The children are working on a colorful craft at vacation Bible school when the Rev. Dr. D.L. Brinton Shafer enters the room. The children immediately stop working.
They burst out hellos and smiles for the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg.
He has taught them that they are "a special gift from God" since they were able to walk and they delight in his presence.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) The Rev. Dr. D.L. Brinton Shafer is retiring after 47 years in ministry and 19 years as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg. He also served Faith United Methodist Church in Altoona for eight years and Trinity United Methodist Church in Roaring Spring for 11 years.
Shafer, who gathers the children at the altar to speak to them during worship services, will be giving his last children's message and sermon to the congregation as their pastor Sunday.
After 19 years of serving First United Methodist and 47 years in ministry, he and his wife, Connie, are retiring to their farm in Blue Knob. During Shafer's tenure, the church has expanded from two Sunday morning services to five weekend services. Attendance has blossomed from about 200 people to more than 700 each weekend and membership stands at 1,300. A part-time staff has expanded to include a full-time associate pastor, a director of youth ministries, a full-time secretary and janitor.
As a farewell tribute to him and Associate Pastor Jennifer Parks-Snyder, who has accepted a call to a church in Lightstreet, Pa., the church held a celebration a few weeks ago.
The members gift to Shafer, 66, was a song commissioned by nationally known Christian composer Joel Raney. The words reflect what Shafer has instilled in these followers of Christ - that they are "the joy of God's creation God's special gift of love."
Shafer instills that thought in people from the beginning of their lives and never stops reminding them of it.
"Each baptism is special and unique for that child," said Rich Reimer of Hollidaysburg, a member of the congregation for 39 years.
He said Shafer doesn't just anoint the baby with water, but carries the infant up and down the aisles with the parents walking alongside.
"He admonishes the congregation to be part of the child's life, to nourish and watch over the child as he or she grows," he said.
As toddlers and through their elementay school years, the children are invited to the altar for a spiritual talk.
Reimer said when his daughter was young, she wanted to sit right beside Shafer for the message.
"The children's sermon is important to all the kids. He considers them a major part of the church and they love him for it," he said.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer of Schellsburg recalls how her nieces would run up the aisle when it was time for the children's message. They were only visitors, but they knew that they were specials gifts from God, she said.
"His whole ministry is about that. He makes everyone feel loved," she said.
The feeling does not waver when the children become adults.
Reimer said his daughter will be 24 in July, but she and Shafer remain close.
Shafer also touches the lives of others boyond their growing-up years.
Tom McConnell of Hollidaysburg said his daughter, who was a sophomore at Penn State University this year, received a note from the Shafers that said: "You can't believe how proud we are of you."
He said she tacked the note to her bulletin board, and it remained there throughout the school year.
McConnell said Shafer will ask a teen about what's going on in his or her life, and the next time he sees the youth he will ask about it.
"You can't fake that. You are that way or you're not," he said.
Not only is he always there for the young, but for adults as well.
Reimer recalls Shafer being with him in 1994 when he suffered a massive heart attack at Altoona Hospital. Reimer had symptoms earlier in the day and had gone to the hospital accompanied by his wife, daughter and mother.
Shafer learned of his condition and went to the hospital to make sure he was OK. After Shafer arrived, Reimer's family took a break to get a meal, and he suffered the heart attack. Reimer was in the hospital for 16 days and said Shafer would often check in on him.
"It was a unique experience that to me was especially meaningful," he said.
Goodman Shaffer, a member for about 12 years, recalls how Shafer comforted her family after her father died in 2002. She said the family had no sense of closure after the funeral service held in her home community of Wyalusing, but they did after Shafer conducted the service for the scattering of her father's ashes.
She said he only gave a 15-minute message but "for the first time, we had peace; for the first time, we had a real sense of comfort."
It was Shafer who officiated at her wedding a few weeks ago, traveling to Schellsburg on a Sunday afternoon to perform the nuptials.
"He is something really special. He means so much to me, I can't even tell you," she said.
"He's been my best friend," said Linda Schreiber of Hollidaysburg, a member of First United Methodist for 28 years. she said. "He has always been there for my family in the good times and the bad. If you needed him, he was there for you,"
For Shafer, the compliment is reciprocal.
"For the most part, people have been very supportive of the things I wanted to try," he said. "And they have been very forgiving of the mistakes I have made."
One of the programs the church started more than 10 years ago was a contemporary service on Saturday evenings that began and remains like a coffeehouse.
"We wanted to do a contemporary service, but no one seemed to know what a contemporary service was," he said.
Other contemporary services are held Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings along with two traditional services.
With 700 people attending five different services, members could get lost in the shuffle, but Shafer "sets the tone to make sure nobody falls through the cracks," said McConnell, who has been involved in various committees at the church.
Two ways the church does this is through its Congregational Care Committee and small groups.
The committee reaches out to people who are missing from the service they attend regularly to make sure they are OK.
"We are a large church with small church caring." he said.
Small groups such as choir, praise bands, the audio department or the flower group, enable members to develop relationships with others while contributing in a way they enjoy.
McConnell said Shafer tells new members, "If none of the small groups are what you like, we can create one for you."
He has been enabling when members propose an idea, McConnell said.
"He always is willing to give it a try and see what happens. If it doesn't work, we may try it later or try it from a different angle," McConnell said.
Cindy Drenning said she asked Shafer about parish nursing when she and her husband returned to the area a few years ago. At the time the church had a parish nurse, but Drenning has since taken over the role on a part-time basis.
"He feels if you feel called to do something, go for it," she said of Shafer.
"What gives me the most joy is helping people here find their calls," Shafer said. "And helping them find the tools necessary to answer that call."
Not all calls are connected to what are considered spiritual roles. Shafer gave the example of a woman who is called to be a mother while another has a gift for sharing God's love by inviting people to church and the sexton considers herself "God's housekeeper."
"I love what I do," he said of his call to the ministry, which runs in the family.
Shafer followed in the footsteps of his father, who also was a pastor and served at First United Methodist Church for 10 years. His sister, Elaine Shafer-Stroudt, now retired, and her husband, Byron, served as ministers and one of the Shafers' three daughters, Beth Glass, is working as a chaplain for the U.S.Marines in California and will move to Stafford, Va., to be an associate minister at a United Methodist church there.
The Shafers' daughter, Rhonda Doughtery, and her family live in Colorado, and Rebecca and her family are living on the farm while their home in Roaring Spring is being refurbished.
The Shafers have 11 grandchildren, and Shafer is looking forward to spending more time with them. He plans to develop an exercise regimen and spend time working on the farm. Ever one for giving to others, he has volunteered to mentor young pastors in the Altoona District of the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church.
His wife, Connie, who provides technical assistance for Head Start programs, will do some private contracting. In between times, the Shafers will visit churches in the Blair County area and elsewhere, including the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and St. Patrick's in New York City. They also want to travel to Colorado and Italy.