By William Zipprer
Northwood is one of those tiny, blink and you’ll miss them, churches that there seem to be a surprising lot of no matter where you go. A small steel building that looked unmistakably church-like. The slanted rooves, steeple, cross out front, it had all the classic features just in miniature. However, it was about to experience its biggest change yet.
Neal Brown had been Northwood Community Church’s senior pastor for thirty-five years and was ready to retire. He said, “I realized about seven years ago that my time here was coming to a close. I knew, due to my age, I would have a harder time relating to the congregation and communicating clearly. Thankfully, God had brought along the fine man who is to continue my work when I leave it.”
Coming to Northwood in early ’85, Neal saw he had walked into an interesting situation. With just thirty people, mostly elderly, and only a temporary space at the local YWCA, Northwood was still growing. Within the first year, though, they had a house, and then, in the years to come, they built one building and then another. “That’s about enough construction projects for one life,” he said. The church had also grown from the measly thirty members to a whopping one-hundred and four. Neal never cared. He would say, “I meet with these other pastors and they say, ‘how many do you have’?”
It wasn’t about the numbers; the people were what mattered. One could go to the mega churches that are all over this area for years and you’d be a number on an electronical statistics chart, but at Northwood, you would be someone to teach and guide, a soul to care for, and a name that everyone knew.
The scenery has changed. People have come and gone in the congregation and the office. Even when he had the same people for a while, every week had been different, be it visiting the sick or helping with funeral arrangements, as he was doing this week. Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday were the regular workdays, but things would interrupt the schedule and every day he had something to do.
No one ever wondered whether Neal liked people or not: he loved everyone. He’d pray for someone if they were hurting or celebrating, and he’d talk to anyone. Talkative or quiet, shy or friendly, there was no one he couldn’t have a conversation with. Always encouraging others, he once sent encouragement to a student who had received several injuries while on a mission trip. “We were on this trip, and it seemed like everyday something new would happen, but I got this text from Pastor Neal and it just kinda reminded me that I could keep going,” the student said afterwards.
Brown’s last sermon will be November 24th, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It will finish out his series on Colossians and continue the tradition of giving thanks that day. “Then they’re throwing me a party ‘cause they are happy I’m leaving,” he joked.
“It’s been overall fantastic” He said. It had been hard though. “Ask a preacher if they’ve ever thought about leaving their ministry and they’ll tell they’ve considered it 3 or 4 times this week,” he would say. He would do it again in a heartbeat though. Which is ironic, considering he once died for a few minutes of cardiac arrest during a church softball game. Heart failure has not slowed him down though. He has kept going for thirty-five long years, and he has no regrets on the matter. He’d be doing this any way so he’s glad to be paid to do the work he loves, and not to have a boss always on top of him, or at least not a human one. His part in the work here is nearly over, but what he leaves undone others will continue.
He revealed the last passage he would be teaching was this: “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you fulfil it. I Paul write this in my own hand Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.” -Colossians 17-18.