By AIMEE HALL
After 10 years serving as pastor at the Missouri United Methodist Church, the Rev. Jim Bryan, 65, has made the hard decision to retire.
Bryan has had ties to the church on Ninth Street since he was 12 years old when his father, Monk Bryan, was chosen by the bishop to serve as the pastor there nearly 54 years ago. Jim Bryan left the church to move to Salem to work as a health information specialist in the University of Missouri Extension Service in 1972. He returned to the church nearly 25 years later to serve as pastor.
Bryan’s last service as pastor of the church will be June 20. By July 4, the Rev. Amy Gearhart will take over, and Bryan will have transitioned from pastor to church attender.
I sat down with Bryan to ask him a few questions reflecting over his time as pastor at the church before his retirement.
Looking back over your last 10 years here, what do you think you will miss?
The life of the church. There’s fellowship; there’s mission; there’s celebration; there’s music; there’s the intellectual discovery, biblical bible study, and theological debate. It’s just the enormous spectrum of life activity, which is a great privilege to be a part of. I’ll still be a part of that, just as just a person of the congregation instead of the pastor. I will still worship. I will still hear the music. I will still be associated with friends, etc. It will just be in a different capacity.
Why did you decide to retire?
Two things. One is this takes an enormous amount of time and energy to keep going. I’m ready for a break. The second reason is that I’m 65 years old. So, you know that retirement is going to come. My sense is that this church needs a pastor that is looking forward and striking a vision that’s going to take this church into the next decade or 15 to 20 years down the road, not a pastor that’s looking back at 35 years of ministry and wondering if I’m going to retire this year or next year. I think the church deserves and needs young energy, young vision, younger blood and a vision for the future in leadership.
How do you feel as your last Sunday as pastor is approaching?
I’ve used the word “surreal” a couple of times. It’s just kind of unbelievable. This has been my life, my identity, my profession, and my calling. I’ve done it hook, line and sinker. It’s been my life. It’s been a tremendous privilege. Grief is a part of it, but it’s not a huge part of it. I’m going to cry when I say goodbye to people. Especially when I see them crying. It’s going to be very emotional, ’cause you get close to people. I’ve married some of these people. I’ve baptized their children. I’ve buried their spouses. I’ve been in the emergency rooms with them. I’ve been in Bible studies. Every Monday night for two or three hours, we’re reading, discussing, struggling and learning about the Bible and, I tell you what, you get close to people.
What are you looking forward to in this next season of your life of being a member instead of a pastor?
I’m looking forward to the time that I will have and the time that will be my own instead of the pressure of, “I’ve got a meeting on Monday, I’ve got a Bible study on Tuesday, I’ve got staff meeting on Wednesday, I’ve got sermon preparation on Thursday and Friday, and I’ve got worship on Sunday.” Instead of that, which has been great, I’ve got my own schedule. I love to travel. The first day after retirement, we’re hopping in the car and we’ll be in the mountains and with no understanding that we have to be back by a certain time. I have a lot of reading I want to do. I’ve been reading for teaching and for preaching rather than studying for the content itself. I have just stacks and stacks of books I want to read. And, eventually when we settle in, I will focus on a missions. We’re going to Guatemala, for example, in January of next year. It’s going to take a long time to plan that trip. We’ll do a domestic mission of some kind every year and an international. The two places we are mostly involved with is Guatemala and Mozambique.
What has been your favorite memory as pastor?
One memory? I can’t do that. I’ll tell you, I simply love worship in this place. The sanctuary itself is a thing of absolute beauty and treasure: stained glass, pipe organ, woodcarvings — it’s a wonderful thing. We do traditional worship with the full procession with the acolytes, the crucifer, the lights, the Holy Scripture, the great hymns of the church and wonderful music. So I think the one part of the life of the church that I just routinely enjoy is our worship.
Do you have any unfinished business here that you wish you had more time to take care of?
We’ve built this new building, a $5 million project, and it’s not paid for. We’re doing fine on our payments, but maybe if I were here another two or three years, I could get it paid for. I hate to think of leaving a debt for another pastor to pay off. There’s always things to do.
How will you be helping the church transition to new leadership under Amy Gearhart?
I think the most help I can be is to prepare the congregation to accept and support Amy. I think I need to repair the hearts and minds of the congregation to support Amy, get behind Amy and allow her to be the senior pastor so that she’s not working in my shadow. I don’t want her to feel like she’s getting around me in order to become pastor. I want the people to be 100 percent behind her. She’s going to be a better pastor and this is going to be a better church the more support they give her. I can help do that.
Any final thoughts?
It’s just a tremendous treasure, privilege and honor to serve as a pastor in the church. I’ve served four churches. I’m not going to say this is the best one. That’s not the point. To have done what I’ve done has been just a tremendous honor.