Author Gary Mitchell says some of his characters in Amos columns are based loosely on observations of people he encounters in and outside of church.
By Rick White: CNJ Managing Editor
Born in the active imagination of a shy teen hoping to contribute to his church’s newsletter, Amos the Churchmouse has wiggled his way into the hearts and minds of thousands of readers for more than four decades.
A staple on the Clovis News Journal’s religion page since 1989, Amos champions Christianity by exploring the underpinnings of the church world.
Creator Gary Mitchell said the mousical musings — Amos types his columns by hurling himself onto the typewriter keys — are a figurative parallel of the human experience.
“A lot of what Amos goes through is what I’m dealing with at the time,” said Mitchell, dean of Wayland Baptist University’s Clovis campus and a former longtime CNJ staff reporter. “He’s also an observer of human life and church life.”
Amos’ adventures are enhanced by a cast of characters — many of whom are inspired by co-workers and acquaintances — that include Freddy the Flea, Louie the Songdog and Prayer Virgil the Praying Mantis.
“One of the things I like to do is create a situation and see how he reacts to it,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes I surprise even myself at the final outcome.
“Amos has taught me a lot. Like that I need to be open to other people’s lives and respect other people’s ideas and to know God loves them the same as God loves me.”
Mitchell stops short of calling Amos his alter-ego, but agrees he shares similarities with the sometimes mischievous mouse. He referred to Amos as his “creative mouthpiece.”
Readers outside the Clovis area will have a chance to see the world through Amos’ eyes as a new book compiles a collection of Mitchell’s columns. “amos the churchmouse: a view from under the pew” — Amos is unable to operate the shift keys to capitalize letters — features what Mitchell considers the best 50 of his columns penned by Amos.
Mitchell estimates he has written more than 500 Amos columns, and the book format seemed a natural next step.
“During the course of writing these Amos columns in a secular newspaper, it has always intrigued me when I would hear positive comments from agnostic friends in the community or even from folks who professed no religious faith at all,” said Mitchell, who also served as a pastor at a small Clovis church. “Many would say that they could enjoy reading Amos because it was non-threatening to them. It makes me feel that God is using this format to encourage, inform and inspire people to know him, that it ultimately is glorifying him.”
Mitchell said Amos was patterned after the writings of Don Marquis, an editor with the New Your Sun and New York Herald-Tribune, who first introduced his poetic characters, archy (the cockroach) and mehitabel (the cat) in his newspaper column, “The Sun Dial” in 1916.
Wendel Sloan, director of media relations at Eastern New Mexico University and award-wining columnist, is among Amos’ fans.
“Whether one shares Amos’ religious views or not, everyone can find thought-provoking pleasure in the depth of the philosophies that the mouse espouses,” Sloan said. “Although Amos may be a mere rodent, he is elephant-size when it comes to making us think.
Cast of characters
• Freddy the Flea — a charismatic little buddy of Amos, whom Amos rescued one day as Freddy lay in a collapsed heap by the garbage can