Whitley called to new pulpit

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2002

Features Editor

"This was good, but, now, it’s time to try something else."

That’s John Whitley’s philosophy.

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Troy has been good for him and his wife, Sylvia, for seven years, but, now, it’s time to try something else.

The Whitleys are pulling up stakes and moving to Greensboro where he has been appointed to full-time ministry by the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

This will not be Whitley’s first pastorate, neither will it be his first move.

It took him a few minutes before he could count up the "major" moves in his life.

"This will be our sixteenth move, not counting the times we moved for just a month or two," he said.

Although it might sound like the Whitleys have lived a gypsy-kind of life, that’s far from true.

Every move has been made with purpose and conviction.

Whitley spent 11 years in the Air Force before he answered the call that

was a long, involved process immersed in the church.

"I was nurtured in the body of Christ," Whitley said.

"It was a long process, but I realized that my calling was not to fly planes for the Air Force."

His calling was to the ministry, so he entered seminary and set the course for the rest of his life.

After three years in seminary, Whitley was anticipating a pulpit call when a conversation with a former Army chief of chaplains pointed him back to where he had been.

"I had never consider being an Air Force chaplain until then," Whitley said, "but I decided if the church elders recommended me as a military chaplain, then that’s what I would do."

For the next 11 years, Whitley’s decision was validated by the work he was able to do as an Air Force chaplain.

"Actually, those years could be divided into thirds," he said. "I was base chaplain at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the first years. I was there when the Challenger blew up in 1986. A lot of the men and women there knew members of the flight crew. We had a memorial service for the crew of the Challenger and that was a very moving experience. There was a lot of pain and anxiety surrounding the tragedy because life would never be the same for many of those people."

The second trimester of Whitley’s service as an Air Force chaplain was spent in the Office of the Air Force Chief of Chaplains in Washington, D.C.

There he was a liaison between all faith groups and found it challenging to balance the needs of the different denominations.

Whitley, laughingly, said his work with the chief of chaplains in the nation’s capital put him in good stead for an assignment in Hawaii where he was chief chaplain for four years.

"Sylvia’s mother’s health had started to decline so we decided it was time to come home to Alabama, so we would be with her," Whitley said.

Lucille Sherwood Sellers is a resident at Magnolia Wood Lodge, so the Whitleys made their home in Troy, too.

"We came in 1995 and have found Troy to be a friendly, warm and caring community," Whitley said. "We have been very happy here."

For the first year, Whitley was content to be a Sunday School teacher at First United Methodist Church but, then, he felt a need to be more involved in the works of his church.

He accepted the position of minister in residence for church relations at Huntingdon College and served as interim pastor at Hills Chapel at Pine Level for nine months.

For the past year, he has been the pastor at the Methodist church in Ramer.

Those opportunities to be in the pulpit whetted Whitley’s desire to be in a full pastoral ministry.

He joined the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and received an appointment to Greensboro. He accepted without hesitation and without doubt.

"We came to Troy with no intentions of being here permanently," Whitley said. "We also came with no intentions of being here temporally. We came open to change. Life has an aspect of uncertainty."

Whitley said this opportunity for full-time pastoral ministry is the result of a "calling," a calling to try something else – again.