WESTMINSTER — For the Rev. Paul L. Groff, leaving the Westminster Church of the Brethren is the way to concentrate on what he loves about the ministry -- preaching and counseling parishioners.
The 60-year-old minister, who has shepherded the parish for the past 15 years, said his retirement hours will be filled by serving as an interim pastor in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.
"When you get into interim work with churches you do some administrative work, but most of what you do is the preaching and the one-on-one," he said. "That's always been my first love."
His final sermon -- more of a goodbye than his regular message -- will be deliveredSept. 29.
"I've only done this twice before," Groff said. "I toldmy wife that I have no idea what I said the other two times."
Groff, who came to Carroll from a nine-year ministry at the Akron-Springfield (Ohio) Church of the Brethren in 1976, said he's retiring because it's time to move on.
"In this denomination, you don't change parishes unless the congregation kicks you out or the pastor takes it upon himself to leave," he said. "I didn't want to go to another congregation, so I decided it was time for early retirement."
Groff, who taught physical education at Stemmers Run Middle School in Baltimore County until 1968, said he always has felt a desire to work with people.
"The first decision is always whether you want to work withyour hands or work with people," he said. "I've always been a peopleperson, and I think that shows in the two professions that opened upfor me -- being a teacher and a pastor."
Although Groff began to prepare for the ministry at the Philadelphia College of the Bible, heleft the school one semester before his graduation in 1953 to pursuea degree in education at Bridgewater (Va.) College.
He graduated in 1957 and began to teach at Stemmer's Run.
But a request that same fall to serve as part-time pastor for Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren in Baltimore County drew him back to the ministry.
"Historically, our church had a free ministry made up of farmer preachers who were called to the ministry," he said. "Long Green Valley had a man who was a farmer-preacher for 40 years. And when he retired, they asked me to come out part time.
"I turned them down twice, and the third time they wore me down."
The job quickly became a full-time position, as the congregation doubled from 30 to 60 members in less than a year.
"I gave them the challenge that I only wanted one full-time job -- either to be a teacher or their pastor, but not both," he said. "They accepted the challenge and bought property. We had a temporary parsonage in an old farmhouse."
Success in making the church grow and serving his parishioners convinced Groff to stay in the ministry.
"When I first felt the call, I didn't act on it," he said. "But the Lord must have wanted me to be at Long Green Valley. And it had to have been through His plan, because the only way for me to get there was to have been a teacher in the first place."
Church members said he has provided caring support and has helped attract younger members to the congregation.
"I think he's been an extremely good listener who's willing to allow others to share their ideas and utilize them if he sees fit," said Ernest Rice, chairman of the church board. "We thought we were getting to be an older congregation, and, all of a sudden, we had a lot of young and middle-aged people with children attending church.
Family bonds and a sense of community are what continue to tie Groff and his wife, Barbara, to the county, he said.
His two daughters and their husbands -- Julia and BruceHollenberg, and Lisa and Glenn Reuschling -- live in the county, while his wife is a teacher at New Windsor Middle.
"We own our own home here," Groff said. "All of our grandchildren are enrolled here at the church, so that's a real enticement to stay."
"We're a very close family," Groff said. "Every other year, the entire clan -- aunts and uncles and all -- go to the Smoky Mountains for a week. That's a lot of fun."