‘Time For A Change’
Emmanuel Church of The Brethren Pastor Steps Down
The Rev. Dr. Byrl Eugene Shaver doesn’t see “retirement” as a natural milestone in a preacher’s life.
“Unless his health is bad, [a preacher] doesn’t altogether retire,” he said from Emmanuel Church of the Brethren, the congregation he’s been shepherding for almost 29 years.
Shaver, who turned 80 in December, will give his final sermon at the church April 27, but it almost certainly won’t be his last.
After all, preaching just seems to be in his blood; his great-grandfather and father were both Brethren pastors, and two of his four children have also taken up the profession.
So, when he steps down after almost three decades at the Mount Solon church, he doesn’t plan to stagnate. He hopes to serve some institution — perhaps a nursing home or hospital — as a chaplain, maybe enter into a pastorate at a small congregation in the country and spend some time outdoors with his eight grandchildren.
“I would like to get in a couple more days in the fall of squirrel hunting and do some more fishing in the summertime,” he said.
He will also spend time with his wife, Faye Shaver, a 77-year-old former nurse who has been serving Emmanuel COB in several capacities — as a teacher and choir director, for example. The couple splits their time between one home about 13 miles north of Brandywine in West Virginia — where they have an 18-acre vegetable garden and raise steers in the summer — and a home in Staunton.
In true Shaver fashion, Faye isn’t fully retired, either, and hopes to return to nursing.
Heeding The Call
Before their days in the Valley, the Shavers were living in Washington, D.C., where Byrl Eugene Shaver, who usually goes by “Gene,” was a district manager of an air freight forwarding company.
But he felt the call to do something different.
Shaver decided to become a pastor in the 1960s, when he was about 40 years old.
“I thought that perhaps being a minister is what I wanted to do and what the Lord [was] calling me to do, actually,” he said, adding that he has been “very” happy with the decision to switch careers.
Shaver has had four pastorates in as many states — Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio — but during his nearly 48-year preaching career, he has stayed with Emmanuel COB the longest.
Asked if 29 years is a long time to serve one congregation in the Church of the Brethren tradition, he said, “It’s a long time for any place,” but he stuck around because “we just seemed to have the right chemistry to get along together.”
But now, it’s simply time for a change, he says.
“The church program is going quite well, and we’re not dissatisfied with that at all, but I think that it’s time for someone new to come in,” he said. “Perhaps the church can grow even more than it has.”
Attendance at Emmanuel COB has risen from roughly 80 when the Shavers first started serving the congregation to almost 130 now.
The church also financed the construction of a new $1.5 million building that took 10 years to plan and one year to build; it was completed in September 2007.
The old structure, which was torn down after the current building went up, was more than 110 years old when the congregation moved out.
The new building is three times the size of its prior, with nearly 15,000 square feet of space for occupants. The current sanctuary holds about 250 people, while the old one only allowed for roughly 120 attendees. That wouldn’t have been enough for the current population.
Debbie Brown, a deacon at Emmanuel COB, pointed out that the Shavers also started a choir at the church within only a couple of months of their arrival, something the congregation lacked prior.
“They have a lot of musical talent, so they brought that talent,” she said. “Even the participation of the congregation improved greatly, and that makes for a better worship service.”
She also explained that Shaver technically only works part-time, but she says you’d never know it, as he spends so much time at the church. You’d also never think he’s 80, she added.
“He’s very easy-going, has a great sense of humor,” she said. “He’s very generous, with his time even.”
The church has been assigned an interim pastor until it hires another permanent, part-time preacher.
When asked about the church’s future plans, Brown simply said: “We’re always interested in growing the church. … Strong churches make good communities.”
Shaver has hope that the group will continue on its growth path with the right person behind the pulpit.
“The people at Emmanuel are very good to work with,” he said. “They’re easy to work with and they don’t probably criticize their pastor as much as they should, but other than that, they do well. If they get the right person in here as pastor, they will continue to grow. Even though they are right here in the middle of the country, there are people who are not going to church and should be.”
He says his age has nothing to do with his retirement from Emmanuel.
“I’m in good health and still vigorous, so I could keep on preaching here, but it’s time for a change, that’s all.”
Shaver will preach his final sermon during the 11 a.m. service April 27.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com