Welch started by saying many parishioners were disheartened he was leaving and this last service was a happy—sad day. He suggested they all go towards the middle road of emotion. Throughout the service Welch made an effort to keep his part of the bargain.
The church was packed not only with the usual parishioners but others from as far as Grants Pass or maybe farther whose lives Welch had touched in his ministry over the years. There were also several men who had grown up in the church in the Awana youth program who returned on this special day of February 28, as adults, to say “good-bye” to Welch before he left for his new life of retirement in Dallas, Oregon.
When Welch reviewed the mission of the church, the audience got a brief glimpse of Welch’s normally humorous style that was not much in evidence during this final sermon. Referring to church goals, Welch said, “Mission Accomplished.” He added he hoped he would not get into as much trouble as George W. Bush for saying the same thing. The resulting laughter lightened the emotions of those present.
Welch and Nadine, both 67, grew up in Tacoma, Washington. While growing up and during his whole life, Welch said he lived in a Christian home. He learned to value the hymns and doctrines taught to him over the years. As a special gift for his parishioners on this final day, Welch sang the choruses of those hymns. As he came to the end of his repertoire, people joined in the singing to celebrate this last service with their beloved pastor. Beautiful music filled the church. “I wanted to do that for a longtime,” Welch said sentimentally.
Wearing a bright red tie adorned with white lambs, symbolic of a shepherd, Welch told about working as a draftsman at Boeing in 1969. His job was to illustrate how to put aircraft together in two easy steps. This brought laughter as he had intended, once again lifting the mood of his heavyhearted congregation. Going on with his story, Welch said the aerospace industry was unpopular at that time and he asked God for direction. Searching for an answer, Welch found a calling to do the work of God, he reflected.
After moving to Portland, Oregon with Nadine who was pregnant with their third child, Welch entered Multnomah Bible College where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and was subsequently ordained. After graduation Welch went to his first church in Helvetia, Oregon where the Welches stayed for 11 years.
In 1984, Welch said he was called to be “where we were meant to be” at Trail. Over the years with support and encouragement from the congregation, Welch brought many to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. “That has been our joy,” he said with heartfelt emotion looking around the sanctuary at the people he shepherded for a quarter of a century.
With a goal of keeping country churches alive, Trail Community Church is a part of the Village Missions organization. The organization’s motto is “Love the people and teach the word of God.” Welch led his life following that motto and he testified, “It was in our hearts to do this. God has comforted me in trials and I have passed that on to you.”
“It is with regret that we are leaving. We shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again. Stay true to the word of God and embrace your new interim missionary and then your permanent pastor when he arrives.” Overcome with emotion while saying good-bye to his congregation, many who had become friends, Welch ended his final service and stepped down from the pulpit for the last time.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent