The Rev. Jim Pierce, who two months ago arrived at the College United Methodist Church, didn’t feel drawn to full-time preaching. After joining a Methodist church in the early 1980s, he enjoyed sharing his messages as a lay speaker.
“Going to preaching in a church and getting in your car and driving away is a whole lot different than being a pastor in a church,” Pierce said. “I was a veterinarian in Arkansas for 34 years and for 25 of those years, I was a Methodist lay speaker. We’ve got little churches in Arkansas — they’d have 10 or 15 people — and we might have three or four churches that would have one pastor and he couldn’t get around to all of them. The Methodist lay speakers would fill in.
“I pulled up in front of the church, did the service and drove away and that was it,” he added. “I felt like that was fulfilling my need to preach and it was helping out the churches.”
But all of that changed about 10 years ago. Pierce’s best friend, the pastor of a church just down the road a ways from his veterinarian clinic in Arkansas, enjoyed stopping by on his Honda Gold Wing motorcycle to share with him how wonderful it was to lead a congregation.
“One Friday night, he was late getting by there and I’d gone on home. He went on down the road and a deer ran out in front of him, knocked him off his motorcycle, broke his neck and killed him,” Pierce said. “He was my best friend and it just devastated the church, it devastated me.”
A few weeks later, Pierce said his wife, Lisa, walked into his office and said, “They left Dave’s cellphone on and you know, I called it just to hear his voice again. You know, he said ‘I promise I’ll get back to you.’”
Pierce responded that Dave’s not going to get back to us. Then the phone rang. It was the church’s district superintendent.
“She said, ‘Jim, I need you to take Dave’s church for the next several Sundays until I get a pastor in there,’” Pierce recalled.
The call came on a Wednesday and the superintendent wanted him to start the following Sunday. Pierce agreed.
“I tried being a veterinarian and a pastor and it just didn’t work out, too stressful, too much time commitment to the church,” Pierce said. “I asked my wife, ‘what do you think about becoming a full-time pastor and selling the clinic?’ She said, ‘we can do that if I can pick where.’”
Then Pierce added, “Next thing I know, I’m pulling a U-haul to Oregon.”
And you could say, yes, “Dave got back to me.”
Pierce and his wife landed in eastern Oregon, where he split his pastoral duties between Hermiston and Pendleton.
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“I lived in Hermiston and I’d get up in the morning and drive to Pendleton on Sunday morning and we’d have church from 9 to 10 and then I’d drive to Hermiston and we’d have church from 11 to 12,” Pierce said.
Pierce and his wife wanted to live in the western part of Oregon, however, and he put in requests for a move. Earlier this year, he received a call from the district superintendent about the position in Philomath.
From those roots in Arkansas, Pierce has a background at small churches. And that’s the way he likes it.
“I have not talked to a single pastor of a large church that has not told me that if they had it to do over again, they would stay in the smaller churches,” said Pierce, who is 64. “When you start getting up to a 100 to 150 people, you’re an administrator then. People walk into your office and you don’t even know who they are.
“I’m too old to learn that many people’s names now,” he added. “I’m having trouble with the 50 we’ve got here.”
Pierce replaced the Rev. Michael Gregor, who was sent to the College church for two years to serve in an interim role after the departure of longtime pastor Bill Seagren.
The church is planning a barbecue for Saturday to welcome him to the community.
Pierce said the church members can expect him to share his many ideas.
“One of the things I told them when I got here, is they’re going to have to live with the fact that their pastor is going to come to them frequently and say, ‘I’ve got a new brilliant idea. It may work or it may completely fail, but if it fails, I’ll shove it aside and I’ll come to you with another brilliant idea,’” he said.
One of those ideas was to start a young adult Sunday school class.
“That’s what I’ve been doing this week. I’m down here in a room moving furniture and setting up a TV and a DVD player and all that,” he said. “I don't know if that’s going to work or not.”
For those that can’t get to the regular Sunday services, the church is now posting recordings of it on YouTube, which can be accessed through a post on its Facebook page.
“We have services every Sunday at 10:30,” Pierce said. “You’re more than welcome to come and see what we’re doing.”