Many middle-agers come back to the fold

September 16, 2000

Many middle-agers come back to the fold

By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

The empty nest and the specter of death inspire some people to get in tune with their spirituality during middle age, some area clergymen say.

James Hoffer, 61, senior pastor of the Hagerstown Seventh-day Adventist Church on Robinwood Drive, said many his age are finding more time for their spirituality now that the kids are grown and gone.

"Some drift away at that time, but many use that new time for their church," Hoffer said. "There is no fixed rule. ... It's different for each."

Hoffer said getting older often triggers feelings that as your body starts to wear out, you come face-to-face with your mortality.


"Many feel it's high time to take stock in life," Hoffer said.

He said he likes being able to devote more time to contemplate things in life.

Pastor Daniel Johnson of the Brownsville Church of the Brethren said it isn't unusual for people to come back into the fold for a variety of reasons, such as marriage, the birth of children or personal tragedy.

"They're looking for strength whenever there are changes in life," Johnson said.

Or they want to give the church another chance after something drove them away, he said.

Johnson said he tells these "prodigal sons" the church will help them go forward with their lives.

"You can't change what happened, but you can move on," Johnson said.

Johnson has experienced that firsthand. He said that after an early entry into the ministry, he discovered it wasn't as easy as it seemed.

"I got a piece of advice. ... Pastoral ministry is great if the Lord won't let you do anything else," Johnson said.

So the New Jersey native made a sweeping career change and went into the pest control business in Wisconsin. He soon came to the conclusion he was wasting his life and came back to the church.

First setting up ministry at a Pennsylvania church, Johnson realized that his recent divorce was unacceptable to that congregation.

Now the new pastor at Brownsville, Johnson, 31, said he and his three children have been welcomed warmly.

Johnson said his spirituality has changed and strengthened over the years. He said Brownsville church members were willing to look at him and what he can offer them.

Jack Hicks is another recent Washington County transplant whose spirituality has evolved over the years and through other divergent careers.

A few years ago, Hicks said he got a little nudge from God to pursue his first choice.

After a stint in the military service, Hicks became a Philadelphia police officer and then spent many years as an investigator with the Philadelphia Electric Co.

He said he came to Jesus Christ at age 27 and has ministered as a layman for more than 32 years.

"I'm happy beyond any doubt that I made the right move to the ministry. ... I knew it was my calling, but circumstances prevented it earlier," Hicks said.

After much soul-searching, Hicks said, he and his wife, Audrey, moved to Hagerstown in 1998 and started the Abundant Life Fellowship, which has been meeting at the Boy Scout building on Crestwood Drive.

The ministry has grown to the point that the congregation will be moving into its own building this fall.

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