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Where Have All the Good Pastors Gone

Where Have All the Good Pastors Gone?

    To answer the lead question: they are alive and well in Central Connecticut. 

    Bob MacDonald, the pastor of Prospect UMC, Bristol CT, hosts a monthly gathering of retired Methodist clergy at his home.  Bob and his wife supply the breakfast.  The clergy supply the gossip.  For an hour or so, the retired preachers, like old soldiers everywhere, swap war stories.  About bishops we have known.  About colleagues in the church triumphant and the church militant.  About the perennial curiosity about appointments, who is going where... and why.  About politics and religion, how they do mix.  About bodily ailments, of which there are many and varied around the table. And about medical coverage for the assortment of our ills. 

    No one seems to question why Bob should suffer a monthly confrontation with his future in the presence of a bunch of broken-down preachers.  If the question has been raised, it was answered long before my late arrival to this congenial gathering.  But I perceive the MacDonald's kindness as what the Roman Catholics used to name "work of supererogation," what a rabbi might name a "mitzvah."  Whatever the source of Bob and Lori's graciousness, the response to it is clearly enthusiastic.  Of those retired Methodist clergy in the region, only one is among the missing.

    Except on this Thursday: Don Rackliffe, present at the previous two breakfasts, did not make the most recent one.  His absence was probably due, friends speculated, to his "not being a morning person."  Don, once the pastor of the New Britain church, lives in Bristol, a rifle shot's distance from the MacDonald's.  He attends Prospect Church and sings in the choir.

    Bob Rhodes was also among the missing.  He lives in Wolcott with his wife, Nancy.  During my second year at seminary, Bob roomed across the hall.  I awakened many mornings to him singing in front of his bureau mirror: "Good morning to you, good morning to you!  We're all in our places with bright shiny faces.  Good morning to you!"  So I assume that his absence was not due to nocturnal habits.  Bob, whose speech still betrays his North Carolinian origin, served churches on Long Island mostly.

    Dick Thornburg, former District Superintendent, once a candidate for the episcopacy, my ally in the Trustees versus the Bob Preusch legal entanglements in the 1970's, sat, appropriately, in the captain's chair at the head of the table.  He would explain, however, that he needs the extra room to accommodate a cane and his relatively immobile feet (idiopathic neuropathy).  He has lived in Bloomfield for the past ten years or so, but this September he and Joyce will be moving to Peabody MA to a senior residence where Dick's twin brother is already ensconced.

    Alden Barnes, whom I had not met prior to these breakfast meetings, continues in retirement to serve as an associate pastor at First UMC, Meriden.   Judging from the record of appointments published biennially in the New York Annual Conference Journal, Alden came to the pastoral ministry as a second career, being ordained in 1985 and retiring in June 2001.  No wonder he has some energy left to brave the whirlwind of the pastorate!

    Ralph Roy, a Vermonter (Swanton), a writer, who was at Union Theological Seminary before and after me, continues to write... for, among several outlets for his talent, the Meriden Record-Journal.  You may find an article by him by clicking on the following hyperlink:  Ralph served several churches in New York City, each of them among the urban poor.  He moved to Connecticut in 1970 and served two different suburban churches in nine years before finding his metier in Meriden, among blue-collar Methodists.  He now lives in Southington.

    Al Scholten, 1994 retiree, living in an apartment complex in Middletown, served for thirty years as the pastor of First UMC, Middletown CT, just a few blocks down from Wesleyan University.  Al, ever taciturn, greets the gossip at the breakfast table with a bemused smile; and, when asked for his comments, he is likely to say, "I don't understand what you're talking about."  Which, of course, isn't true.

    Bill Barnes, a native of Bristol now living in semi-retirement in Avon, continues to pastor the Lakeville UM Church.  And he also continues to serve the Annual Conference as chairperson of its Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, an expertise which leads to regular inquiry by aging and ailing retirees.  Bill divided his working years between the pastorate and the family newspaper, the Bristol Press.  His last tour before semi-retirement was as the pastor of his home church, Prospect UMC in Bristol, where his successor was and is Bob MacDonald.

    Bill Carroll, who came to the New York Conference from Pennsylvania in 1958, served churches in Connecticut until his retirement in 1981, sixteen of those years as the pastor of the West Hartford UM Church.  He lives in Cromwell.  This most recent morning breakfast he was asked why he wore one of those plastic bracelets used in hospitals.  He explained matter-of-factly that it was a DNR alert to anyone who might try to rescue him should he fall along the way.  Bill may be the most senior of our group, but most of us aren't that far behind.  Still I heard no one comment on his bracelet, "I've got to get one for myself."

    So there you have them, the good pastors who, with the exception of the Barneses, have "been there and done that," once and for all, in the pastorate.  The church is richer by far for their service... and a lot poorer for the completion of their duties.

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