By Susan LeDoux
This year, the congregation at Pearce Memorial Church bids adieu to their Lead Pastor, Wally Fleming. After serving ten years in the 157-year-old church, on the edge of Roberts Wesleyan College, Fleming is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, among other things.
“I’m going to have, for the first time in 38 years, evenings and weekends relatively free. I don’t know how I’m going to handle that! I’m going to do things like go to the grocery store with my wife – normal things!” he said to The Good News and added, “It’s been a rich week for me. I feel on the verge of tears all the time, because of God’s goodness, not sorrow.”
Fleming said he is learning what his retirement mentor, Wayne McGowan, founding dean of Roberts Wesleyan College, meant when he warned that retirement is dynamic and active. Fleming already accepted a part-time position as Director of the College Chapel; certainly a good fit since he has taught at the college since 1998. Fleming also will be preaching at summer camps, and while he has not accepted a position as “supply” pastor, said he is “open to that if the opportunity seems right and if I could be helpful.”
Fleming shared a bit of wisdom he acquired over the years.
“I always tell those in ministry that we want to take God seriously and ourselves not too seriously at all. Celebrate every moment and look to see what God is doing because God is always doing something.” All of us could benefit from his advice: “I need to find where God’s at work and join in with Him. It gives you a release from the pressure and gives you freedom.”
Having served the second longest pastoral tenure in the church’s history, Fleming said the Free Methodist’s code of ethics dictates a pastor is to stay away for a year when leaving a pastorate. He was pleased when in-coming Pastor Roger Haskins graciously invited him to remain at Pearce as pastor emeritus.
“I feel so good about the transition and Pastor Roger, there’s no need to worry about turf. In my previous church in Edgewood, there was a retired pastor…an older man, and because of some physical limitations, (he) sang in the choir, but could not exit the choir loft. Every Sunday, before I would step into the pulpit, I’d look over at him and wink. He’d wink at me. It felt like Moses telling Joshua, ‘go ahead, do it. I’m supporting you.’ I hope my presence here can be that kind of blessing.”
As Fleming adds moral support, Pastor Haskins brings years of experience to his role as Lead Pastor. When offered the position, he said it was unexpected. He told how he had led a church in Fairport where he and his wife were very happy. When he received the call to become Lead Pastor at Pearce, he said he felt God was calling them to go. He said that he “was presented with an unexpected and undeserved privilege to pastor this church with such a rich heritage.”
“God’s voice was clear. I enter with a spirit of expectancy, waiting to see what God will do.”
Fleming and Haskins shared insights as they responded to questions from The Good News.
The Good News: The church in America is going through change, and is often under attack. What do you see as its greatest challenge, and what challenges face Pearce?
Fleming: “The church in America is going through lots of change in being effective in learning how to proclaim the Gospel in a post-Christian culture. Some of the change is learning to adapt to speaking to this generation…That affects all kinds of things, from programming, what things you do at church, how worship is structured, and even preaching. I’ve learned to do better narrative preaching so I’m telling God’s story to an emerging generation that is not as familiar with it as past generations.”
Haskins: “The church is under attack, and so is the family. We must learn to take the timeless message (of the Gospel) and make it relevant to families. Church is caught in the busyness trap. We must keep it simple: love God and our neighbor.”
The Good News: What changes do you see in Pearce’s future?
Fleming: “Pearce is a heavily institutional church, and that brings a lot of blessings and whole set of challenges. Back in the ‘50’s, the heyday of institutional churches, when much was vested in facilities and staff, programming was surging. Now we need to manage resources more carefully, especially in a church like Pearce.”
Haskins: “The challenge for Pearce is to rediscover what it is to look, live, and love like Jesus.” In concrete terms, Haskins sees three pillars:
- Community relationships in the church (such as small groups) and the broader relationship with others in the community.
- Service – How can we give back?
The Good News: How do you see Pearce’s relationship with Roberts Wesleyan going forward?
Fleming: “Pearce’s history has been entwined with Roberts Wesleyan since the college’s founding a few years after the church. Now we continue to try to partner in ministry with the college that is going through significant changes in its own way.”
Haskins: “This excites me a great deal. It is an opportunity to share in the future of the college and seminary as it prepares pastors and church leaders.”
As he steps down, Pastor Fleming shared a few thoughts.
“(We must) continue to remember the local church is God’s instrument for recreating this world and bringing the announcement of the Good News. I sometimes think we’re in an age where we’re increasingly cynical as a culture, and somewhat ‘anti-affiliation.’ I want to encourage people to continue to love the local church, part of the Bride of Christ. Pray for your pastor, encourage your pastor, at every opportunity. Remind your pastor you are praying for him or her.”