Satisfaction found in answering the call

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 10, 2003

A theme of some self-help books is to do the work you love. In the case of the Rev. Robert J. Parks Jr. at Main Street United Methodist Church, the most popular of such manuals – the Bible – helped him decide to be more than a ferryman.

&uot;As I tell everybody,&uot; said the Tangier Island native, &uot;I believe God directed me and called me to the ministry. It was nothing like a telephone call, but a desire was planted in my heart. Before, I had just received my captain’s license.

&uot;I became tired of running from the ministry, and was never satisfied until begin preparing for it.&uot;

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Once, Parks was sitting alone in his parent’s kitchen talking aloud to God wanting proof that this was the right step. He opened the Bible and there it was – Revelation 3:8: &uot;I know what you have done. See, I have opened a door in front of you that no can shut. You only have a little strength, but you have paid attention to my word and have not denied my name&uot; (God’s Word series).

That was a verse, Parks added, that he has been able to claim as his own – something that assures him the choice he made has been the right one.

The other evidence came a few years into schooling. Parks figured that if Gideon in the Old Testament could question God, why couldn’t he? Parks privately challenged God that if he were serious, then by the end of the summer a church should be provided him. That demand was made at the beginning of July; by the end of the month he was asked to serve a very small Wesleyan church.

In addition to a degree in education from Central Virginia Community College, he has a B.A. in religious studies from Lynchburg College, and went to the DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University.

At the latter, Parks studied piety; systematic theology – learning beliefs of different religions; Christian ethics, church history; and administration – not just office aspects, but also facets of worship.

Though the United Methodist Church paid for most of his education, Parks also worked as a hospital orderly – a perfect venue for connecting with people and further developing compassion and listening skills.

He was ordained a deacon about halfway through seminary, then became an ordained elder.

After the Wesleyan congregation Parks later served four churches in Amherst County near Lynchburg; gave five years in LaCross of Mecklenburg County; three years just south of Petersburg; the Courtland church; and then a year and half ago, the UMC bishop and his cabinet appointed him to Main Street UMC; the Harold Thornton was his predecessor.

Looking ahead in 2003, Parks naturally has a few projects in mind for the Suffolk congregation; the first is training the laity – lay pastors – to serve as liaisons for the pastor and shut-in members.

Another project recently presented to church council involves starting cell groups to help members become more connected with one another beyond just Sunday worship. This could be done through future neighborhood Bible studies, for example.

He hopes to hire another part-time person to become a congregation care coordinator who will have ties with the laity and cell groups.

In addition to increasing membership, Parks is looking to repeat last year’s success of apportionments, which is a 12-month task of helping provide financially for mission work; last year Main Street UMC did it in 10 months and wants to do it again.

Having a spouse can make a world of difference to any minister. In Park’s case, his wife Susan. They met on a blind date when he was in Amherst.

When the couple came to Suffolk, she was asked to serve as president of the United Methodist Women. She teaches Sunday School, and has been involved in the Faith Explorers, which is a children’s ministry.

They Parks have two children, Emily and Trey.