I’m having a lot of last experiences as the pastor of a church, and I’m finding those moments to be very gratifying. I don’t want to convey the idea that I haven’t gleaned a lot of satisfaction from my work as the preacher, but I’d be lying if I didn’t own up to being pretty giddy about having a new life with less responsibility. I don’t think of myself as an irresponsible person, but I take my responsibilities seriously, and I’m ready to have fewer of them. I’ve been on duty for 31.5 years, and I’m looking forward to not being the person in charge of an important institution.

Maybe my problem is that I never quite mastered the perfect balance between feeling responsible for the wellbeing of a church and trusting that God’s truth will prevail either through me or in spite of me. I like to think I’ve operated with a sense of trust in God, but I never really wanted to be the obstacle God had to find a way to work around, so I’ve always felt the full weight of a sacred responsibility.

I believe we have different work to do at different times of our lives, and as surely as I felt called into the work of professional ministry I’m currently feeling called out of it. It’s a subtle voice that we hear from God, but I believe God finds ways to guide our hearts and minds. God’s direction isn’t always as clear as we would like for it to be, and I’ve certainly experienced extended periods of time in the fog, but we also have moments of clarity and this is such a period for me.

I’m happy that you will be receiving a pastor who is at the relative beginning of his work in ministry. In fact, Jeremy has recently had his calling for ministry confirmed by the Arkansas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, and he will be ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church at Annual Conference in Hot Springs this year. The service will be on Tuesday evening, June 19, if any of you are able to attend. This is a special time in his life, and I’m glad you will be the church that he first serves with this significant affirmation.

I feel blessed to have been your pastor. I couldn’t have asked for a more gracious church to have served for the past 3 years, and I will enter retirement with great fondness for Newport and this community of faith. I cherish all of the ways you have shown appreciation for my work. I feel that my time here has been well spent, and while it may seem that I’m leaving prematurely I assure you that the time is right. I’m leaving the role of professional ministry, but I’m not abandoning the call to serve God and my neighbor, and I look forward to seeing the form that this will take. I also trust that new things are in store for this church, and I will be paying attention to the ways in which you continue this work to which we have all been called. I genuinely wish you well, and I look forward to seeing you every now and then. This is my final newsletter article, but it’s not my final breath.

God bless you and keep you!





Eulogy for Jodie Dugan

December 17, 2017

Reflection on Jodie

I guess I knew Jodie Dugan as long as I’ve known anyone. Joe and Jodie probably came to see me in the hospital when I was born, and I guess I became aware of Jodie as soon as I became aware of anyone beyond my immediate family. We all lived on Forest Avenue a few blocks away from each other, and I spent a lot of time at the Dugan’s house. I didn’t really think of Jodie as my second mother. My mother sort of worked overtime at that job, so I didn’t really need another mother. Jodie was more of an older playmate. And it was great because she could drive.

Jodie would take us places and do things that other adults weren’t so willing to go. I guess the best example of this was the time Bill and I convinced her to let us try to dribble basketballs out of the car windows as she drove down the street. We told her it was something we had seen the Harlem Globetrotters do – which was sort of true. We had seen them do it on their cartoon show, and it seemed like something we ought to be able to do. Of course it wasn’t something we could do at all. The undertaking involved a lot of stopping to retrieve errant basketballs. I think she was a little exasperated when we owned up to seeing this feat done on their cartoon show and not in real life, but she sort of enjoyed the comedy of the situation.

Jodie always had a good eye for comedy. I remember her enjoying some of the same shows we liked to watch when we were kids. Jodie could enjoy an episode of The Little Rascals as much as we did, and she was right with us in our appreciation of all the ridiculous television characters of the day: Barney, Eb, Jethro Bodine, and Gilligan. I even think she got the humor of Mad Magazine.

And Jodie never discouraged Bill and I from engaging in our favorite ridiculous childhood pastime – playing with The Britches. It’s hard to remember the scale of things from childhood, but Bill and I had acquired what seemed like giant pants that Joe had cast aside. I don’t know how large those pants really were, but they were big enough for Bill to get in one leg and me to get in the other, and we would try to move through the house in that way. Jodie didn’t discourage that kind of behavior – she enabled it.

It seems like when you’re a kid you generally try to avoid the attention of adults – they’re usually trying to get you to stop doing something you are wanting to do or to do something you don’t want to do, but it wasn’t like that with Jodie. She seemed to appreciate whatever it was we were doing – even if it involved globs of clown paint that no doubt left lots of fingerprints on walls.

