On Sunday, December 2, 1973, a little rural church in the Missouri Ozarks, deep in what is now known as the Mark Twain National Forest, called a very green kid who was still 27 days shy of his 20th birthday, to be their fulltime pastor. The church was Grassy Hollow Baptist Church. That boy pastor was me.
A lifetime of vocational ministry that thus began 44 years ago drew to a close last month on Sunday, December 17, when I preached at Gospel Community Church Rivermont for the last time. As of that day I officially retired.
Forty-four years ago I could cradle my entire theological library in one arm. Today I have some 40 bankers boxes filled with books—and that after culling my collection by at least 20%. But I collected a lot more than books over those 44 years. My ministry has taken me from Missouri to Texas, back to Missouri, California, back to Missouri, Chicago, Wisconsin, Virginia, and in a short time, once again back to Missouri. In addition, my many mission trips have taken me to the Amazon Basin of Brazil, Russia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kuwait, Thailand, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom. Along the way I’ve gotten to know and love some amazing people. Joyce and I have collected some wonderful memories.
The setting for the next chapter of our story will be close to where it all began, back in Washington County, Missouri, just a few miles east of the little village of Caledonia, a quaint little tourist town about 80 miles south of St. Louis. There my brother, Lindell, will be building our new home on a ridgetop clearing in the woods near the farm where our family lived when I was in high school. Here I hope to do some serious writing, both fiction and non-fiction. When I’m not writing I intend to slowly transform those 7½ acres of Ozark woodland into our own private garden. And I expect I’ll still be doing a lot of preaching in the dozens of little country churches within an hour’s drive of our new home.
Construction of that new house is set to begin in a few weeks. But it will be a big job. The access road must be improved, power has to be run to the site, a well drilled, a basement dug… the list goes on and on. Till then we will be at the mercy of family members for room and board. Our well-ordered world will be in chaos for the next several months.
I’ve come a long way from that terrified 15-year-old boy who preached his very first sermon on March 9, 1969 at Fellowship Baptist Church in High Ridge, Missouri. Yet in some ways, it seems like only yesterday.
Life has been an adventure. The story is not over.