Colette M. Jenkins

FAIRLAWN: The Rev. David Loar is ready to do God’s mission in a new way.

“I’ve spent 38 years as a church pastor, and it’s time to do something different,” Loar said. “I’ll turn 65 in a month, so I’m kicking in the pension and getting Medicare, but not retiring from serving God.”

On Sunday, Loar will deliver his final sermon as pastor of Fairlawn West United Church of Christ during the 10 a.m. worship service. He officially will retire from the post Dec. 31, after taking his vacation days. He has served at Fairlawn West UCC for 18 years and has spent an additional 20 as a church pastor.

During his tenure, Loar has worked to transform the way his parishioners look at what it means to be a Christian. It was that effort that attracted Alison Oswald more than five years ago when she visited the church.

“He has changed the way I look at church and what it means to be Christian. The very first service I went to, I remember feeling a little anxious — thinking there was this list of things you were supposed to do to be a good Christian,” Oswald said. “I was so worried that I wasn’t doing all the things that I needed to to be a good Christian. Then, in his sermon, he said it was more important to do good than to be good. That resonated with me, and I stayed.”

Oswald, who now considers Loar a spiritual mentor, is a member of church council and on the search committee to find an interim pastor.

The congregation, which is made up of about 125 worshippers, has decided to hire an interim pastor as it goes through a process of discerning its future direction without the man who has led and guided for the past 18 years. An interim is expected to be announced by the end of the year.

Oswald and Mary Austin, former president of the congregation, agree that the congregation will keep social justice and outreach to those in need at its core.

“David has challenged all of us to live the life of a Christian rather than just attending church,” Austin said. “He has led by example. He walks the talk. He is an intentionally devoted Christian. He is devoted to serving others and he has definitely nurtured us to work for justice and share God’s love with others.”

While under Loar’s leadership, the congregation developed a relationship with Miller Avenue United Church of Christ to help meet the needs of people living in one of Akron’s poorest neighborhoods; has participated in Family Promise (formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network) to help homeless families; and has become open and affirming to intentionally welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Last year, Loar received the Northeast Ohio Transgender Ally of the Year award. He also served as the founding president of Family Promise. His community involvement has included work with the Akron Area Association of Churches, the Firestone High School Soccer Boosters, the West Akron United Soccer Association, the Akron Public Schools Africentric school committee, Crown Point Ecology Center and the Northwest Akron clergy group.

He serves as president of Miller Avenue’s governing board and volunteers as a swim instructor at Old Trail School, where his wife, Martha, teaches first grade, and at Stan Hywet’s butterfly house. He is also an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist and works part time at Billow Funeral Home.

In his retirement, Loar plans to continue his work at the funeral home at Stan Hywet and the F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm as a volunteer naturalist, at Miller Avenue in Akron’s Summit Lake area, where he and his wife will become members, and as a swim teacher at Old Trail. He will also continue leading the retired pastors’ hiking group that he organized a year ago.

It is also likely that he will continue keeping office hours at the Nervous Dog Coffee Bar on West Market Street.

Loar spends time at the coffee shop as a way to reach out to people who prefer a more casual setting. He calls the coffee shop his “office” and his space at the church his “study.”

“As Christians, we have to be willing to move away from the traditional organizational model of church to a place where we can still do God’s work,” Loar said. “I will still be doing God’s work and looking at other possible options of public service.”

Fairlawn West UCC is located at 2095 W. Market St. More information can be found at www.fairlawnwest.org.

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com.