2010-09-16 / Island Life

Safford going to mountain top

Going to tell it on the mountain Richard Safford, pastor at Community Presbyterian Church for the past 23 years, is leaving in mid-October to accept a call at a church in Angel Fire, NM, trading his sea level pulpit for one on a mountaintop. STAFF PHOTO BY SUSAN ARMANOVS Going to tell it on the mountain Richard Safford, pastor at Community Presbyterian Church for the past 23 years, is leaving in mid-October to accept a call at a church in Angel Fire, NM, trading his sea level pulpit for one on a mountaintop. STAFF PHOTO BY SUSAN ARMANOVS After 23 years in the pulpit at Community Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Richard Safford announced Sunday, Sept. 12, that he is leaving Port Aransas.

He is answering a call from a church in Angel Fire, N.M. His last Sunday will be Oct. 10.

“It’s God’s will,” Safford said, when asked why he is leaving.

He said, “It started as a joke” when a friend asked if he’d like to change to a church on the top of a mountain as opposed to a church at sea level.

He laughed, and over several months of discussions, with him laughing and throwing up roadblocks every step of the way, and with the Angel Fire folks having an answer for each one, “I finally had to stop laughing and start listening,” Safford said.

Safford’s tenure is the longest of any pastor for the Port Aransas church, and the longest he’s lived anywhere or served any church. The second longest period of time he’s served a church was five years.

He’s been in Port Aransas “40 percent of my life,” so leaving Port Aransas “is hard – it’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. This call has been such a great match for so long; we raised our kids and other people’s kids here,” Safford said.

The only thing he hasn’t done that he would have liked to do was to marry someone he’d baptized.

“I thought that would be really cool,” he said.

The Presbyterian church dictates that when pastors move on they leave their former pulpits to the new pastors, so he won’t be coming back to fulfill that wish.

The church employs trained, professional interim pastors who go through a specific process with the congregation to help determine their needs for the present and the future. The process allows the congregation time to emotionally separate themselves from their previous pastor and open their minds to accepting a new pastor. That, Safford says, helps in the transition to insure the success of the new pastor.

In Port Aransas, Safford has extended his ministry beyond the confines of the church. In 2006, he was named Citizen of the Year by the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau, which takes nominations from the public for the award.

The award was based primarily on his activities outside the church. He was active in Little League as member, board member and officer. He has been a baseball and softball coach and umpire. He has been a coach and occasional referee in the Port Aransas Youth Soccer Association, and has coached in the youth basketball program. He is a past board member of the Port Aransas Boy Scouts and is a member of the Jerry McDonald Foundation, which sponsors Boy Scouts.

Until he “shredded” his knee, he was an active participant in the Port Aransas Volleyball Association for which he was a co-president, referee and captain of several teams.

Safford’s wife, Vernett, was the force behind the Helping Hands Food Pantry, for which is a volunteer driver for picking up food from the Food Bank of Corpus Christi.

He has been the backbone of the Salvation Army in Port Aransas, for which he serves as a board member and is an interviewer who writes vouchers. He also conducts interviews for the Pastor’s Fund (a fund operated by Port Aransas ministers to help people in need).

When evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma were in need, Safford was there. In fact, he was the shelter coordinator when Port Aransas accepted Corpus Christi’s overflow of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

Little known, and seldom used, are Safford’s skills as a trained facilitator. He has negotiated differences that have arisen in the community from as far back as the late 1980s.

Safford’s efforts include Winter Texans. He was program coordinator for the Joint Effort Leisure Ministry (JELM) Center for 17 years. The JELM Center offers special programs for the winter visitors and originated under the umbrella of the Community Presbyterian Church.

Safford also is a member of the Presbyterian Disaster Association and as such has been team leader for a youth disaster team from Port Aransas. The team went to Houston to help in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Allison, and they did the “muck work” after a series of floods along the Nueces River.

The Saffords have two adult children who grew up in Port Aransas, Kevin Safford, and Amanda Safford Magee. Their third child, Michael, is a freshman at Port Aransas High School.

Safford said he is still grieving over leaving Port Aransas and is looking forward to a new adventure and a new ministry in New Mexico.

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