work part time for his former software company. After a year, he switched to consultant and cashed in his stock options.
"That paid for my remaining (seminary) expenses."
To be a pastor, he took an 80 percent pay cut.
"I made one-fifth of what I made before when I started," he said. "I used to manage multimillion-dollar government contracts. It was a different life before, just spending the money like crazy when I got it, but I saved a lot of it. I used to eat out a lot. We afforded much fancier vacations."
The Dyers operate with less security net, too.
"God has continued to provide," he said. "I don't regret it."
For the past seven years, Rob has been pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon. He has managed to weave his interests into his ministry. He's on Facebook and Twitter.
"I like the tekkie stuff. At my old church, I installed different kinds of software," he said. "I set up a wireless network for them. I helped design multimedia capability in the sanctuary. I get my nose into what audio-visual guys are doing."
Many of his engineering skills come in handy now.
"There's a lot of overlap in terms of skill sets. I know what it takes to do both of the jobs. It's not any easier being a pastor. If you care about church and community, it's just as hard if not harder than being a project manager on a Pentagon project.
"The budget numbers are smaller, but it's so much more complex when you're dealing with a community and a church."
As a pastor, he likes helping people find ways to live their faith.
"It sounds general, but it's pretty specific ... To find that sweet spot where they are living out their faith, that's when it feels fantastic."
Back where he started
The Dyers' move to Belleville is both exciting and bittersweet.
They left a church family and friends, children Rob baptized, couples he married, families who sought comfort when they lost a loved one.
"We shared life and faith together," Rob said.
The family of six will commute until they sell their house in Mount Vernon.
Daughter Ally will miss friends and the dance group she has been with since she was 4.
"It's kind of everything at once," she said. "It's kind of hard to put into words. I'm mostly happy."
Church members at First United Presbyterian are happy, too.
"Most of us really viewed him as the right mix in intellect, education and energy," said Sheila Misselhorn, who headed the 12-person pastor nominating committee that spent 11 months choosing a new pastor.
They liked that Rob was involved with community outreach programs and interfaith relationships at his former church.
"It was alll those things together, plus, he's just a nice guy," said Sheila, an English teacher at Belleville East who's married with two grown children.
They visited a neutral church to see Rev. Dyer preach.
"That's what synched it for us. From that day forward, he was the guy."
Church members are impressed, too.
"At the board of development meeting, he went around and prayed for everyone serving on the board." said Mary Jo Mordhorst.
"He's good for the younger kids," said Betty Scherrer, "and he's creative. We waited a long time for this."
"We want him to stay," said Mary Jo. "We hope his family likes it here."
So far, they do.
A big plus? The local connections. Rob's mother, Joyce Dyer, lives in O'Fallon. Rob occasionally runs into former teachers, friends, and classmates he ran track with.
He likes serving his home community.
The Dyers also look forward to little perks such as a big mall and Starbucks. They look forward to attending Cardinal baseball games.
For now, they drive in on Saturday nights and stay with Joyce.
"I thought if he stayed within a 50- or 100-mile radius, it would be pretty good," she said before Sunday services. "It's kind of a dream really."
Joyce, who is divorced, remembers the day she learned her only child was switching careers.
"Whenever they are going to give me big news," she said, "they sit me on the couch. 'Well, Mom, I'm going to quit my job and go into the ministry.' I thought, 'OK, I have got to process this.'"
She's a deacon at Westminster Presbyterian who is now spending more time at First United.
"The main comment I hear is, 'Aren't you proud of him?'
"I have always been proud of him. He's just a good guy. He's just a good Christian man and that's the main thing. All the other is icing on the cake."