Although Jodie had her limits. The only time I ever experienced her wrath was when Bill and I started taking apart a surrey they had recently acquired. The Dugans were the only people I’ve ever known to have had a surrey. I don’t know where it came from, but it was this little four-wheeled cart with a cloth top that you somehow pedaled. I don’t know why Bill and I thought it would be a good idea to take it apart, but that’s what we were attempting to do, and I can tell you, she didn’t think that was very funny. Dismantling something that was fun was a bridge too far for her.

Jodie didn’t just appreciate television comedy, Jodie had an eye for the comedy of everyday life. I had forgotten this, but in a relatively recent conversation with her she reminded me of an incident that had taken place on one of our multi-family trips to Fayetteville for a football weekend. We were actually staying out from Fayetteville at a place called the Coppermine Lodge on Beaver Lake.

I can’t remember all of the things she said went wrong that weekend, but somehow Jodie had been tagged to drive up there with the kids. Bill and Ann and Martha Jane and I were in the car with Jodie, and by the time we got to McCrory we had convinced her that we needed to stop for food. Those were the days when there was a juke box in every dairy bar, and of course we convinced her we needed some coins for the juke box. I don’t know if we picked this song on purpose or by accident, but somehow we started hearing this country song called Girl Gone Wrong. And because of the reaction we got from Jodie from the lyrics and the sound of that song we played it over and over. She remembered a number of ill-fated events of that weekend, and it was all foreshadowed by that horrible song.

I may not be remembering these stories so clearly, but she did. Jodie remembered great details of days gone by, and she cherished them deeply.

I know Jodie had her struggles. I honestly don’t know the extent of her physical and psychological ailments, but I know she had them and that she suffered terribly. I guess I was only around Jodie when she seemed to be feeling ok and ready for a laugh. I knew her to be someone who was quick to laugh and ready for something fun to happen. I knew Jodie as a fishing buddy, and as the mother who was willing to take us to the Mid-South Fair (where apparently I was known to borrow several dollars from her by using the excuse that I didn’t want to break my $5 bill – which is something she enjoyed reminding me of). Jodie was the one who would take us to buy mod clothing down on Highland Ave in Memphis and then to eat at Friday’s on Overton Square.

Jodie contributed mightily to the pleasure of childhood for me, and I’m grateful to her for that. The way our families were woven together is a very special thing to me, and it’s an honor to share a few of my thoughts and memories of a person who brought great joy and love in to my life. Jodie was one of the people who caused me to think this world is a beautiful and wondrous place, and I continue to cling to that fragile thought. This world has lost a dear soul, but it’s a brighter place because she was here.


December Newsletter Article

December 2, 2017

Here’s The Thing

I’m about to share the most personally significant piece of news I’ve ever provided for a newsletter article. This is the time of the year churches and pastors are to inform the Bishop of their wishes for the  next appointment year, and I’ve made a large decision. I’ve decided to retire. I’m guessing this may come as a surprise to many of you, and I’m sorry to initiate change when things seem to be going well, but I’ve got to follow the instruction of my heart.

Now the truth is that I’ve had a great sense of satisfaction with my work here, and your hospitality has been exceptional. From the very beginning of my time here I’ve been telling my friends and peers that this is the most well-functioning church I’ve ever served. I have no complaint about what you’ve expected me to do, and I feel very well appreciated, but I’ve simply run out of gas. It isn’t the three years I’ve spent here that has left me feeling weary of the work – it’s the three decades that have caught up with me. I know there are preachers who find ways to remain vital and vibrant for more than 31 years, but I’m not one of those. I’m ready for a change, and I’m grateful that retirement is an option for me.

Many of you know that our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter will be moving back to Little Rock next summer, and we’re excited about being able to live close to them, but that’s more of a happy coincidence than the primary factor in my decision. I’m retiring because I’ve lost a degree of passion for the work that this job requires a person to have. It’s not that I’ve lost my love for Jesus, for you, or for the success of the UMC, but passion can be defined as creative energy, and that’s what’s running short within me. Leading worship and guiding the program of a church requires a level of focus, desire, and energy that I simply no longer possess. Preaching isn’t much like being a linebacker in the NFL, but in both cases you need to get off the field when you aren’t all in, and frankly speaking, I’m not. There are aspects of this work that I could do forever, but I no longer have the kind of fire in my belly that church leadership in this day and age requires.

So as of June 30, Sharla and I will be moving back to Little Rock where I will embark on life outside of appointed ministry, and a new pastor will be appointed here. I’m not finished yet – I’ve got a good seven months of energy left within me and a significant list of things I hope to accomplish before I pass the baton. At that point I will become your former pastor, but I hope you will keep me on as a friend. I really am sorry for creating the kind of uncertainty that comes with pastoral change, but I’m trusting that this can be a good thing for everyone involved. I hope you can feel this way as well.