Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
June 9, 2002
I remember well the summer day my dad left me working in our garden while he went to town. My cousin Mickey O’Brien was with me. We were working hard to earn a little money.
As soon as dad was out of sight, Mickey and I took off for the creek. We chased the snakes away and went swimming in our birthday suits. We were having fun to beat the band when I heard my dad’s booming voice calling “Walter Junior!” Dad had slipped up on me while I was having fun. (The painful ending of this story you can imagine.)
Like my dad, retirement slipped up on me while I was having fun. Having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, I had no choice but to retire at our annual conference in Montgomery this past week. With my sweet wife by my side, I took my place on the platform with ten other pastors who entered the retired relationship.
So today is my last Sunday to serve as one of the pastors of Trinity United Methodist Church in Opelika. I will be preaching in each of our three morning worship services and saying farewell to the most wonderful church family I have ever known.
Sunday afternoon they are honoring my wife, Dean, and me with a reception from 3 to 5. Then it will be finished – the Opelika chapter in our lives, 13 precious years of serving God alongside some of the finest folks I know anywhere.
The Trinity people have loved me and supported me far beyond my desiring. At times I have been wrong. At other times I have been foolish. But through thick and thin, the good folks at Trinity have honored me with their faithfulness. I truly believe that these dear people entered into a conspiracy years ago and decided that they would not allow their pastor to fail.
Church people can do that, you know. Sure, they can sometimes be ornery and mean. But when they want to, they can pull together, pray together, and work together in such a wonderful way that their pastor simply cannot fail. There are fewer privileges greater than that of serving as pastor of such a church. And that has been my privilege since June of 1989.
Our bishop has appointed my successor, so next Sunday the Rev. Michael G. Roberts will take my place in the pulpit. He and his wife Jo Ann are dear friends and I believe God is sending them to Trinity to begin the greatest chapter in their ministry.
Mike comes here from a successful, seven-year pastorate in Mary Esther, Florida. He has 30 years of experience preaching and his people have loved him in all his churches. Mike’s dad, Malcolm Roberts, is a retired United Methodist pastor now living with his wife in Mobile. I am thrilled to have such a capable, godly man following me at Trinity.
There is a saying that goes like this: “God buries his workmen but His work goes on.” That is true. None of us is indispensable. We serve at God’s please, then we move on and others take our place. In my case, I hope that the burial will come much later, but right now I must step aside and allow another to take my place.
This is how it should be. From day one I have known that Trinity was not “my church.” It is God’s church, and he has allowed me the high privilege of serving him for more than a decade.
In Lee County I have many friends who are retired from active work. These friends have set a wonderful example for me. I have watched them move graciously from their work into retirement and still find significant work to do for the Lord. My wife and I hope to do the same, as long as the Lord gives us breath.
While I have not wanted to retire from the active ministry, I will do so with deep gratitude for all the years the Lord has so graciously given me. God knows best. He is in this. He has a plan for each one of us, a plan that usually unfolds gradually as we live in obedience.
The Trinity chapter has been a marvelous one in our lives – the best one really – so far. But who knows? God may make the next one even better! For more than a year I have been praying the prayer of Jabez, asking especially that the Lord enlarge my opportunity for ministry.
I believe that in my retirement God is going to answer that prayer – perhaps in ways I cannot even imagine. So, with God’s help, we will move forward in this glad confidence.
For all that has been, we say THANKS!
For all that will be, we say YES!