The little town of Warrensburg, New York, has to be one of the prettiest towns in the Adirondack Mountains, even though located three hours drive east and north from Syracuse, it is in a sense off the beaten track. But for a small but growing Free Methodist congregation there, it is a center of exciting growth and development.
This story begins in 1997, 12 years ago. Living 40 miles away, retired superintendent, Dick Leonard, and his wife, Ruth, were completing their second year of retirement after superintending the Centenary Conference (now the New England Conference) of the Free Methodist Church for 27 years – a record in the denomination.
One day a concerned lay person phoned to ask retired superintendent Leonard if he could come and give a hand to the Warrensburg church. It was down to 8 in attendance, several projects of previous years were unfinished, and the church was on the verge of closing its doors for good.
The pull was instant. It was Ruth’s home church and the Leonards had been married in that church now 61 years ago. For sure there was sentimental attraction.
But the Leonards saw the challenge as divine marching orders. They began driving the 80-mile round trip each Sunday and sometimes during the week to encourage the small company of discouraged believers. The numbers began to grow slowly and soon the revived congregation began talking about finishing projects – remodel the fellowship hall downstairs, complete the refurbishing of the foyer, re-roof the church building, pave the parking lots on both sides of the church, erect better signage, etc. When one task was completed they made sure it was paid for before starting another, but the funds came in quickly and with a measure of excitement.
Building a parsonage was a bigger challenge. But they found the lot one mile from the church and now a commodious parsonage valued at $200,000 is a home for the Leonards. This project was completely paid for in four years.
I visited the church twice early on in this story when a congregation might number 10 or 15. So, I naturally ask, has the number of worshipers matched the development of the church property? Worship attendance has gone as high as 150 to fill the church, and this past September the average attendance for the month was 90. That’s some increase over the original 8!
Looking toward continuing ministry to the community and continuing growth, the congregation’s latest project is the recent purchase of the four-bedroom house next door to the church which gives them 10.5 acres of land for development, with 1100 feet of the property on the Schroon River. The series of providences are amazing that made this purchase available at a cost the congregation can reach. Now they can provide the parking needed for the growing congregation. Several other options for the property are under consideration.
Six-foot-five Pastor Leonard and his wife Ruth are modest about their part in the rebirth of this congregation. But the growing congregation knows that their dedication and skilled leadership has given the congregation courage to stretch and achieve beyond expectations. Their easy love for people draws others to them and the gospel. And the congregation’s working together on this string of projects has enriched the fellowship of the developing body, and their stretching to meet the financial demands has deepened their faith.
Meanwhile, this 80-year-old pastor and his wife are open to the future. They’re not laying further retirement plans but are living with the challenge of growing along with the congregation, all the while staying open to whatever marching orders the Lord of the Church may give. Pastor Leonard writes, “We are just thankful to be doing what we enjoy the most. The church people are the best anywhere, and it is a joy to serve here for the past 12 years.”