By Clint Confehr
MURFREESBORO, TN — Having pastored Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church for 40 years, the Rev. Richard Sibert has retired. “Don’t Count Me Out” was his parting message.
Rev. Sibert spoke June 28 to more than 100 people in the Smith Fork District Association building here with a story about perseverance in the face of adversity and contagious disease.
“The Bible only talks about four lepers,” he said. “They … refused to resign themselves to a life of ‘less than.’ They were not going to be counted out… They refused to allow their condition to set the stage for how they looked at themselves … You don’t need a word from people who have not walked in your shoes. Sometimes you need to be encouraged by somebody who has been there and done that!”
Just before Sibert spoke, the Rev. George T. Brooks, pastor of Saint James Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville since June 1984, reported that of all such ministers, “only 2 percent retire.”
Those attending in person and through social media heard the Rev. James “Tex” Thomas — he’s the retired pastor remembered as Nashville’s mayor of Jefferson Street — say, “In about 1970, I came here” for employment, “but the Lord said ‘No.’”
Pastor Sibert thanked his wife, Carolyn, who “stood by my side through the good, the bad and the ugly.” They have seven children and he uses “007” in his email address, not because of a spy. The Sibert children spoke words of their love for a man who sacrificed home life to serve the church, a burden born by others when serving.
Among those attending, was another public servant and writer of truth, Lisa Marctesoni, who says, “Rev. Richard Sibert believes in being honest and frank. He’s not going to sugar-coat his comments to make one feel better. He’s going to give you the truth, a characteristic I admire.”
The pastor is retiring from a church that’s more than a century old. In recent years, it was vandalized by a few high schoolers who lashed out with hateful words and deeds. Captured and taken to court, the boys included one whose mother brought him to apologize to the congregation. The pastor prayed with him and told Rutherford County’s juvenile court judge that he had a place for their public service to help the teens avoid more time in confinement.
Asked why he became a minister, Rev. Sibert replied that in his early years, his cousin — someone who was like a brother to him — was killed. He took the higher road.
“A basic struggle for people is knowing their purpose and fulfilling that,” Sibert said. Not knowing is dangerous because anger and frustration comes with it.
“Nobody is more dangerous than someone who has nothing to lose or hope for,” the pastor said. “We need to remember that God is active even when He seems to be absent. I can’t always see what God is up to on my behalf. I just have to trust Him that something is going on for my good.
“Each setback is setting me up for a comeback. Don’t count me out. He didn’t bring me this far to leave me now. For 40 years I have been walking with Him, talking with Him. He tells me I am His own.”
And the congregation said “Aye men.”