By MEGAN STROUP
Pastor Jim Ireland has retired twice. His retirement from Midway Locust Grove United Methodist Church this Sunday will be his third time around.
“I’m getting a little practice at this,” Ireland laughed.
His first retirement was from the position of district superintendent in the Ozarks South District of the United Methodist Church.
“My intention was to be retired, but after a year I filled in and served a couple of churches for two or three years,” Ireland explained.
After serving as the pastor at United Methodist churches in Morrisville and Aldrich, Ireland gave retirement another try and moved to Fulton with his wife, Sylvia, to be closer to their daughter.
This retirement also lasted only a year, before he came to Midway Locust Grove United Methodist Church in February 2008. Ireland said he was only supposed to stay for five months in an interim position but ended up staying longer.
This Sunday, two and a half years later, Ireland is embarking on his third retirement attempt.
“It hasn’t gotten any easier,” Ireland admitted. “It’s real sad. We really love the people here. It’s like leaving your family behind.”
Ireland said the relationships he forms with people are his favorite part about working in the ministry. He also said he loves to preach and worship, which Ireland has done in creative ways.
Earlier this year, Ireland invited his congregation to bring their pets to be blessed at an outdoor service at Midway Locust Grove. For the past two years, he has organized a manger scene in a shed up the hill from the church, where people can celebrate Christmas Eve with Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, shepherds, a donkey and sheep.
Ireland said he thinks interactive services are a good way to learn and bring life into the worship experience.
“I think that we learn and experience the world through the five senses,” Ireland said. “We limit ourselves terribly if we limit our learning to what we hear.”
Ireland has been preaching since 1961, the same year he married his wife, Sylvia. He said he has known he wanted to be a pastor since age 15.
“At first it was just kind of a nudge,” Ireland explained. “I felt like it was what God wanted me to do. As time went by, it was the fact that I couldn’t do anything else. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t capable of doing anything else, but I couldn’t tear myself away from it.”
Now that Ireland is retiring (again), he said he plans to continue living in Fulton with his wife. He hopes to be able to do some traveling and have more time to spend with his three children and seven grandchildren.
Ireland announced to the church in early March his plans to retire in a letter, in which he talked about his heath issues.
“I have had less energy and some nagging pain,” Ireland wrote. “I am not able to give the time I believe is necessary. Our church needs and deserves more than I can give at this point in history.”
Ireland explained the growing congregation at Midway Locust Grove United Methodist Church needs somebody “who can be younger and full-time.” He said the new pastor, Dennis Harper, will do wonderfully in the position.
Harper’s first service at Midway Locust Grove will be Sunday, July 4. Ireland said Harper and his wife, Sarah, are expecting their first child around July 1.
Midway Locust Grove United Methodist Church will hold a farewell luncheon for Pastor Jim Ireland after his last service on Sunday, from noon to 1 p.m. Meat will be provided in the fellowship hall; attendees are asked to bring a side dish to share.