Pastor’s Perspective – June 2013
An era has ended for me. I have served in active Christian ministry since 1990. In August of 1990 I was called to serve as the Student Associate Pastor at Memorial Baptist Church on Main Street in Dayton, Ohio. At that time I was a student at United Theological Seminary eager to learn the nuance of theology in the class room. I was less interested in learning about the local Church, but the Seminary required that I serve in one as part of my educational experience. I was willing to do as I was told and dutifully reported for interviews and subsequently received the call from the aforementioned Church.
For two years I served under the Rev. Glenn Barrett, until Glenn retired in 1992. During that time I received the equivalent of a doctorate in pastoral ministry. Glenn was a patient teacher and a wise counselor. Through his tutelage, I grew not only to enjoy pastoral ministry, but to love the local church. When Glenn retired the Church called an interim pastor, the Rev. Sam Davis, who served during my final year as a seminarian. Sam also assisted me in the early years of my ministry, continuing Glenn’s mission to advance my career and to prepare me to step into the role of senior pastor at Memorial Baptist Church. Their work paved the way for me to serve as the Senior Pastor for 14 years, until I received the call to serve First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo.
On May 24 the Rev. Glenn Barrett passed away. The Rev. Sam Davis passed away in January. The past year has not been kind to the elder generation of my previous Church. The Church Secretary, Mary Coyer, who served for over thirty years passed away on April 29. I had served with her for more than a decade, working with her every day in Children’s programs and in the office. We also lost many other long serving members of the congregation, including my wife’s grandmother, Janet Miller, who had served as the first female chair of the Trustees. Also gone in the past years is the long time church organist, Rosalind Moist. They were close and personal friends. Some became a part of my family.
I remember Sam Davis wondering aloud, in a staff meeting no less, when I was going to pull the trigger and ask Betsy to marry me. Glenn Barrett actually stepped back into the pulpit at the Church to officiate our wedding. Rosalind Moist played the organ that day. My father-in-law walked his daughter, my wife, down the aisle. We lost him last summer, another spirit from the past that has graduated from this life to God’s kingdom. And as sure as the sun rises I know that in the months to come I will have others to mourn.
I write these words on Memorial Day 2013. I never had the honor of serving this great nation as a member of the armed forces. I have however served in two separate one hundred year old (plus) American Baptist Churches and I have said goodbye to far too many people.
Few of those who served with me in my early years are still able to pass their wisdom to the younger generations. For that I mourn. The wisdom that they shared with me over the years, however, is not gone. It remains in me and in the many people that they touched through their work and their lives lived in service to God and humanity. For those of us who remain it is important that we continue to pass on their wisdom, their worldview and their passion for Jesus Christ.
In 1990 I was just a 24 year old kid from Western New York trying to find my denominational and vocational identity in Seminary. Thankfully I was directed by God to Glenn Barrett and Memorial Baptist Church. It was there that I fell in love with my American Baptist identity. It was there that I decided to avoid the allure of the ivory tower and become a local church pastor, instead of following my previous dream of becoming an academic. It was there that I met my wife and raised my children.
If you drive by the old Church today, you will find that it bears a new name and a new way of doing ministry. Many of those men and women who are named above had not been through the doors of the Church for many years. Their work had long since ended at that location, but God’s work continues to this very day.
It is amazing to me how the echoes of our work continue in what God develops in the lives of those whom we have touched. Glenn loved the city, and many of those who he mentored and worked with throughout the years are continuing to work with the people of the city of Dayton. They reach out in ways that neither he nor I would have fully understood, but they have taken hold of the vision passed from mentor to mentor and they have fulfilled the vision for their time, in their way.
This is the story of the Church through the generations. It has wrapped full circle for me in the past year and if you live long enough and encounter enough people, some day you will see it also. God is always at work, teaching us new things and preparing us for the work of those who have gone before us. Each year I discover new people who will, in time and with God’s help, become the next great leader of a ministry team or the next great church musician. Each year God opens up new doors that while strange to many of us, will provide for His Church the pathway for God’s Spirit to continue the work begun in previous generations.
God never forgets those dear departed saints, but neither does he ever stop planning. Since those days I have had the chance to share the wisdom of my mentors with others. Some have become Pastors themselves and are serving God in wonderful ways. Some are just now beginning their journey, receiving their training and preparing for God’s call to serve. What a pleasure it is to help others to find their calling, just as my mentors helped me.
What a joy it is to be a part of a long term legacy of faith. That joy remains true whether you are at the beginning of the journey or near the end. Young people please do not ignore the wisdom of the elders of your Church. It is my prayer that you will take the time to drink in the wisdom of the past. Veterans please do not ignore those headstrong students, who need your patient hand and the hopeful voice of experience. Help our young people to grow strong in the faith of Jesus Christ by lovingly sharing your wisdom with others in a way that defends and promotes them to eventually take their place in the work of God’s Church. And for both young and old, always take the time to join together in the community of faith to discover how God might be shaping the Church to discover God’s bold vision for tomorrow.
As I remember the past, it inspires me to look to the future with a new sense of hope. This hope, however, can only be realized when we acknowledge that the responsibility for the Church is now in our hands. It is now our job to lead others to follow Jesus. We must now become the teacher for someone else. Don’t worry; the same Holy Spirit that guided our mentors has our hand also.
Your Middle-Aged (not yet senior) Pastor,
The Rev. Daniel Bellavia