Locally, the last year ended with what one might call a bombshell that has left many of us stunned, amazed and saddened. Something that, perhaps unjustifiably and presumptively, we have taken for granted for the past 27 years has drawn to a close. I refer to the Rappahannock Record’s’s final column of “Reflections,” the weekly purview of the thoughts, prayers, musings and erudition of the Reverend John Farmer, the pastor of Irvington Baptist Church, who announced that he was stepping down from the literary perch he has graced for almost three decades.
John’s columns have been sources of inspiration, both spiritually and culturally, to countless readers of the printed copy—and in more recent years, electronically. As with the thoughtfully-crafted sermons that he has delivered to his congregations for almost 35 years, his columns have said something to everyone who has read them. They have mirrored his personal life story, giving hope and encouragement to the downtrodden, reminding those blessed with good fortune of its Origin, and pulling our community together in a vast sea along the course of our individual passages through this world.
To many people, John, with his fluffy white beard, is a real-life representation of Santa Claus, a character he has impersonated each year in countless pageants, parades and events of the Christmas season. No one is unimportant to John, as has been documented by his care for every individual he meets and by his written word these many years. Like Santa, John resonates joy, an emotion with which much of the world has become unfamiliar. By his larger-than-life personality, John makes Christmas an everyday occurrence in keeping with the true meaning of the feast.
In that vein, one of the best ways to describe John is to say that he is a happy person, one who radiates good cheer in all that he does. A goodly part of his ministry has been spent in translocating his own love of life to others, be they in his church flock or elsewhere. He has attracted members to his church simply by being himself, projecting the practice of Christianity in a manner that finds an audience ready to listen—or in the case of “Reflections,” to read. John has found a particular niche in breaking down the artificial barriers that separate people, in lieu seeing everyone as a child of God worthy of love and respect.
Had he not accepted the call to the ministry, John could have been a most successful writer for late night talk show hosts. His way with words is unique, and his humor relates to everyone who knows him. The spontaneity of his retorts is profoundly original and memorable. Often from the pulpit, he will make a jocular remark about someone sitting in a pew to the amusement of the congregation. Several times when attending funeral services, I have been “honored” to have been the recipient of such comments, which usually revolve around whether I like the sound of church bells or not. For those who have heard such repartee, to put the matter to rest, I always enjoy hearing church bells!
As a preacher and pastor, John has made lasting impressions on those he has addressed, accompanied by his wife, Hazel, playing the organ, and his congregation paying rapt attention to his every word. John has led a productive and fruitful life, one highly significant part of which has been his weekly penning of “Reflections.” As he retires from this form of communication, he leaves with the knowledge that he has endeared himself to many whom he never will know in person, but whose lives are better because of his words.
As I have written on other such occasions, this time—once again—the appropriate reference is to the title of Bob Hope’s theme song: “Thanks for the Memories,” John. Onward to new adventures!