BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SALISBURY — The Rev. Rusty Davis has been standing at the pulpit in the sanctuary of East Parish United Methodist Church for eight years, the pastor of a congregation he loves. But that will come to an end soon when he leaves to lead another church.
The 61-year-old Davis has been reassigned by the Methodist Church, and he’ll be taking over at United Church of Christ-Federated Church in Webster next month.
“The Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley, who believed that the world is your parish, and you should be able to minister to anyone in any place,” Davis said. “Typically in the Methodist Church, pastors are reassigned every three to five years. I’ve been here for eight and that’s rare.”
Davis was born and raised in Byfield, and even as a child heading down Beach Road with his seven brothers and sisters, he’d look at East Parish Meetinghouse and marvel at the tall, white steeple with its black-faced clock with the words “Memorial Gift” where the numbers usually are.
He spent the first part of his working career as a postman, delivering the mail in West Newbury for 21 years before he retired. Upon retirement, however, he actualized his calling to God’s service, entering seminary and then becoming an ordained minister in 1999. He took over his first church in Warren, N.H., then was assigned to a congregation in Peabody, and then to three churches simultaneously in Maine, before being coming to Salisbury.
“Coming to East Parish was like coming home,” he said. “I still have a lot of family and friends in the area. It very rarely happens that ministers are assigned so close to home.”
The congregation was led by Pastor John Folley for 15 years from 1985 to 2000, Davis said, followed by a series of pastors within a short period before Davis took over eight years ago.
“I think Rusty was assigned here to provide the congregation with a sense of stability,” said Jan Juntunen, a member of EPUMC for more than 25 years. “Rusty has been very kind to people both inside the church and outside the church who had pastoral needs. He walks in faith. He’s sincere in his faith.”
In addition, she said, all on his own, Davis got involved in the community, serving its needs in many ways.
Davis was on the advisory board of Pettengill House, the social service agency headquartered across the street from East Parish Meetinghouse, and worked with Link House and at the Salisbury senior center, where he offered his help teaching a computer course as well as conducting seminars on bereavements.
He’s also the chaplain for the Byfield Fire Department.
One of the high points in his time at EPUMC came in September 2009, when he was part of a historic moment in the life of the congregation.
“It was an honor for me to be here and celebrate the 175th anniversary of this church,” Davis said.
Davis was the 82nd pastor to lead the congregation of Methodists, who had united with the Congregationalists in 1834 and built the current meetinghouse at 8 Lafayette Road at the entrance to Salisbury Square.
It was constructed on the foundation of a previous church that was built in 1723. Many believe it’s the oldest religious congregation in the country continually worshiping in the same church.
Davis said he’s pleased that he’s been able to help those in his congregation grow in their faith and comfort those grieving over the loss of loved ones.
Davis believes the congregation is one of the most vibrant in the region with an attendance at services that’s grown over the years.
“I love this congregation,” Davis said. “This is still going to be home to me. I love these people. I’ll be back.”
Juntunen said members of the congregation are thankful for Davis’ service, and as they’ve done so many times in the past, will welcome their new pastor, who will be named at Sunday’s service.
Davis has only one piece of advice.
“I learned a while ago not to try to be like your predecessor,” he said. “Be yourself and people will love you for who you are.”
Davis will preside as pastor his last time at East Parish United Methodist Church at the 10 a.m. service on Sunday, June 22.
Following the service, the congregation will have a “Celebration of Ministry” luncheon for him, and a welcome is extended to the surrounding communities.
The event is free, but those wishing to attend should RSVP to Denise Hudson at 978-465-8940.