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Father Tom Mustard, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Bedford, is calling it quits — sort of.
Mustard will retire in April. This doesn't mean that he's leaving Bedford.
"This is a good parish. It's a great community. It's a good place to live," Mustard said.
This doesn't mean he's going to vegetate, either.
"We won't be fading off into the sunset," Mustard commented.
Mustard plans to remain active in the community. Retirement means slowing down. He will fill in at other parishes in the area as needed.
"Somebody else can be rector," he said.
Rector is the title of the senior pastor of an Episcopal parish. Retiring means that he will no longer be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the church.
"You don't give up your ordination," he said. "You continue to serve as the church needs you."
Mustard said that he found a strong ecumenical spirit in the Bedford area from the beginning. It has a strong ministerial association that area churches support.
Area churches also work together in a number of areas. Mustard mentioned Christmas in Action (formerly Christmas in April), Bedford Christian Ministries, the Shepherd's Table and the Christmas Station as examples of permanent efforts in the community that area churches are involved with together.
A major project that Mustard oversaw was renovating the church, something that needed to be done without compromising the 1927 building's characteristics. This involved cleaning a large Tiffany window. Mustard said that it isn't possible to get insurance on that window because it can't be replaced. Louis Tiffany made this window, himself, and signed it. Tiffany, a renowned artist of the late 19th and early 20th century, died in 1933.
After a careful search, the parish contacted John Raynal of Natural Bridge Station to do the work. This involved taking the window out, taking it apart, cleaning the glass and releading it.
Mustard said that one of the great parts of being the first person in the church on Sunday morning is to see the vivid colors of that window as the early morning sunlight shines through it.
The renovation involved some more prosaic work, updating the air conditioning system and making the building handicapped accessible.
"The sign says 'The Episcopal Church welcomes you'," Mustard said, referring to a sign in front of the church.
The building layout, however, wasn't exactly welcoming to people with mobility problems. The front entry had steps. There were doors that weren't wide enough for wheelchairs.
Mustard was ordained as an Episcopal priest 31 years ago, although he first felt called to the ministry long before that.
"Oh gosh, I was still in high school," he recalled.
He wasn't an Episcopalian then.
"I had grow up in the Methodist Church," he said.
He put it on the back burner for a while. Then he met, Shirley, the lady who became his wife.
"She was the Episcopalian," he said. "She said all she wanted was for me to go to church with her. She didn't want me to go crazy."
Mustard said that a call to the ministry is something that will not let you go. You know that this is what you have to do.
"It's an incessant urging until you say, 'All right, I'll do it,'" he said.
Mustard recalls what he was told when he first went to an Episcopal priest and told him about the call he felt.
"If you think that there is anything else in life that you can do and be happy doing, then that is what you need to do," the priest told him.
Mustard, who had a degree in sociology from Berea College in Kentucky, applied to Virginia Theological Seminary and was accepted. He liked the seminary. The professors were approachable and he recalls siting around, outside of class, drinking coffee and listening to these guys.
One faculty member would serve as minister of the week during chapel services and he recalls one particular professor, Dr. Reginald Fuller.
"Here would come Dr. Fuller with his Greek New Testament," Mustard recalled.
Dr. Fuller would read Scripture in the original Koine Greek, translating as he went. The students followed along as best they could.
Mustard said that Dr. Fuller was fluent in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and German. He also spoke some Italian and Portuguese.
He also liked the fact that Dr. Fuller noted the Aramaic influences in Biblical Greek. Jesus spoke Aramaic, and Mustard said that, when first century believers put the Gospels together, they sometimes put in the actual Aramaic words that Jesus used.
"They wanted everybody to hear that ? what He actually said," commented Mustard.
Mustard believes that when we say that the Bible is the Word of the Lord, it means that we need to do some work. This is because the Scriptures were not originally written in English. He recommends using a concordance and doing word studies.
He said that the Episcopal Church lists several approved translations. These are translations that the church believes are backed by sufficient scholarship to be true to the original Hebrew and Greek. One of these is the Authorized Version, better known as the King James Version. Mustard said that there was excellent scholarship behind this translation. According to Mustard, the Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, Today's English Version, The Jerusalem Bible and the New American Standard are also approved translations.
Being in the ministry has held a number of special moments for Mustard. Two of those were officiating at the marriages of both of his daughters, Michele and Molley. He filled a dual role.
"I actually walked down the aisle with them," he said.
Then he stepped to the front and finished the wedding ceremony.
He has also baptized all of his grandchildren.
Worship services in the Episcopal Church end with the Eucharist. Episcopalians, and other churches of the Anglican Communion, have communion every Sunday. Officiating at the Eucharist is another part of being an Episcopal priest that is a blessing to Mustard. He said that it is the Eucharist that binds Christians together.
"It is the Lord who invites us to the table," he said. "We see ourselves standing around a long, big table."
"We didn't have anything to do with providing the feast ? He provides the feast," Father Mustard added. "We are not the ones hosting the feast."
Being in the ministry is also a lot of work. It's a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job. Mustard noted that parishioners need to be able to feel that they can pick up the phone at any time and call. That means, in turn, that his phone can ring at any time.
Mustard said that the nature of the work means that the minister must pay attention to his energy level. Taking some time apart to reenergize prevents burnout.
A priest also has to be aware that there will always be somebody in his parish that he can't please. There is only one way to deal with these people.
"You love 'em anyway," Father Mustard said.