Religiously Speaking
Frances Stebbins

Two years ago Salem got three new United Methodist pastors; unfamiliar faces appeared at First, Central and Calvary congregations in the annual rotation of clergy that occurs each June following the Annual Conference.

Bass Mitchell was among these newcomers at one of the area’s oldest organized congregations, first in downtown Salem. In a welcoming interview, Mitchell told me he was a writer by avocation. In the succeeding months, Mitchell entertained readers of this newspaper with reminiscences often illustrating valuable human lessons.

Mitchell will be succeeded by Alan Combs who is coming from Front Royal ‘s Wesley United Methodist Church.

Though Salem’s United Methodist pastors often stay five or more years, Mitchell has moved on to New Market in the northern Shenandoah Valley. “We have to send pastors where they’re most needed,” a staff member at the Roanoke District office told me.

In the intervening two years, Bryan Buckles of Central Church has become deeply involved in Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries (SAEM) and in the small group of the city’s clergy who enjoy working together; he’s promoting the sponsorship of a refugee family in cooperation with Commonwealth Catholic Charities which has had a well-organized program of resettlement in place for nearly 100 years.

Next week new pastors also will be moving in several other parsonages around the Roanoke District which includes the Blacksburg and Christiansburg communities, though not Radford, because the Virginia Conference boundary stops at the New River with the parishes in the true Southwest Virginia counties being administratively tied to Knoxville, Tenn.

Blacksburg United Methodist, one of the more active in the district, will receive Ralph Rowley coming from Virginia Beach as the senior pastor with Jennifer Fletcher the associate; she has been on the West Brunswick Charge in Southside Virginia. Blacksburg’s former pastor, Joe Carson, will go from mountains to water at Christ Church on the Eastern Shore. His associate, Christina McLain, will be at Short Pump near Richmond.

Over at Northview Church at Hollins Douglas Sasser, who has been on the Franklin Charge, moves up to succeed Joe Klotz who is retiring. At St. Mark’s, an active parish in the Daleville area of Botetourt, Rob Lough is going to the Ebenezer congregation in Stafford County near Fredericksburg.

New at St. Mark’s will be Justin White who is coming from the Pleasant Valley church in the Arlington District.

With the many small congregations, some grouped together, United Methodist pastors often serve one or more part time in retirement. One of these is Marianne Bird who has been at the Three Oaks Fellowship near Smith Mountain Lake for two years after retirement several years ago. Now, Bird is trying to retire again with her successor at Three Oaks being Clyde DeLoach.

There will be a new associate at Thrasher Memorial Church in Vinton where Jesse Moffitt will succeed Jaeyoung Song who is going to the Red Valley Church in Franklin County. He was ordained at the Annual Conference with a group from Thrasher Memorial attending.

Kathleen Overby Webster enters her fifth year as superintendent of the Roanoke District. She represents the administrative link between local congregations and Virginia Bishop Sharma Lewis in Richmond, who was elected last year.

Much has changed among the United Methodists over the past half century with the time of the annual meetings being changed from taking most of a week to covering a busy weekend now. Once any announcement of a possible change in a pastoral assignment was embargoed until it was announced at the end of the big meeting; we news people were told that last-minute changes could make the notice embarrassing.

Today, probable changes can be announced to the membership three months before going into effect and the chosen new pastor even introduced as was done at the Daleville church this year. And not everyone lives in a church-owned parsonage any more. Ministers can buy their own houses when more convenient.

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