Trinity Pastor George Patterson gives final sermon

When the Rev. George Patterson closes the Bible after his final sermon at Trinity United Methodist Church on Sunday, and makes his way into retirement, he will miss the hundreds of parishioners he’s developed deep friendships with, counseled and supported during 18 years as pastor there.

“One of the things I’ll miss the most are the meaningful moments — visiting when someone is hurting, someone may be searching for truth — and I can point them to God and lead them to faith in Christ,” said the 69-year-old Patterson, who is deeply loved at Trinity and throughout the community.

“My, my. I don’t know where to begin,” said Barbara Phillips, who was baptized at Trinity and has attended about 67 years, longer than any other current member.

“(The) Rev. Patterson is such a blessing to our church. He has been wonderful to everyone. His service is the best and he’s a good missionary for God. I just want to sit there and hear him and look at him and just draw in everything he says. He’s just great. He talks right from his heart,” Phillips said.

“I think you have to be a person first and foremost who is devoted to your creator,” the Rev. Patterson told the Salisbury Independent one recent morning. “You want to honor God with your life. And I think you have to love and care about people. I enjoy people. Being a pastor is a high honor and personal privilege,” he said.

“It’s the worst when children are terminally ill. As a pastor you always wish there were words that could make everything better. You go to be with the family and offer prayer and read scripture. What I’ve learned in the ministry is what I call the power of presence.  Just to be with people and to show genuine concern and that you care can be very comforting and encouraging. There’s a wonderful quote I like to use. It’s ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ That has been for me the mainstay in pastoral care,” he said.

He quoted his favorite scripture, John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet he shall live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

“I try to get across that God loves us just the way we are but he may not want us to stay that way,” he said.

Support for Brooke

When little Brooke Mulford died last year after a long and valiant battle with cancer, the pastor was at the memorial service. During her illness, he traveled to visit her.

“I feel like it’s very, very important as a pastor that you be with families in times of need, in concern and even fear. I credit it to the power of presence,” he said.

Brooke’s mother, Amy Stanton Mulford, said the Rev. Patterson “was there for me through some of my toughest days.”

“He drove up to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia numerous times over the years to be there for me and my daughter Brooke even after we moved to New Jersey. He helped me get through my divorce and many difficult days. He was always offering words of encouragement, prayer and wisdom,” Mulford said.

At Brooke’s memorial service, he characterized the 12-year-old as “a precious, precious child.”

“Little Brooke lived in faith and she died in faith,” he told those at the service, most wearing purple, the color that represents neuroblastoma, the cancer that took her life. Turning to Mulford, he said, “You covered your daughter. I can’t even imagine the many hours. And so many amazing things she got to experience. Someday she will be back in your arms.”

Second career

Interestingly, the ministry is his second career, the first having been a real estate and insurance salesman.

“I just started feeling this call. The Bible calls it a call and it really is. I really started feeling an internal call to the ministry. Every day I’d think about it. I thought, ‘I’m married. I have two little girls. How am I going to do this?’

“I hadn’t breathed a word to anybody but one day my wife said to me – and this is the wisdom of women – she said, ‘If God is calling you into the ministry then you better do this.’ I not only felt called, I felt compelled. I felt like I had to do it or I was going to explode,” the Rev. Patterson said.

At age 31, with a wife and two little girls, he was a freshman in college. He received a student appointment, pastored three little country churches, and earned his master’s degree in divinity.

“My wife could sense it. We both had committed our lives to Christ. She could sense I was wanting to get more involved in the life of the church. She had this keen instinct. My girls remember me sitting down at night studying, with a pencil and yellow marker,” he said, laughing.

Tony Sarbanes, a lay leader at Trinity 20 years, called Patterson “a superior minister.”

“He’s done things in the community. He’s known in the community. He is very sensitive. When he gives a sermon he uses no notes. He just gets up and goes for about 20 minutes. He cites scripture, he’ll cite authors, he’ll cite books. We have been fortunate to have him.

“As a lay leader I sat in on all the major committee meetings for over 18 years, something like 358 meetings. I really got to know him very well. He always cares and looks out for the parishioners of the church and the church. That was his top priority. Every minister should be that way, but he was very special that way. I never saw him change or vary in any way,” Sarbanes said.

Longtime Trinity member Roy Perdue worked closely with Patterson as milestone church events were planned, including the 100th anniversary of the present sanctuary in 2005 and the 150th anniversary of the founding of Trinity in 2016.

“Rev. Patterson is a gifted speaker, who delivers a dynamic and thought-provoking sermon — with no notes — every Sunday morning.  Embedded somewhere in each sermon is this reminder: God gives us many blessings, but he also gives us grace to see us through our challenges. His positive words of encouragement stay in my mind and heart all week,” Perdue said.

“I am very honored and privileged to be in the ministry 37 years,” a humble Rev. Patterson said.

“I always considered it a high honor and personal privilege to serve God and serve people. People let you into very special moments in their lives and sometimes very painful. So, I’ve been very privileged over the years. I came from modest beginnings. I had loving parents and a loving brother and sister. We were modest, middle-class people. I was the first in my family to go to college,” he said.

More time for family

A native of Frankford in Sussex County, who joked he’s “just a little country boy,” the pastor earned a bachelor’s degree from Delaware State University and master’s degree from Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He and his wife, Vera, who he praised for regularly making sacrifices over the years, have two daughters, Coralee of Ocean City and Heather Moore of Atlanta, a 12-year-old grandson, Dylan, and 9-year-old granddaughter, Matea.

Although Patterson and his wife plan to relocate to Worcester County, Patterson said they have “certainly enjoyed the Salisbury area.”

“We plan to do a little traveling and to spend some time with our grandchildren. For a while, we’ll catch our breath and try to enjoy each other. We have a small boat. We like to get out on the water. I played golf before I got in the ministry but I got away from it because of the time and expense. We are going to miss everybody but I’ll be 70 in November,” he said.

Church member Jim Thomas, who has known the Rev. Patterson since he arrived at Trinity, and who has served as chairman of the Board of Trustees, called Patterson “just great.”

“George has brought us individually along with his sermons. He’s been a great manager and great pastor for our church. We’re in excellent shape. I hate to see him go. He’s done tremendous work. He’s come to see us whether we’ve been in the hospital in Baltimore or Philadelphia or Wilmington.

“I can’t underestimate his powers as a preacher, as a minister. He gave us something literally every week to take home and use. He never used a note. It’s actually miraculous.”

“He is a man of integrity,” church member Rae Harmon said.

“I don’t even know where to start to say how wonderful he is and how important he’s been to our family. I don’t know what we would have done without him. Our son, Michael, had Stage IV liver and lung cancer. He was diagnosed when he was 1. He is a survivor. He is 18 now.

“At that time, Rev. Patterson was relatively new. He came to the hospital. He came and prayed with the family. He led a prayer vigil, 24 hours. We have five boys and an older daughter. I was pregnant with a little girl when this happened, but she did not make it,” she said.

Adding to the family’s heartache, Harmon’s brother was diagnosed with melanoma.

“This all happened at the same time. My brother died. (The) Rev. Patterson would come to our house. He would pray by himself daily at the altar for Michael. He has such a presence when he speaks. When he walks into a room he just changes the atmosphere,” Harmon said.

“Oh, we’re going to miss him,” Barbara Phillips said.

“My sister died a couple years ago. He came and we talked and he was just wonderful. I just hate for him to leave. He and his wife are just jewels for our church.”

His last sermon will be at 10 a.m. this Sunday, followed by a celebration at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.