June 10th, 2018


Ave et Vale

Every year, the Annual Conference votes to discontinue several congregations which have reached a stage where they cannot continue. Not enough people, not enough money, not enough of a future . . . It happens. It's part of life. No institution, however beloved, lasts for ever. One of those churches which we discontinued this year, however, I would like to mention one more time, with gratitude: Bethesda UMC, West Terre Haute, Indiana.

I went off to earn a PhD in the summer of 1986 at Indiana State University. I had been put through a terrible wringer from ten years of pastoral ministry, especially the last two. My family was hurting. My wife was seriously ill and greatly damaged from all we had been through. I was angry; indeed, if I had not had a wife and two children to keep sane for, you could have locked me up in a rubber room at that point. Going off to do another degree was my hiding place. In moving my family to a shabby little house on the Avenues in Terre Haute, I was calling time out. I promised them we wouldn't move again until we were all healthy and ready.

It took nearly five years to do a three year degree. And by the time I was finished and looking for a job in academia, I wasn't so volcanically angry any more, but I was still bruised and wary. I didn't want to be a pastor any more, didn't trust the powers that be in the Conference. Still, I needed a job for a few months while I continued to look for a permanent position. I talked to the DS, who said they had a little two-point charge in West Terre Haute whose pastor had become too ill to continue. He would be glad to appoint me there as supply for six months. And so I went to pastor Bethesda and West Terre Haute First UMCs.

It healed my heart. God confirmed my call. I decided I could, indeed, trust in him (if not the bishop) and step back onto the pastoral merry-go-round. And I came back to the Conference a different person. More at peace with myself and everybody else. Wiser. More patient.

Both churches had good folks in them, but those at Bethesda were particularly loving and good to work with. Small as they were, they were a real outpost of the kingdom of God. I was proud to be their pastor and sorry to leave them. Ever since, I have testified that they gave me more than I gave them, for they gave me back my ministry.

Small churches are not failed churches. God does mighty things through them. A share of everything I have accomplished in ministry since 1991 goes to Bethesda UMC. Memory Eternal! I will meet you all at the foot of the throne. Save a place for me there.