Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

It is Time!

A few years, back deacon Dean Loudy began to spew some statistics he had developed regarding my time investment as a wordsmith.

Dean, native of Illinois, and his southwest Virginia bride, Mildred, were married in the Great Lakes Navy Chapel 70 years ago; they are just a few of the many blessings I’ve received since coming to pastor here in 1986. They’d preceded my time, having moved from Irvington decades prior for a new home in urban Kilmarnock and the need to be close enough to dash ‘round the corner to take care of the business at 101.7 radio, Jimmy Jones Memorial by-pass.

Following a generation serving the Kilmarnock Baptist Church, time came for them to return to us, and what a joy it has been to have them “Home.” Dean has also mentioned that my pulpit words have, on occasion, caused him to be late for lunch, now that they have recently occupied space at Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury.

I’ve placed them at the top of this article due to Dean’s comments about how many words have tumbled forth from me over the years, so here goes: since arriving here, I have used something upwards of 2,650,000 pulpit words at Irvington and the occasional invitation to speak, preach or lead some community effort both here and afar.

Years ago, the late Rev. Vivian Russell Wheeler (d. 2002) was writing a weekly column. He asked if I could stand in for him whilst he vacationed off shore. When Rev. Wheeler returned home, he declined to take his column back. Thus, Reflections established itself on pages galore. I really didn’t know how long I’d been at it. I knew that I had gone from an IBM Selectric typewriter (follow the bouncing ball), to a Smith Corona word processor, to a series of Apple computers, to the MacPro computer upon which I close my writing career.

Some while back, dining at the Irvington Bistro, I chatted with the powers that be of the Rappahannock Record that I was running short of words. But they prompted me to agree to stay on for a bit longer, which stretched my seven-decades old brain too far.

I finally told publisher Fred Gaskins that I had to retire. Then, at a recent lunchBaptists do love to meet and eat—at Lee’s Restaurant, Kilmarnock, editor Robert Mason, Fred and I munched over delicious soup and sandwiches, to remember our time at press. Well, poor Fred: he climbed into vaults, attics, files and stale issues of the Rappahannock Record, to plow our history and came up with the fact that we have been a team for now over twenty-seven years.

With that established, I figured that another 1,212,000 words (or so) had gone into print. When totaled with the aforementioned word mountain, that calculates to the utterance and penmanship of slightly less than four million words to my credit or blame. Enough already: it is time.

My ministry here has been ripe with blessing, tragedy and challenges. From time to time, I forget that my return to the Northern Neck was predicated upon the fact that west Tennessee doctors had suggested I spend some time on the water, catch a few fish, and enjoy my Family. They’d given up trying to figure my body’s diabetic issue and perverse electrical system, which left my heart in an A-Fib battle. Later, Drs. Tingle (both) and Bessler passed me onto the McGuire Veterans Hospital, Richmond.

The Irvington Baptist Church has seen me through a host of medical issues, the death of parents, and a wife, the joy of family weddings—particularly my marriage to Hazel Ione Shelton Farmer—births of grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. Similarly, our membership has flourished (partly through the weekly columns); bursts of youth activities have yo-yoed. Both inside and out baptisms and meetings have kept our church clerk Bonnie Jean Robertson skilled at recording our doings and don’ts. The late Becky Benson Cross (1941-2020) spent four decades balancing figures as offerings would ebb and flow and helping us remember our history. She helped pick her replacement in the talented and dedicated Karen Hall, whose childhood home-place was around the corner from my former Corrotoman River cottage.

Retired organist Gloria Lee Jones held forth at three different church organs at IBC, prior to taking medical leave. She and Hazel, former childhood neighbors, were music students of the late Emma Gunther (1910-1993), along with sister Susan Jane S. Abbott (1952-2014). Hazel and a trio of Grahams helped fill the musical void when Gloria retired. Music has always been an important part of my life and ministry, and what a blessing it has been and continues to be to have so many talented musicians at IBC. To have my wife Hazel on the organ or piano each Sunday is an added blessing.  

The deacons and trustees have both protected me or chastised when needed.

Such support has allowed me the privilege of attending to so many newspaper articles for which I am grateful.

Hardly ever have I greeted the general public on Thursdays multiplied that some dear soul has not commented upon the weekly articles, which swelled my already-full chest.

And I really think that’s what I shall miss the most: that affirmation that something I have done brought smiles, tears and memories to our faithful readers.

When I started these articles, the late professor Alf Mapp (1925-2011) wrapped me in a warm hug, telling me that such a column would be wonderful and awful. He’d tap his old walking stick to get my attention, sharing his comments and corrections, or to suggest freely with me a recent effort. During the early years, his support was amazing. When the 1995 book Reflections was in the works, he asked to write the foreword. I was humbled to receive such an endorsement.

He had in years past undertaken to supply a regular column in the Tidewater papers along with his historical tomes, and a novel. With a grimace, he shared with me that eventually it became a chore from which he needed to retire. I asked him how would I know. “John,” he said, “you will know when it is time!”

I want to thank you, dear readers, for our weekly pilgrimage together, and wish you God’s grace and love for all the years ahead. Your dedication, support and love have given me such sweet memories.

Perhaps I’ll see you at church in the future. But for now, “It is time…”

An Open House to celebrate the written contributions of John Farmer for so many years is not feasible right now, but the Record will host an Open Page in its next issue where it will print your reflections about “Reflections.” Anyone who would like to comment on a favorite column or passage, what the column has meant personally, or just say thanks to Pastor John is encouraged to submit items to editor@rapprecord.com, mail them to Rappahannock Record, P. O. Box 400, Kilmarnock, VA 22482, or deliver them to the Record office at 27 North Main Street, Kilmarnock. The deadline is 5 p.m. Monday, January 4.

A few copies of Reflections, the book, are still available at the Rappahannock Record. The paperback collection of 117 columns costs $12.