UNION BRIDGE — At an age when many look forward to retiring, relaxing and heading south, the Rev. Dwight Sheesly is gearing up for new responsibilities.
The 59-year-old pastor has just graduated from the seminary and accepted his first full-time pastoral job after spending years as an analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense.
Sheesly, who is replacing the Rev. John Thomas, has completed hisfirst month leading both the Johnsville, Frederick County, and UnionBridge United Methodist churches.
Thomas took over as pastor of the Benevola and Mount Lena United Methodist churches in Boonsboro, Washington County.
"I'm retired from my government job, and this is what I'm going to do until I really retire," Sheesly said.
Although Sheesly has been attracted to the ministry for about 25 years, he didn't enter the seminary until 1988.
"It's something I've felt called to do since the middle of the 1960s, but I guess I was too busy doing other things," he said. "A lot of things were happening, and I never got the direct call from the church."
Sheesly became a "local" pastor in 1968, but wasn't tapped to head a congregation until 18 years later.
In the United Methodist church, a local pastor is someone without formal training who can be called upon to lead a congregation under the direction of the local bishop or another elder in the church.
Although the pastor has not graduated from seminary, he has demonstrated to the church leaders that he has a good understandingof the Bible and church policies and that he is spiritually and emotionally ready to minister to members, Sheesly said.
"I put myself at the disposal of the church, told them I was ready willing and able, but they never came knocking at my door until February 1986," he said. "I always thought if the Lord wanted me to pastor a church, (church officials) would come and get me."
Finally, church officials told Sheesly they needed a pastor for Solley United Methodist Church inGlen Burnie, Anne Arundel County.
Answering the request, he pastored the 175-member congregation part time for two years before entering Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington in 1988.
"(The bishop) seemed to be happy with my ministry, and I felt good about it," he said. "I was eligible to retire, so I went full time to seminary while keeping the part-time job at Solley."
Upon graduation in May, Sheesly was told he would head the Johnsville and Union Bridge congregations, which have in total 500 members.
He was ordained during thestate conference in Frostburg, Washington County, on June 9 and preached for the first time as a full-time pastor on July 7.
"The bishop just decided that (Thomas) should move to another church and I should move here," Sheesly said. "I graduated from seminary, became ordained and here I am."
Sheesly said his wife, Janice, and their fourgrown children -- Beverly Ford, Dwight Jr., Cindy Hash and Kevin -- have been very supportive of his religious endeavor.
"They've all been up to see the church," he said, adding that his children live with their families in the Baltimore area. "They all live close enough that I hope to see the grandchildren in church with us occasionally."
Sheesly said he feels the support of his new congregants as well.
"Janice and I have been overwhelmed. They are so warm, friendly, outgoing and generous," he said. "I look at this as a great opportunity to learn a lot from the people and teach them something as well.
"I pray that we'll all grow spiritually as I continue my ministry here."