Q&A With Phil and Mary Christopher
Phil Christopher retired in September as senior pastor of First Baptist Church, a position he held for twenty-six years. Both Mary and Phil Christopher have made a substantial impact on Abilene since their arrival, and thankfully, they will remain Abilenians.
Phil’s last Sunday as senior pastor was Sept. 26. Future plans call for some travel and continued local involvement in non-profit work and other activities. And, Mary will contine her professional responsibilities.
Following are their responses to a Q&A with Spirit of Abilene:
QUESTIONS FOR PHIL
Q What part of being the senior pastor of a church will you miss the most?
A Sharing in those significant moments in people’s lives and the generational impact. I have been blessed to dedicate children, baptize them, marry them, dedicate and baptize their children, as well as funerals for their parents. I will miss how I was able to be part of those rites of passages, transitions, and celebrations. I will also miss worship in our sanctuary and being able to preach to such a good listening congregation.
Q What ministry or interest will you be able to pursue as a retired minister that maybe you couldn’t do while serving a church?
A I will continue my work with non-profits, especially the United Way. I hope to be able to raise money for the United Way Foundation. I will have opportunities to do consulting work with churches going through transitions and congregational struggles. I am also open to waiting and seeing what new opportunities will be brought into my life by God’s grace.
Q Church attendance has been dwindling among mainstream denominations for quite a while and then COVID hit. It would be easy to see a bleak future for the church. What are some positive signs? Do you see an entirely new look for “church” in the future?
A The church historically has thrived and grown the best during such times. I believe we are in a time of reformation that will make Luther’s look like a pebble in a pond. You can’t determine you are in a reformation in the moment, only history and its effects will validate it. One of the unique challenges we face is not so much a secular threat from the outside but a watered-down, Americanized version of the Christian faith. This threat to the church is what called Cultural Christianity that confuses right-wing politics with the radical call to follow Jesus. I agree with the statement the Danish philosopher. In Denmark, everyone was considered a Christian. He said, “There is no lack of information in our land. Something else is missing.” I still take hope that 11 people helped to change this world and even bring the Roman Empire to its knees.
Q What do you want your legacy to be from your tenure at First Baptist?
A I would like my legacy to be the continued focus on looking outside our church walls. I would hope that the church would continue to see it’s more than who comes in our doors, but how we open doors throughout our community. I would hope my legacy would be a church where you can come just as you are – that it would be church without barriers to the hurting. I would like for the church to have a continued, ecumenical spirit to building bridges within our city.
Q Any additional comments you wish to make:
A I never could have imagine what these years would hold when we moved here 26 years ago. Even as I come to retirement, I trust even more those words from Ephesians, “God is able to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” I give our gracious God all the credit of what He has done.
QUESTIONS FOR MARY
Q I assume traveling to visit your kids and their families is on the agenda. Do you all have any other travels you’ve been postponing until now?
A We want to travel some but have not made any big plans yet. Initially we will travel to South Padre Island and Port Aransas for a couple of weeks of relaxation and rest. We love watching the waves and walking along the beach. Spending some uninterrupted time together will be great. We also plan to go to several Baylor football games. It will be so nice not to have to drive back late at night to be here for Sunday. In the next year or two, we will plan some trips to other locations.
Q Will you continue your consulting work full-time or will you cut back to do more leisure activities with Phil?
A For the current time, I plan to continue consulting with school districts across the state. I love working with those districts to help them evaluate their program and develop new understandings and implement new programs. I also love directing TH!NK Camp and hosting the Virtual Gifted Institute each summer. What a joy to have an impact on gifted and talented students and their teachers in the local area. I also teach adjunct for ACU Dallas’s Doctorate in Organizational Leadership, which is an online program, so I can do that wherever we are. I serve as dissertation chair and committee members for several of their students, as well. I plan to continue teaching a course in the ACU graduate program in education in May term each year. But I will definitely have time to spend with Phil on a regular basis now that he will not need to be available for ministry needs 24/7.
Q Will your involvement at First Baptist change when Phil is no longer the pastor?
A We plan to take a break from FBC for several months so that FBC members can adjust to him not being pastor. We need that break as well. Then, we will start attending worship when we are in town. We will pray about how we want to be involved any further. I know we will continue to care deeply for the ministries at FBC and through the Hope Center.