Archive: Confessions of a Methodist Minister

Reflecting on 47 years Confessions of a Methodist Minister

by Harry M. Savacool Binghamton, New York Retired, Wyoming Annual Conference

Confession is never easy. This is especially so when it is confession to failure for which there was no excuse. Only the conviction that my experience may help some pastor avoid the same failure (and aid laymen in selecting their pastor) has driven me to offer this confession.

I am retired from the ministry of the United Methodist Church after 47 years of service. I was brought up in the church. I was received into church membership at about 12 years of age, without any question about conversion or any evidence of it. No one steered me into the ministry. I felt that I had a Divine Call. I was granted a local preacher’s license while in high school and completed my education at one of the noted theological seminaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

When I was appointed to my first three-point circuit I was a thorough-going modernist. The churches there and in my next appointment of six and one-half years grew in attendance and membership. I got along well with the people. But during these nine years I grew more and more disillusioned with modernism. Not a single person had a real conversion experience under my pastorates. I talked to many people about “joining the church” but not about being born again (it was only a phrase to me).

Then I read Karl Barth’s, The Word of God and the Word of Man.” His utter demolition of modernism left me stunned. For a while I thought I was a Barthian, but I could not take his Calvinism. One thing was sure—I was no longer a modernist. I hardly knew what I was. I tried to be middle-of-the-road in theology and stressed religious education, social service and reform.

Through the influence of good friends I was promoted. Then at the beginning of World War II I was assigned to the Methodist Church in a county-seat town. After a few years a great industry moved in and built a huge plant. Everything boomed. My church grew from 500 to 1200 members, mainly by the way of transfers.

For a total of 27 years I served as pastor of that church, made up of splendid people who were very tolerant of my many shortcomings. I worked fairly hard at visiting my people, calling on prospects, and promoting the church as an ecclesiastical institution. For the last 10 years, I regarded myself as an evangelical conservative (but not fundamentalist). I made the complete surrender and had the Witness of the Spirit that I was saved. Still, I never did meet the requirements of receiving the Holy Spirit and naturally there were still no conversions.

Now, in retirement, I feel that I have failed in the one great thing in which every pastor should succeed—leading folks to Christ, and leading Christians to sanctification. Although disabled physically, I pray, write, and mail letters and tracts. Perhaps even yet God may grant me a little fruit in Christ.

Looking back I am convinced that the one great qualification for the pastorate should be conversion and at least a sincere and continuous seeking for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every young person entering the ministry should be sure that he has these qualifications. If a church does not win souls it is not really a church.


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