This article first appeared in The Monitor
By David Webb
Cedar Creek Lake – Celebration on the Lake Church Pastor Kathy Bowser announced Jan. 18 she would retire in May after leading the congregation for 10 years.
“There is a time to say hello, and there is a time to say goodbye,” Bowser said in a telephone interview this week. “It is now a time for the church to begin again with a new pastor.”
Bowser said she and Fluffy Jones, her partner who is active in helping lead the congregation, began talking about retirement last year. The couple married in California last year on Feb. 13. They delayed their plans until this year because of a new capital campaign the church undertook to raise enough money to pay off the church’s mortgage. An anonymous donor offered a contribution of $25,000 if the church could match the funds.
“We felt it would be really disruptive for us to retire during the capital campaign,” Bowser said. “And we were as excited as everybody else about it.”
The church realized the goal of paying off the mortgage early and burning it in a ceremony Jan. 12. The congregation rid itself of debt on the new $250,000 building six years after its construction. Three capital campaigns and the sale of property given to the church by a member allowed the quick payoff.
“We really blew it out of the water,” Bowser said.
Before she made the announcement she individually advised the church’s board of directors about her plans so a committee could be formed to search for a new pastor, Bowser said. She also met one-on-one with church founders and longtime members so one-third of the congregation expected the announcement. Bowser led up to the news with a discussion of Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens …,” which is also the theme for a song by Peter, Paul and Mary.
“It feels very, very right,” said Bowser, who is 70. “No matter how much I will miss everybody and how many tears I have shed, this is a good thing. Everybody will be okay. It is an excellent time to make the change.”
In her sermon last Sunday Bowser fondly recalled her early days as pastor of the church when Pastor Carol West of Fort Worth’s Celebration Community Church, who is also a weekender and helped found the church, asked her to take over as the lake church’s pastor. Bowser said she stumbled through some sermons, and she once talked the congregation into bringing flashlights inside when sunrise services got rained out. “That was the dumbest idea,” she said. “How kind and patient everyone was.”
Bowser said the Bible recounts the Baptism of Jesus as “changing his life radically” because he immediately began preaching and became consumed with spreading the word of God. Becoming pastor of the church changed her life similarly, she said. “It was a huge change,” she said.
In addition to the mortgage-free building, Bowser leaves the church with 82 members and a three-year plan to almost double the size of the congregation and to establish strong relations with other churches and philanthropic organizations in the Cedar Creek Lake area.
Church member Brenda Allen said she believes the congregation at large shares her reaction to Bowser’s announcement. The church’s founders agree the church is in a good place for continued growth, and that Bowser’s leadership put the congregation in that advantageous position. Three new visitors attended church services last Sunday.
“We are sad to see her leave us but excited about she and Fluffy getting to enjoy some quality retirement together,” she said. “They put their hearts, souls, energy and more into making our church what it is now. Kathy had a vision from the beginning, and she worked constantly to make us move forward without her leadership.”
Bowser and Jones, who have owned a weekend home on the lake for 21 years and also own a home in Arlington, plan not to attend church services for a while to allow a new pastor to take over the leadership role and become comfortable. “I don’t want to be a distraction,” Bowser said.
Bowser noted she and Jones consider most of the congregation good friends, and they will be making a big adjustment in their lives. The couple usually spent time in their lake house only on weekends because of church duties, but now they will be free to visit the lake mid-week as well.
Bowser’s departure will make him sad, said Daryl Wicks, a newer church member. “I may sound corny, but it’s from my heart and sincere,” he said. “I am blessed to have Kathy in my life. She has not only been my pastor, but she has been my friend, welcoming me not only into Celebration on the Lake Church but also into her home.”
Wicks said Bowser could retire from being his pastor, but she could never retire from being his friend.