By Forrest White
There’s a great guy named Pete at Williamsburg United Methodist Church. Teaches Sunday school. Helps out with worship now and then. Plays in the church orchestra. Serves in the church’s ministry with persons who are homeless. Delivers flowers to shut-ins.
If you knew Pete, you’d like him.
Well, actually, folks around the Virginia Conference do know him.
But by a different name …
Pete is Bishop Peter D. Weaver, who served as interim bishop of the Virginia Conference while Bishop Sharma D. Lewis was on medical leave in 2019.
“It is refreshing to be in the Body of Christ ‘just as you are, without one plea’ or title!” Weaver said of his home church since 2012. “It’s great to be called by my real name, Pete. Peter was the name given to me at my Baptism which, I believe, is the ‘essential credential’ of ministry for lay and clergy’ not all these other titles or degrees.”
He recalls a specific moment a few months after arriving at Williamsburg UMC.
“A new friend blurted out ‘Pete, I can’t believe you are a bishop!!’” Weaver said.
“I took it as a compliment.”
At Williamsburg UMC, you might bump into Pete or another bishop among the 17 retired clergy who call the church their home.
Bishop H. Hasbrouck Hughes retired in 1996 after eight years as bishop of the Florida Conference and moved to Williamsburg. He had served churches around the Virginia Conference and as a district superintendent before his election to the episcopacy.
Like Weaver, Hughes has had a variety of roles at Williamsburg UMC, from Confirmation Class mentor to Sunday school teacher, from a member of the United Methodist Men to playing clarinet in the orchestra.
“When I departed from the orchestra there was an immediate improvement in the quality of the music,” Hughes said.
You might think having a contingent of retired clergy in your midst would be a bit intimidating for the pastoral staff at Williamsburg UMC. Not so say Senior Pastor Bill D. Jones and Associate Meghan Roth Clayton.
“There is no pressure whatsoever – just a lot of mutual respect and support,” Clayton said. “I feel fortunate to have so many involved in the life of the church and would love to see even more engagement.”
“Their presence in the congregation has been a joy, rather than a bother,” said Jones, who is retiring in June after 10 years at the church.
Weaver said he believes retired clergy actually might be among the least likely congregants to critique the church pastors.
“Most of us who are retired have had retired clergy in the congregations we have served and try to relate to Bill and Meghan as we wanted to be treated when we were in their shoes: be available to serve in any way needed, like any other member of the church; be supportive of the current pastors; offer our perspective only when asked by the pastor, and pray, pray, pray for the pastors and church,” he said.
“Over the years I have had quite a few retired clergy in congregations I served, and
this has never been a problem,” he said. “I always appreciated their presence as a valued part of the congregation. Never once was I aware of any interference with my ministry. From my standpoint we always have had the best of relationships.”
Jones is moving to Waynesboro upon his retirement, but understands the draw to Williamsburg and the church.
In fact …
“If I weren’t the longtime senior pastor, I might have considered retiring here myself,” Jones said.
Forrest White is a news associate with Virginia United Methodist Communications