Plymouth Congregational Church pastor leaving with good memories of work in Fort Wayne

The Rev. John P. Gardner, senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in downtown Fort Wayne, will preach his last sermon there Sunday before leaving the church. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

The Rev. John P. Gardner, a local leader in interfaith and peace and justice issues, preaches for the last time during the 10 a.m. worship service Sunday at Plymouth Congregational Church, concluding 20 years as its senior pastor.

Gardner, 64, resigned from Plymouth, 501 W. Berry St., but gave the congregation sufficient time to find a successor.

“I’m going to decompress for a little while, and then I will explore if there are further options for ministry,” Gardner said Tuesday, noting he doesn’t think he’s well-suited for retirement.

Gardner said he plans to stay in Fort Wayne as of now, but he’s also “open to new adventures.”

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First licensed for ministry in 1977, he was ordained for ministry in the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination in 1980. He served congregations in Norwalk, Ohio, Campbell, Calif., and Dexter, Mich., before becoming senior pastor at Plymouth in 1998.

He also has been active in UCC and community affairs, including serving on the board of directors and as moderator for the UCC’s Indiana-Kentucky Conference.

Plymouth also has been involved in local interfaith and peace and justice issues, including hosting the annual community worship service in January commemorating the birth and work of late civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

STANDING WITH OTHERS

“He has been a consistent witness,” said the Rev. Bill McGill of Imani Baptist Temple, who calls Gardner a “dear friend.”

“John Gardner has been right on grace, John Gardner has been right on race. I believe he is prepared to stand with confidence before God face to face,” McGill said, who also started his ministry in Fort Wayne in 1998.

In addition, McGill said if he ever needed someone to stand with him on an issue so he wouldn’t have to stand alone, he always knew he could call Gardner.

Gardner said he has enjoyed his time at Plymouth Church.

“The church has given me permission to practice my call to ministry,” he said. “My primary gift is in leading worship and in preaching.”

He also is pleased Plymouth members established a very clear identity for their congregation. That includes being:

• An Open and Affirming congregation, which welcomes people of all sexual orientations into the full life and ministry of the church.

• A Just Peace congregation, where members encourage peace by creating just conditions.

• An Earthwise congregation, which encourages members to live within their means and to be good stewards of God’s creation and natural resources.

• An outreach congregation, which is “intentionally global” and “intensely local” in its missions and outreach activities.

“We are in an age of hyper-nationalism,” Gardner said of the congregation’s outreach efforts. “As a Christian community, we are much at odds with that sentiment. God loves the world, not just the United States of America.”

Gardner, who’s excited for the congregation’s future under incoming pastor the Rev. Timothy C. Murphy, also hopes he has contributed to Plymouth by providing spiritual light for members’ journey of faith and life.

“People need communities of generosity,” he said. “They need communities that are inclusive if we are going to manifest credible evidence of Christian piety.”

Gardner, who still considers himself a student, also appreciates what he has learned during his years at Plymouth.

“God delights in diversity,” he said. “In diversity, we find strength and the way to understand the inclusiveness of God.

“I learned that here at Plymouth Church.”

PASTOR’S FAREWELL

The Rev. John P. Gardner, who is leaving Plymouth Congregational Church after 20 years as senior pastor, will preach his last worship service at 10 a.m. Sunday at the church, 501 W. Berry St.

A United Church of Christ “Ending Authorized Ministry” leave-taking ceremony also will be conducted.

After the worship service, Gardner will be honored with a cookie potluck reception in the Folsom Room at the church.

For more about Plymouth Congregational Church, go to its website.

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