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Arlington pastor steps down after 21 years

Verlin Elmore, right, jokes with Kathy Westmiller at Arlington Free Methodist Church earlier this month. Elmore’s last day as senior pastor was Easter Sunday, April 4. - Adam Rudnick
Verlin Elmore, right, jokes with Kathy Westmiller at Arlington Free Methodist Church earlier this month. Elmore’s last day as senior pastor was Easter Sunday, April 4.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON — For 21 years, Verlin Elmore helped a lot of individuals while serving as senior pastor for the Arlington Free Methodist Church.

Now he faces a new challenge — improving his golf game.

“The church gave me a new set of Ping golf clubs,” Elmore said. “Now that I’m retiring, I won’t feel guilty about playing.”

Elmore’s last service was Easter Sunday, April 4, at the church on East Highland Drive, which has been the second home for the Arlington resident during his two-plus decades of work.

The 65-year-old has seen highs and lows. He has watched families brought together and young people grow up. But he’s also witnessed devastation.

Members of the Free Methodist Church are mission-minded, meaning that they are encouraged to spread the word of God and glorify Him throughout the world.

The Arlington Free Methodist Church has sent teams to Haiti and Africa over the years to put roofs on houses, build wheelchair ramps and provide medical care to people, Elmore said.

Most recently, the church has sent medical and construction relief teams to Port-au-Prince and Dessalines, Haiti, to help earthquake victims recover from the January quake.

“There have always been a lot of doctors, nurses and contractors in our congregation,” he said. “It’s a broad spectrum of people.”

During that quake, Arlington resident Katie Zook was injured after the four-story building she was in collapsed. Zook — a member of the church — is currently recovering from her injuries and should make a full recovery.

But the church has also provided care to those who need it in Washington — church members in 2007 adopted two elderly gentlemen in Lewis County and helped them rebuild after flood ravaged most of the area.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is to support lives that have been changed. That’s where the satisfaction is,” Elmore said. “This is a very caring community. Every church has a niche, and this church has found its niche.”

Coming to Arlington

Elmore grew up a farm boy in Iowa.

His family moved to the West Coast when he was young, and he attended Seattle Pacific University. He served as a youth pastor in college and went on to attend seminary in Portland, Ore., where he served as an assistant pastor for three years.

Upon finishing seminary, he obtained senior pastor status and headed up churches in Renton (seven years) and Quincy (11 years) before arriving in Arlington.

Pastors are assigned to congregations by bishops and a committee, and Elmore was considered and interviewed for the open Arlington job in 1989.

Elmore and his wife, Donna, were able to find a home for their five children. Verlin started his job at the church that August.

“(My family) made a decision to speed up at the time,” Elmore said. “On the east side of the state it was a slower pace.”

An unwelcome welcoming

Six months after becoming the Arlington Free Methodist Church’s new senior pastor, part of the church’s office building was destroyed in a fire.

There was minimal damage to the surrounding buildings on the campus, so the decision was made to mobilize church members and contractors to not only re-build, but expand the church to better accommodate its needs.

“Everything before was open air,” Elmore said. “The idea was to put everything under one structure.”

People in the congregation also added a gymnasium, a full commercial kitchen and expanded the sanctuary’s seating area. They also created covered hallways so that church members didn’t have to go outside to get between the building’s various rooms and areas.

“We made it so you could walk anywhere, except for the gym,” he said.

A humorous approach

Sometimes Elmore was known for donning a Superman patch when a fellow church member or volunteer was having a bad day.

The pastor would burst into a room, sporting the patch, a long-haired wig and a hat. He said he received the hat from an individual who thought a pastor should be able to leap buildings in a single leap.

“When I think it’s getting heavy around here, I do it to break up the tension,” Elmore said. “We try to make it fun. If I couldn’t make this fun, I’d be doing something else.”

Elmore said he tried to draw on his experiences growing up on a farm, while incorporating humor into his sermons.

“It’s a give and take and it speaks a lot about the people that they’ve been able to put up with me for so long,” he said.

The next step

Elmore plans to return to the family farm in Iowa to help out with the harvest as he’s done nearly every year during his tenure at senior pastor.

But this time, he won’t be required back for work.

“It’s nice in a way — but I’m sure I’ll realize that I don’t have anything to do,” he said.

The church’s new interim pastor, Doug Mullins, took over for Elmore after his final sermon April 4, and will serve at Arlington Free Methodist until a permanent senior pastor is added.

“It’s going to be an adjustment to be on the receiving end of help as I get older,” Elmore said. “But I can still help people on my time rather than church time. The ministry never really ends.”

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