Twenty three years ago I was appointed to service Fishburn United Methodist Church in Hershey. With a beautiful wife, a 7 year old daughter, 5 year old son, 2 year old chocolate Labrador retriever named Cocoa, and a passionate heart to turn the church around from survival mode to being a thriving congregation, I made a phone call to the legendary pastor who had served that church for 26 years. His name was Reverend Elmer Horst. If I was going to help Fishburn United Methodist Church grow, I needed his endorsement. But before I tell you what Reverend Horst said to me, let me give you a little history.
After Reverend Horst retired, the succeeding pastor who served six years after him could do nothing right. Perhaps this was partially because of his own actions and personality, perhaps this was because the church became complacent over the many years and resisted change, or perhaps because of both. Whatever the case, regardless of the good intentions of the succeeding pastor, the enthusiasm diminished, the attendance dropped, and ministry was minimized to just a weekly Sunday worship and a small Sunday school class. What was once a thriving church of 275 active people with lots of young families with various ministries throughout the week, now became a church of only about 100 people in worship and about 45 people who were either homebound or living in retirement homes. The large church building was in dire need of repairs, the finances could not pay all the bills, and many members were cynical. Honestly, it was really sad. I knew that unless I sought God, there was little chance that I was going to make a difference.
Since everyone loved Reverend Horst, I thought I would associate myself as the new Reverend Horst. I would take on his reputation and image. As Rev Horst and his wife started at Fishburn as a young family, I had a young family. As he and his wife had two young children, Tami and I had two young children. As he came from an Evangelical United Brethren background, I came from the same. As he had a strong PA Dutch accent and spoke broken English, I had this too. As he was very biblically based in his sermons, I was the same. You get where I am going with this. I was to be the new Rev. Horst junior. I had it in my mind to tell everyone that we are going back to the glory days. In my mind, the way forward was for us to look at what God had done in the past and to put these things into practice. Sounds good. Right?
Now that you have some history, let us go back to the phone call. When I called the Reverend Horst and told him that I was the newly appointed pastor of Fishburn UMC, and that I knew about some of the great things that he had accomplished and about how I acknowledged him as being legendary, he remained mostly silent. But, when I told him that he left big shoes for me to fill, Rev. Horst immediately corrected me. He said, “Young man; Do not walk in my shoes! Make your own footprints!” This hit me like a ton of bricks. Accepting his wisdom as if it came from God Himself, I made my own footprints. When I left Fishburn United Methodist Church 12 years later, the ministry, the finances, the attendance, and the membership had grown. Plus there was a complete renovation of the entire building with a half a million dollar makeover of the sanctuary. Young families, children and youth outnumber the people in the nursing homes. A new child care center was started with almost 100 children with two full time directors and 24 staff people. My family and I had our own glory days without walking in Rev. Elmer Horst’s shoes. I will always be indebted to the people of Fishburn who accepted me even though I was not Rev. Horst and I will always be indebted to Rev Horst who told me to make my own footprints.
I share this with you not to boast about what I have done but rather about the wisdom that was given to me and those people who lived it. On July 1, 2018 Pastor Suzanne Rider and the Children’s Director, Amber Nestler, are the new persons serving our congregation. They will not be walking in the same shoes as Pastor David and Emily but instead, will be making their own footprints. No one loves Pastor David and his wife more than I do yet I refuse to expect the new staff members to be compared to them. This is not wise nor is it of God. Halifax United Methodist Church is in a new chapter. Giving these two new staff persons the same support that we have given in the past will promise us some adventures and growing years of ministry. God has a big vision for us that is greater than we could ever expect and He is putting things in order to get us ready. Transition is but for the moment but the best is yet to come.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
--Pastor Dale Parker