XENIA — John Lockwood was given an interesting message when he arrived in Xenia as the new pastor of Bethel Community Church.
“They don’t stay long around here,” Lockwood recalls being told by an old man after identifying himself as the church’s new pastor.
Forty years later, Lockwood announced his retirement but was convinced to stay one more year. Ten years later, Lockwood and his wife, Connie, are finally ready to leave the church and slide off into retirement.
This time for real.
And Sunday, July 29, the Bethel church community will honor them with a special program.
“They’d like us to stay 10 more,” Connie Lockwood said. “We have a wonderful church. This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done. We cried a lot. It’s such a good group of people.”
But the time is right for the Lockwoods.
“My mind says I can still do it,” John Lockwood, 73, said. “But my body, it’s going south.”
He concedes that health issues have “taken its toll” as has trying to spread the message to younger church goers.
“I’m searching the heavens for someone to step in our place that has a heart for this next generation of kids,” John Lockwood said. “I love them, but I can’t reach ‘em.”
The Lockwoods had no problem reaching the younger generation when they began. Connie Lockwood started good news club in their home on Stewart Avenue as an after-school place for kids to go for songs, Bible stories and snacks.
“That thing leaped,” John Lockwood said. “It told us there’s an opportunity here.”
For Connie Lockwood, working with youth has been the highlight of her 50 years associated with Bethel.
“That’s always been (in) my heart,” she said. “A lot of them are coming Sunday.”
Her youth ministry has overcome a blown tire out west, a snapped alternator in front of the White House, a bus power outage in the mountains of Pennsylvania and a broken down air compressor in South Carolina. Regardless of the issue, the ministry persevered.
“It was a special time,” John Lockwood said. “We’ve been blessed. God has used us in spite of the limitations that we took this mission on.”
Bethel was the Lockwood’s first ministry. And although he had opportunities to move elsewhere, Xenia remained home.
“I fell in love with the people of this community,” John Lockwood said. “We got excited.”
They were living in Springfield when John approached about coming to Xenia to take over a fledgling church that was close to closing due to lack of interest. As the aforementioned old man said, in the 11 years prior to Lockwood’s arrival, there were six pastors. Only one, John Carroll (1959-63) stayed longer than two years.
He preached a couple “audition” messages and went through the proper licensing to become the church’s seventh pastor.
“We were a last-ditch effort I guess,” Connie Lockwood said.
That last-second Hail Mary resulted in the Lockwoods helping the church to overcome a fire and tornado that destroyed two buildings, leading to the current building which carries no debt.
That is one thing John Lockwood will always remember about his 50 years. But his No. 1 highlight actually came after attending chapel during high school May 13, 1960 in Kentucky, years before he ever stepped foot in Bethel Community Church.
“I believe I received a special anointing,” he said. “It had to be of the creator himself.” Eight years later he received his appointment.
“It took God a while to get me from my anointing, to my appointing,” John Lockwood said. “I’m so thankful how he has led us. The privilege it brought me across this community has just been phenomenal.”
Sunday’s celebration begins 10 a.m. Among the special guests are members of the Hetzler, Hurley and Andrews families, who are the longest serving members of the church.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.