Today is an ending and a beginning for the Rev. Dr. Tom Farmer as he delivers his last sermon as senior pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Largo. Farmer, who has served the Largo church since 1988, is retiring and leaving the Tampa Bay area. An active participant in the Largo community, Farmer took time to reflect on his work at St. Paul's.
1St. Paul's has many successful ministries. What is one that makes you particularly proud? Our handicapable ministry is one of the finest ministries to serve people with disabilities. It started with nine or 10 participants and now we have more than 150 people of all ages attending. On Wednesday nights, people from the community and from group homes come here to worship, study the Bible, pray and play. They have their own place, this is their place. They are integrated into the life of the church. They have enjoyed traveling as a group. They've been to Disney World, Canada, and Washington, D.C.
2How do you serve such a large congregation? We have nearly 4,000 members. We have six ordained staff, but could never touch the number of people we do without our Stephen ministry. This ministry of lay people receives 50 hours of training to extend the hands of the pastors. We have 50 active Stephen ministers, who provide home visitation, hospital visitation and give one-on-one support to people in need.
3This church has greatly expanded since you've been here. What has that meant to the community? The Christian Life Enrichment Center is a 50,000-square-foot building we built 15 years ago. It resulted in 5,000 people a month coming here for everything from exercise and Bible study to grief support groups. We support a knitting group that makes prayer shawls for those needing comfort and white wraps for stillborn babies. We also have meetings of all the 12-step programs. This was built to serve the community as well as the church.
4What is next for St. Paul's? Dr. Bert Blomquist has been appointed to follow me. It has been one of my happiest moments to have Bert appointed to this church. I was praying and pleading with God to send him here. Bert has the gifts and graces to lead this congregation to new heights of glory for the kingdom of God.
5What is next for you as you retire? I want to serve my brothers and sisters who are pastors of local churches. My wife, Peggy, and I are going to live in Keystone Heights,. I will offer to preach when a pastor needs a Sunday off, and I want to offer support when pastors are working through challenges in their ministry. I also want to spend quality time with my wife. While we still have health, we want to enjoy our children and grandchildren. We want to visit Ireland. I want to finish strong: as a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend.