Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

December 21, 2003


Early Christmas gift provides escape from retirement


            Santa came early for me this Christmas. Come January 1, I have a job. Eighteen months after departing from Trinity Methodist in Opelika, I am leaving the ranks of the retired. Glory!

            I welcome the opportunity to escape. My wife is thrilled that I will be out of the house three days a week. Since my employment will be part-time, I will have three days left for her “Honey Do” list. I will be busy on the first day of the week, of course, but I find it difficult to call Sunday a workday. Even for pastors, it is a day of worship.

            At first, I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my days as a traveling evangelist, but rather quickly, I became weary of preaching three days in a different church every week. While I enjoy preaching, I recognized a great need, in myself, to belong to a dynamic fellowship of believers where I can grow, serve, and be held accountable.

            My wife and I believe that Saint James United Methodist Church in Montgomery

will meet that need.  We will worship and serve there as I join the staff as Pastor of Congregational Care. Like most pastors, I realize that no matter what title one has, the job boils down to “whatever is needed.”

            My boss will be Dr. Lester Spencer, the son of the pastor I followed when I became senior pastor of Trinity in Opelika in 1989. Lester’s father died in 1988 while serving Trinity. He and his wife Claire were lifelong friends. Claire now lives in Fairhope, Alabama, the wife of retired preacher Bob Dickerson. Bob and Claire remain dear friends.

            Will I find it difficult to serve under a man who is many years my junior? Not at all. I will simply try to have the attitude of Earl Ballard and Jimmy Allen who served with me at Trinity. They supported me to the fullest, overlooked my shortcomings, and helped me pick up the pieces when we failed. Like Aaron and Hur, I will lift up Lester’s arms when he is weary, so that he can fulfill the mission God has given him. If I can help him, and his staff, succeed, then I will be successful.

            Earl and Jimmy were Aaron and Hur to me for many years. Not that I was a modern Moses. That I have not been. However, nobody can continue long and effectively in the service of God unless others, sharing the vision, come alongside to offer strength, encouragement, and hope.

            Saint James is an exciting, growing church, east of Montgomery on Vaughn Road. The congregation voted to relocate from its Perry Street location in 1995. Since then, it has grown steadily and now has beautiful facilities on a 45-acre campus.

            The church has a strong and dedicated staff. An associate pastor, fresh out of seminary, came on board last June. Steven Gregg has many gifts and much to offer.

            Children are a priority at Saint James. It seems dangerous to walk down the halls because boys and girls are everywhere. I love a church that ministers to parents of young children and teenagers. Any church that wants to grow should issue this invitation to parents in the community: “Let us help you raise your children.” Lord knows, families in this society need help!

            What else do I like about the church? Let me explain this way. When my wife and I moved to Elmore County in June of 2002, she said to me, “I don’t care what church we attend; I just want to be in a church where the Spirit is moving.”

            When our oldest son, Matt, was appointed to serve the Trinity Church in Weoka, north of Wetumpka, we felt the Lord leading us there. What an awesome privilege it was to have our son as our pastor! There we made fast friends, especially among folks our own age. Our Sunday School Class was like a family to us. We were loved, and we loved them. These dear souls will be friends forever. We will not lose touch with them.

            However, months ago Lester began talking to us about joining the staff at Saint James. We prayed about it, but were hesitant about accepting the offer because my knees had not healed. Even so, we felt the Spirit leading us to this church.

            Then, five months and a week after my surgery, I turned a corner with my knees. After much pain, frustration, and even depression, my long wait for recovery was over. I could actually walk on both legs, without pain, for the first time since double-knee replacement in June.

            For three weeks now, I have been filled with gratitude to God for answering the prayers of so many dear friends. I am no longer the “Hematoma Poster Boy” of Elmore County! Over three months of therapy, I was constantly plagued by hematomas on my right knee. When the swelling occurred, as it did once or twice weekly, I could put no weight on my leg.

            The solution was elevating my leg higher than my heart, icing my knee for 15 minutes every two hours, and believing that eventually I would be all right. The “believing” part was more difficult than the rest.

            During those days I kept trying to discover what God was teaching me. The lessons were obvious. Most of all, he was teaching me patience. In addition, I heard him saying to me, “Son, I do not want you to ever again fail to notice and have compassion on your brothers and sisters who have physical handicaps.”

            Believe me, my eyes have been opened, and my heart as well, as I have observed how many people endure physical handicaps daily. Some will never be able to walk on both legs, as I am now able to do. Those persons must never be without my compassion as long as I live. I remembered the story in Acts of the lame man, and how Peter and John “saw” him when they passed by. They first had to see him before they could minister to his need.

            On a Sunday night in November, Lester invited us to attend a Celebration, an evening worship service at Saint James. He said that night he hoped to baptize 40 people. That enticed us. We had never before seen 40 people baptized in a single service.

            That night the Praise Band led more than 500 people in stirring worship. The Praise Band ministers in two of three morning worship services. Lester opened the service by explaining that he knew of 39 people who wanted to be baptized, but hoping for 40, he said, “If the Lord leads you to come forward as that fortieth person, be sure to come.”

            He began by baptizing about 25 people by sprinkling, the mode most familiar to Methodists. However, since a candidate for baptism in a Methodist Church may choose immersion as the mode, he was prepared for that as well. Down front he had installed a small swimming pool, the kind that can sit above the ground.

            The worship service lasted two and a half hours. By the time it had ended, Lester had baptized 81 people! Some were older than I was. Others were middle-aged, young couples, and parents who were baptized along with their children.

            As we were driving home, only ten miles away, my wife said, “Honey, I believe we have found the church where the Spirit is moving!” I agreed.

            Come January, that is where we will be, trusting that the Spirit will continue moving in a wonderful church that has graciously offered to bring this old preacher out of retirement. Glory! + + + +