Wotherspoon to retire from First Baptist
The Rev. Jim Wotherspoon will complete his active pastoring at First Baptist Church Sunday with his 931st sermon in Fairfield.
Wotherspoon and his family came to Fairfield from Columbus, Neb., in July 1995. He’s also served in Portland, Ore., and was raised in southern California.
His wife, Betsie, is the department head of special education at Fairfield High School and their four children graduated from FHS.
“Serving this length of time one place is atypical,” he said. “The American Baptist denomination doesn’t set how long pastors stay with a congregation or appoint pastors. It’s the church congregation that does the selection.
“My tenure here, 18 years and six months, is the longest in the history of the Fairfield church by about three times — the next longest service was six years,” said Wotherspoon. “It’s been a mutual, positive experience.”
The Wotherspoons will remain in Fairfield.
“My wife will continue to teach at Fairfield High School, where she’s worked since we moved here,” he said. “I will take a time of reflection. I won’t immediately take another position. I am open to what may come. I am happy to remain here and my wife is committed to and happy in her job.”
Their youngest child, daughter Noel, lives in Fairfield. She has a degree in theater and works on-call at the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts and is a substitute associate in the Fairfield school district. Their son, Andrew, teaches high school vocal music in Webster City. Daughter Charisa is an advocate for a domestic abuse shelter in Oskaloosa, and daughter, Joy lives in France and is a copy editor for a publisher in Chicago.
Wotherspoon said a number of possibilities could open up for him. He will continue to participate in his denomination, including chairing the ordination commission, which oversees ordaining new American Baptist pastors.
“I have many happy memories of serving in this church and in our community,” he said. “I belong to the ministerial association and served as president for 13 years.
“I helped establish the hospital chaplaincy program. Pastors volunteer a week at a time to serve the hospital, visiting patients and supporting family members, only if they want that. The chaplain is on-call for crises.”
Wotherspoon also enjoys playing in Fairfield’s municipal band,
“I play the euphonium and recently acquired a tuba,” he said.
The American Baptist Church has a very strong, outward focus, Wotherspoon said.
“In Fairfield, we held a car clinic last year, where people could bring their cars for check ups and repairs,” he said. “We have a book project; we’ve published two books to place in the hospital. That also began a year ago, one of our members was diagnosed with cancer and she ran a daycare. She said how scary it was for her, and how much more scary it must be for children. So the books are for children dealing with serious illness.
“Our outward focus is very practical.”
Another FHS special education teacher, Staci Wright, is in his congregation and began an annual Caring Through Clothing event on Black Friday in 2012, held in the church building.
Wotherspoon has taken church members to mission work in Washington, D.C., Oklahoma and Arizona.
“My focus in serving our Lord is to look beyond ourselves,” he said.
He organized a trip to Nicaragua and was the only one from Fairfield to go.
Wotherspoon said his ministry is ongoing and reaching out to the community, as well as ministering to the congregation, which averages about 170 on Sundays.
“The role of the pastor means I am allowed into an intimate place in families,” he said. “Some of those are during happy times, such as births and weddings. Others are in a crisis and sad times, such as funerals. It’s been a privilege to serve here.”
The congregation will have a farewell dinner and program for the Wotherspoons after his Sunday morning service.
“It’s part of the code of ethics, when I retire but stay in the community, I won’t attend services at First Baptist Church for awhile,” he said. “We’ll attend church elsewhere. It’s human nature to resist change. And it’s not fair to a new pastor. So we’ll go to church somewhere else until a new pastor is established.”
The congregation has formed a search committee to select a new pastor.
“Part of the process is accessing the needs of the church first,” said Wotherspoon. “Meanwhile, the church will have an interim pastor, the Rev. Charles Comfort.”
Wotherspoon said a new pastor is an opportunity for new leadership.
“God has plans for the Fairfield church and he has a plan for the Wotherspoons,” he said. “I am genuinely happy about retirement. It is an act of obedience to God. He is closing one chapter, which can be difficult or sad. But the expectation of that which is to come is stronger than the sadness.”