COLFAX – On Oct. 29, Pastor Phil Butler glanced around the First Baptist Church of Colfax. He saw a room full of familiar faces — faces of couples he wedded, faces of babies he dedicated and faces of lifelong friends he collected over the years.
He looked long and hard, as he knew that after 20 years of serving the church, he would have to give his final goodbyes to the people he learned to love since he moved to Colfax in 1997.
“I was aware that was the last one. It was kind of surreal because 20 years is a long time, and yet it went by fast. Here we are, this is the ending,” Butler said. “It was not depressing. It was not discouraging. It was not a negative experience. We were thankful. We were grateful. We were blessed.”
That Sunday, Butler delivered his final sermon as pastor of the First Baptist Church. With his family in attendance, the 60-year-old Iowa native recited a passage from Jude 1:24-25.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and make you stand in the presence of his glory blameless with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever,” Butler said. “I gave the church a blessing from God.”
The pastor said this passage was the perfect way to conclude his tenure as a pastor of the church. He said with this blessing, it shares his thanks for what God has done for him and the church, while putting the trust in God’s hands for the future.
“It was hard. We are stepping out on faith. We have no other ministry to step into right now,” the pastor’s wife, Jeannette said. “Our daughters, their husbands and our two grandkids were there with us and sharing in the moment.”
The couple said Phil announced his resignation from the church Sept. 3. He said after 36 years, they felt it was time to take a break from pastoring, using this time as a sabbatical and a trial semi-retirement.
“We are enjoying our time off. We really are. We both have part-time jobs. I drive a bus for Durham Bus (Services) and have other odds and ends to do, and Jeannette as well,” Phil said. “We will do this for a while, while we wait for God to open another door of ministry.”
Phil began serving the church Nov. 1, 1997, after pastoring two rural churches in Winslow, Ill., and Artichoke, Minn., for 16 years. Their eldest daughter, Holly, was 16 years old at the time. In addition to their 13-year-old daughter, Mindi, and 10-year-old son, Dale, the Butler family slowly grew up in Colfax. Their three kids graduated from Colfax-Mingo High School. They expanded their home. They lost loved ones and added new members to their family.
Although it took some time, Phil said Colfax soon became their home.
“This became home. The church became our extended family. This is the longest we have lived anywhere. This is home,” the pastor said. “The church has been supportive with the passing of our parents and Dale. They are our extended family. It is a difficult transition to make, but it is the right one.”
During his 20 years serving the congregation, Phil performed 78 baby dedications and 115 baptisms, participated in 15 weddings and conducted 135 funerals.
The couple said during this time, they collected an uncountable amount of priceless memories.
“Every statistic I gave, there are stories behind those. They are deep and rich stories. Hard stories for funerals, some of them. There is just so much,” Phil said. “The senior citizens that were there 20 years ago are now all up in heaven. Now we have a new group of senior citizens. The babies and children I dedicated, and the youth that I baptized have now all grown up and having their own families and weddings.”
Phil said one experience that will always stand out to him was his final day on the job – Nov. 1, 2017.
“My last official act was to finish a baby dedication that we began Sunday, Oct. 29. We had a baby dedication for two children. An expected mom wanted me to do theirs as well, but the baby wasn’t born yet. So we prayed for each of the two children and we prayed for the couple,” Phil said. “The baby was born Tuesday. Wednesday, late afternoon, we visited them in the hospital and I finished the baby dedication ... That is the future of the church, I got to do something to help the future of the church.”
Since resigning from the position, the couple has spent their time traveling, visiting new churches and spending time with various friends and family.
Phil said as the couple both work part-time jobs in the area and still own their home, they plan to be in Colfax in the near future.
“We are not planning to attend (the First Baptist Church of Colfax). We want the next pastor to have the freedom to do what God calls him to do,” Phil said. “We have been blessed by God to have served here. I say that with a tear in my eyes.”
The pastor said the couple hopes to move closer to their family in Omaha, Neb. The pastor said he hopes to find ministry opportunities in that area.
“This is a new adventure for 60-year-old people. We carefully prepared for this. Time went by really quick,” Phil said. “To eventually leave here is going to be difficult because this is home.”
Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org