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Pastor hits pavement, cleans toilets, to share faith

The Rev. Timothy Patterson visits staff at Blue Mountain Middle School
in Orwigsburg, Pa. UMNS photos by Suzy Keenan.

By Suzy Keenan*
June 22, 2009 | ORWIGSBURG, Pa. (UMNS)

The Rev. Timothy Patterson was called to expand his ministry the day after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“There wasn’t anything more important than me checking on people in town,” the pastor of Salem United Methodist Church decided.

And so began a journey that found him handing out some 264 prayer cards and candies each week. For Holy Week, he cleaned the bathrooms of some local businesses.

The reaction of townspeople has ranged from astonishment to deep gratitude that leads to varied opportunities to minister outside the four walls of the church.

“Every person has longing in their heart,” Patterson explained. “This opens an opportunity for dialogue and for the Holy Spirit to be at work.”

What the heck

When he began walking around the town square, the people he met responded in different ways, from “It’s great you’re here; come in and sit down with us and pray” to “What …are you doing here!”

Patterson gives out candy
attached to prayer cards.

“I carved out an area of the business community that I could faithfully visit every week,” Patterson said. “On the fourth week, I took a handful of Dove chocolates, and I said as I handed each one out, ‘May God’s peace be with you.’” One week he handed out Baby Ruth candy bars, and said, “You’re a home run hitter with God!”

For Christmas 2001, he distributed chocolate Santas and gave out prayer cards with the story of St. Nicholas. He continued handing out treats and cards through Easter. “After Easter, I had three folks ask me, ‘When are you going to do your next series? Your cards – I saved all of them and pull them out and read them!’”

That was when he started handing out a piece of chocolate with a prayer card every week. Each prayer card contained a short message or prayer. “I write a unique message each week. My intention foremost is pastoral care,” Patterson said.

Building trust

Hitting the streets has opened up several opportunities for pastoral care.

Patterson had a request to bring communion into the workplace at a local flower shop and a conversation with the store owner who had a recent death in her family. Once he had a request to do a service of healing, and ran across the street to Thomas’s Pharmacy to purchase oil for anointing and frankincense.

“You are entering into a relationship with people where they are. You get to know them and they know and trust you,” Patterson said.

Beverly Lupton first met Patterson while she was working in the Village Floral Shop.

“He was a gift from God! It was about five years ago, and my mother-in-law was in a coma. He came to counsel our family,” Lupton said. “About four years ago my husband came down with cancer and he talked with us about our relationship with God. He was such an inspiration, and his sharing helped prepare my husband and me for what was to come.”

Lupton started attending Salem United Methodist Church in 2008, and joined the church in April 2009.

Bob Guers hadn’t attended church, except for Christmas, for more than 20 years. He met Patterson at Schaeffer’s Harley Davidson shop, where he worked. Guers’ daughter, Ruth Ann, was going through a difficult divorce, and Patterson would come in and listen. She joined the church.

Patterson hits the streets visiting more than 40 businesses each week.

Then Guers and his brother, Burd, joined a 40-member mission group, Team Orwigsburg, for a one-week mission trip to Gulfport, Miss. Bob and his wife, Marguerite, are now members of Salem United Methodist Church. Burd and his wife, Karen, also joined the church.

Cleaning bathrooms

For Holy Week, Patterson wrote a letter to all the businesses in town, explaining where, in the Gospel of John, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and asking if he could clean their bathroom as a sign of God’s love. “This year I cleaned 24,” he said. “It is an opportunity to speak about the sacrificial love of God.”

Steve Toth, manager of Boyer’s Market, said, “His cleaning of bathrooms is enlightening to the point where it is a symbol of what true service is – leading by example. It is a true act of humility.”

Patterson visits 46 businesses each week: hairdressers, banks, restaurants and bars among them.

“Waitresses in a bar always had a faith question of the week for me. I gave them Bibles and we began having a Bible study before the bar opened.” In regard to his “Walk About” ministry he says, “At end of the day, I am planting seeds of faith, and then trusting them into God’s hands - that they received the Good News that day and that their lives were changed.”

Membership at Salem United Methodist is up about 10 percent since 2001. The town’s ecumenical mission team increased from 10 persons in 2005 to 40 persons in 2009.

Patterson is moving on to a new church. Bishop Peggy Johnson appointed him to begin serving Wesley United Methodist Church in Strasburg, Pa., on July 1.

He will be missed.

Debra Marbarger is a secretary in the office of Blue Mountain Middle School, where Patterson visited the staff every week. As a parting gift, staff members gave the pastor a box of chocolates, with a message that said in part:

“Thank you for bringing us the message each week about God’s love. Thank you for bringing the message of community spirit. And thank you for bringing your friendship to share with us. Orwigsburg will be a different place without you. But, like a good piece of chocolate, the memory of the flavor and the texture you brought into our lives will always be cherished.”

*Keenan is director of communications for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Salem United Methodist Church, Orwigsburg, PA

Eastern Pennsylvania Conference

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