We celebrate so many holidays, like birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays, patriotic holidays, family days, and many of these are times when we remember groups of people who have had some influence or meaning in our lives. Take for example, Veterans’ Day, I am always proud of the fact that both of my parents served in the Navy during World War II, and I made a habit as my children were growing up to try and remember to have them call their grandparents and say “Thank you”, for their service to our country. But so many holidays are celebrated only once a year, and yet, I believe we are called to remember important people in our lives on a continual basis.
Last August, I posted about the re-assignment of a local Pastor, John Wheatley, and about the feelings I had toward his ministry to our community, and another Pastor, Ron Miller, who had been a strong influence on me as a teen. I bring this up again tonight as I contemplate Pastor Appreciation Day, which is October 9th. I posted a quick thank you on my Facebook page, and wanted to expand on my thoughts here. I have been blessed through my traveling to be a part (albeit a small part) of numerous church communities that I visit occasionally, and there are many pastors whose words have had a profound effect on my spiritual journey. They may not ever know that something that they shared with me has been incorporated into my own ministry toward others.
Next week, at our church’s Cornerstone Men’s Retreat, I will be giving a witness talk about Christian Outreach, and a good bit of it has to do with encounters during my lifetime with various preachers, pastors, deacons, and other ministers. I have been blessed throughout my life by those of both the clergy and laity who have dedicated their lives to Christ, and sharing his Word and their faith with those around them, in many different ways. I may post some excerpts from my talk in a couple of weeks, but for now, I just wanted to mention a few of those who have been such a major part of my walk with the Lord over the years.
Father Charles Platt, who allowed me to explore new kinds of music at St. Mary’s Church in Watchung, NJ when I was a teenager. And for allowing those other lay ministers into my life, my Mom and Dad, Ruth and Larry Furnald, Terry and John Dolly, Ann and Fred Perone, Florence and Jules Skalski, Darlene and Joe Petrullo. They were ministers to hundreds of teens in our community, and so many of my friends and classmates came to the Lord as a result of their teaching and guidance.
And John Baehr, a teacher at my old high school, who led the ReachOut bible club (even though I never joined, I saw the results of his work for the Lord on the lives of many of my classmates). And Reverend Ron Miller of Wilson Memorial Church, who, with Father Platt, helped to join two communities in Ecumenical Fellowship that has lasted for over 35 years.
Father Peter Krebs, who led (and still leads) the Christian Community at the Shrine of St. Joseph. He joined Mary and me in matrimony, baptized my children, and presented a loving, yet challenging picture of the ministry of Jesus that encourages me to this day.
More recently, my encounters with the local churches in my current hometown, representative of my ecumenical upbringing, I attend church at my home church of St. Luke’s in Long Valley, but also am welcome and find a home with the Califon United Methodist Church. There have been several pastors there, several of whom have blessed my life in numerous ways. Pastor Joe Monahan, Pastor John Wheatley, and their current Pastor, James Elliott, have always left their doors open for visitors, and have made me feel part of their community there.
And Father Mike Drury, my home pastor at St. Luke’s who has blessed this community with a true living spirit of Jesus’ ministry, has encouraged me, and my wife and children to step out in sharing our faith in so many ways. And the deacons that have blessed our community, Deacons Tom, Ray, and Kevin, three very different men, who each have so much to give and dedicate themselves so fully to our church family.
But the list doesn’t end there, because over the past several years, I have visited so many churches, and have been touched by so many people, that I can only name a few here.
Pastor Kevan Bartlett of the Maranatha Baptist Church in Charleston, WV
Pastor Frank Passamonte of St. Paul Evangelical Church in Lexington, MA
Pastor Scott Bates of Parsippany Christian Church in NJ
Pastor Randy Albritton of the Family Community Church in Culpeper, VA
Pastor Jeff Spencer of Life Church in Bedford, VA
Dr. Joey McNeill of Fort Trial Baptist Church in Bassett, VA
Spencer Dillard at Parham Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va
Pastor Dan Cluck of First Assembly of God in Shippensburg, PA
Pastor Jack Risner of Erie First Assembly of God in PA
Pastor John Hood of Fresh Harvest Assembly in Morgantown, WV
and so many more that I could name here, but will simply lift up as a group.
Because there is another group of Pastors that I want to share my appreciation for, and those are the ones in my own family. I am humbled by the depth of faith in God that exists in my own family as so many of them have dedicated their lives to the ministry, that they continue to shine Christ’s light in my heart. A few of them were just kids when I first met and was dating my wife, but it never ceases to amaze me how God has worked in their lives to make them my mentors and teachers as well as my uncles and cousins.
Uncle Lou Liotta, Seniors Pastor at New Life Assembly in Farmville, VA
Cousin Chris Liotta, Pastor at Bethel Church in Bryan, TX
Cousin Mike Biolsi, Senior Pastor at North Country Fellowship in Carthage, NY
And Cousin Paul Biolsi, Cousin Anthony Liotta, and Uncle Neil Biolsi, who have been integral parts of their churches as either Pastors or Elders.
I know this was a rather long post, but if you read this far, reflect on this story to look back at your own life and realize how many and how much the Pastors you have encountered in your life have helped you to grow, to understand your relationship with God, and what they have given of themselves in order to give to you the things of importance, an understanding of Jesus, His Word, and maybe helped you to shape your mission in life…
Thank you all…