After 10 years as Senior Minister at First Christian, Gary Walling has signaled his intention to begin his retirement on March 1, 2022.
The Shepherd, the Farmer, and the Apple Butter Maker
The shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker. This could be a great opening line for a sermon, right? Maybe someone should tell Gary. By the way, you know these three. And, hopefully you will agree that, together, they share a great story…
The shepherd has cared for numerous flocks across the country over the course of his 40+ years in the shepherding business. And, during these last 10 years, he has been the faithful shepherd of a flock he found in Wilson—providing spiritual guidance, abiding love, and comforting counsel.
With a commanding presence for a shepherd, he’s quite gentle in nature. His caring heart guides his words of spiritual influence, and his calm demeanor is welcomed when he reaches out his hand to those in pain or grief. He speaks softly into the ears of his lambs, especially those newborn for whom he prays, as he cradles them in his arms and casually walks down the center aisle of the church to introduce them to their new church family.
Known for his monthly “Wanderings,” this wind-weathered shepherd will be forever young in spirit. He has a penchant for tunes by Jackson Browne, but like Jimmy Buffet, he seems to have “a school boy heart and a novelist eye.” He’s extremely well read, from the masters of great literature to the books of thoughtful philosophers and faithful theologians. Each Sunday, he shares deep thoughts for parishioners’ contemplation, as he combines the sacred Word with engaging questions for our consideration.
Never a loner, this shepherd often reaches out into the community to serve in a variety of roles, including but not limited to emceeing “Seeds of Hope’s “Family Feud” fundraiser and overseeing Hope Station’s annual Halloween Golf Tournament. And, following a season of community-led Lenten services, he’s often found helping to carry the cross with fellow Christians on Good Friday.
We know the farmer as a multi-tasker. His work ethic is strong; he’s up early and often home late from weekly meetings. He can always be found among volunteers on selected Saturdays, spreading bales of pine straw, trimming shrubbery, applying a fresh coat of paint where needed, or helping to re-wire a light. He’s been known to jump on a tractor and till the rows for planting come “sprouting” season. And, he’s planted a bounty of crops over the past decade, including hope, gratitude, choices, and even imagination — always harvesting during the “Season of Faith.” Even in the midst of the COVID pandemic, he harnessed his team to glean the fruits of past harvests so that the congregation could celebrate its milestone Sesquicentennial Celebration with joy and thanksgiving.
The apple butter maker always finds ways to nourish others. He knows the right ingredients and spices to blend the perfect batch of ribbon-worthy apple butter. So too, he recognizes what his FCC family needs. Whether through food, or fellowship, or comforting conversation and prayer, he’s always reaching out. He’s quick to suggest “tossing some hotdogs on the grill” to feed the crowd bringing donations for Hope Station. He keeps spirits high with his tongue-in-cheek sarcasm while supporting the Boston butt grill-masters, and he never misses an opportunity to praise the bakers that donate their famous coconut and chocolate cakes and sweet potato, pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies. He loves to fill the fellowship hall with his FCC family and tables laden with bountiful spreads. And, at Christmas, he joins his flock to serve lunch and offer fellowship to those from the surrounding community whose spirits are in need of warmth and kindness. However, this apple butter maker serves best when he presides over The Table where everyone has a place. He never tires of reminding us that the Lord has prepared a meal for all who are hungry and all who thirst.
You know the shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker. They are in our midst as a man of God - perhaps even better known as the Reverend Gary Walling, Pastor Gary, or just “Gary.” He is all three, faithfully serving our congregation for the past decade.
This month, we celebrate the Reverend Gary Walling’s multi-talented ministry, and we thank him for his many gifts and graces shared with us for these many years. You will not want to miss this last month of Sunday services led by Reverend Walling. No doubt, the shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker will make us feel welcomed, nourished, and loved.
These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.