After 11 years at the helm, "Pastor Bert," as he's known to his flock, is stepping down. After leading this Sunday's service, the Rev. Bert Sikkelee will retire as Centreville United Methodist Church's senior pastor.
"I'll be 67 in July, so why not retire?" he asked. "However, the bishop has asked me if I'd coach other ministers — and it's a challenge and an honor — so I'll do that whenever he asks me."'
Sikkelee's been in ministry 43 years, and he and wife Libby have two grown children, Kirsten, 35, of Charlotte, N.C., and Derek, 32, of San Francisco. And although Sikkelee's led other churches, he's spent the most time here.
"It's been wonderful," he said, calling his congregants "the most talented, well-traveled and brightest people I've ever worked with." And they, in turn, are sad to lose him. Said Lisa Ray, adult and singles ministry director: "What I'll remember most about Bert is his kindness and gentleness, and the consummate professional he is."
Actually, both he and the Rev. Tim Tate — who's going to a church in Williamsburg — are leaving, and both will be missed. Ray praised their "level of spirituality" and concern for the church staff and congregation.
"I'm grateful we've had both Tim and Bert here at the same time because they complement each other so well," said Sally Taylor, director of children's ministries. "Bert is wise and experienced, and Tim is enthusiastic and energetic, so we get the whole spectrum."
Recalling highlights of his tenure, Sikkelee discussed the church's accomplishments. He said it had some 1,450 members when he arrived, July 1, 1992, and now has about 2,750. And the yearly budget grew from $500,000 then to $2 million now.
AT TIMES, he said, the church had to dip into its reserve fund to make its monthly mortgage payment of $42,000. But in 1995, he appointed a long-range-plan committee, and CUMC began giving 1/3 of its money to missions. In just three years, it increased its mission contributions by 760 percent and, amazingly, it had plenty for the mortgage, too.
Sikkelee was also pleased with a new church parking lot that VDOT liked so well that it blacktopped and turned it into a park-and-ride lot on weekdays. VDOT also widened the road there, added lights and maintains that lot. He's glad, too, that the church bought 3.1 acres nearby before homes could be built on it, so it may serve as a future parking lot.
The church staff increased from six to 16 full-time employees and hired Barbara Shaiko as its missions director. And the past three years, church members have tutored students at Centre Ridge Elementary.
"What we give to the community is one of the things I feel best about," said Sikkelee. These things include the tutoring, the church's Christmas in April program and its mission in Sneedville, Tenn., where 90 people each year renovate or build homes and hold backyard Bible study.
CUMC does a similar project in Appalachia and financially sponsors Russian orphans. It's sent mission teams to Chile and, this year, Shaiko will go to Africa. A committee is developing a community center for local teens, and CUMC also earmarked $90,000 to build a home for mentally challenged adults.
SIKKELEE BEGAN a committee that later reduced the church's administrative body so it "could respond more quickly to the needs of the congregation and the community." The committee also created a new position that freed its ministers from administrative duties so they could focus on preaching, teaching and ministering.
"That's been tremendously helpful to me," said Sikkelee. "And it will also help with pastoral transitions so there'll be continuity, even with new pastors coming in." He's proud, too, of CUMC's 16 vocal and handbell choirs and praise band. And, he added, "Our children's ministry and Sunday school are both wonderful."
He says it's not difficult to retire because "I'm not going anywhere. The church sold the parsonage to [Libby and I], three years ago, so we don't have to leave. And I'll still be a member of the community and will attend church there, after four to six months, as a courtesy to my successor."
The Rev. Don Carlton of Charlottesville will replace him, and the Rev. Samantha Jessee, who just received her master of divinity, will be associate pastor. And Sikkelee says he's leaving the church in good hands.
Now, he's "looking forward to the break and having time to visit people, take day trips and do things I haven't had time to do. I'm delighted to be staying in Centreville."
During a special, farewell ceremony for both Sikkelee and Tate, Saturday night, at the church, Tate told him, "You're my friend, my colleague, my mentor and my brother." And Dave Trump, a church member since 1994, noted that Sikkelee was always a strong supporter of Boy Scout Troop 893.
Claudette Ward, a CUMC member for 52 years, is sad to see both ministers go. "I wish them both well," she said. "I know that God still has plans for them." Saturday, Sikkelee told his flock, "It has been a great ride, and I love you for sharing it with me."