An interview with Rev. Horace and wife Tennie Hilton of Wrightsville Beach, NC for Dr. Jim Coffield, Introduction to Counseling, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, October 2003.
I spent a couple of hours with a retired pastor and his wife this past week. We are on a first name basis, so I will refer to them as Horace and Tennie. Horace mentioned with pride that this year marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of his ordination. It is obvious that they both consider their years in the ministry well-spent in spite of some negative aspects, though they rarely focused their conversation on the negative. Horace retired from pastoral ministry at age sixty-five (he’s now eighty-two), but has continued preaching regularly in various pulpits during the intervening years. However, his health is failing now, so he is less able to get around. His first love is preaching, but he hated administration. He says that he developed clearer boundaries within his ministry in the later years, simply telling church leaders that they would have to find someone else to uphold the administrative end of things. Tennie learned a similar lesson. In the early days, she tried to involve herself in a variety of ministries all at the same time – women’s ministry, singing in the choir, serving in the nursery – but in later years, she realized that her energy was best spent one-on-one with people. She usually attended every service, so she adopted the strategy of sitting near the back so that she could slip out at the end of the service to greet people on the front porch when they came out. She said that that may be the only time she would see them and get to know them. They both noted that “people need a personal touch” from the pastor and his wife. The people need to know that you care about them. Horace made a practice of phone calling people on their birthday to wish them a “Happy Birthday,” and he still calls many people today.
When I asked them about how they recovered from failures such as in their ministry in Knoxville, TN where they said things didn’t go very well,
they told me that Horace was always able to simply let things go, to not let the past bother him, and to move on. Tennie said that it wasn’t quite as easy for her. However, she found that when she began investing herself in other people in the new place, she was able to let go of the past as well. Tennie noted that though there were many issues over which they disagreed with folks through the years, they made a point to maintain their friendship in spite of those disagreements as much as possible.
I took away from that meeting a sense of the importance of the people in ministry. Horace and Tennie have based their ministry on investing in people and feel a sense of satisfaction at the end for having done so.