The Rev. Douglas McGaffin of Altoona believes if you have peace in your heart, then what is going on
around you is much more manageable.
It has been his guiding force since he sensed a call to go into the ministry more than 40 years ago.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) The Rev. Douglas McGaffin is retiring as pastor of Ward Avenue Presbyterian Church. He is looking forward to spending more time with his family
He will preach Sunday from the pulpit of Ward Avenue Presbyterian Church (USA) for the final time. He has peace about his decision, knowing it is time to retire.
"It is best to leave when you want to stay," he said of his 32 years at Ward Avenue, an almost unheard of tenure in today's world.
The Rev. Joy Kaufmann, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Huntingdon, said it is fairly unusual to have a pastor serve one church for more than 30 years, but within the presbytery that covers southcentral Pennsylvania, a few pastors have served three decades or more.
1969 - graduate of Houghton College, Houghton, N.Y., with Bachelor of Arts degree in history
1972 - graduate of Gordon- Conwell Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree
1972-78 - served North Argyle Presbyterian church in North Argyle
1978-2010 - served Ward Avenue Presbyterian Church, Altoona
"As a national trend, it is very unusual," she said. "Seven years is the national average [for a minister to serve the same church.]"
Kaufmann said a longstanding pastor "gives the church great stability. It shows the people care about each other."
The caring is evident at Ward Avenue Presbyterian Church where members consider McGaffin their friend as well as their pastor.
"He is so much a part of the Ward Avenue family," said Kim Aboud of Altoona. She said McGaffin and his family are a wonderful part of the church.
"He is not just a minister, he is a dear friend," she said.
She said because McGaffin has been at the helm for many years, it has made it possible for the members to develop a special relationship with him.
"He baptized both our sons and our granddaughter," she said.
McGaffin also knows the birthdays of all the children in the church and has watched many of them grow up from infancy through their high school years, she said.
John Seely of Hollidaysburg said McGaffin has been there in time of need, including when Seely lost his father.
He said McGaffin made an impression on him from the start.
When McGaffin first came to the area, he stopped in at Seely's home to get acquainted.
Seely was fixing his roof and was frustrated because he thought he would have to stop his project, come down the ladder and talk to the preacher.
"Instead, he completely surprised me. He climbed up and helped me fix the roof," Seely said. "That's just how he is."
McGaffin has a reputation for being a handyman.
"He does a lot of work behind the scenes and is a jack of all trades," said Ray Pursley, clerk of the session. "He paints, he's good at carpentry and if the church needs a little touch-up, he takes care of it without any problem."
"I love to putter around, build things," McGaffin said. "It's my way of relaxing."
He said so much of what he does as a pastor is intangible, but when he builds or repairs something he has results he can see.
Pursley of Altoona said he and McGaffin worked on a lot of projects together, including stripping and rewaxing floors in the parsonage and church fellowship hall.
To the Pursleys, "The McGaffins are like an extended family. We've had Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners together," he said.
Pursley said his two sons and McGaffins' two sons grew up together.
"He was instrumental in marrying our son, even though it was in another church," Pursley said. "My son wanted that."
The three men recalled their kitchen duties during the many winter retreats for teens of Presbyterian churches at Camp Blue Diamond in Petersburg as being a memorable time.
"We had a ball," McGaffin said.
At the church, he enjoys the camaraderie he has with members at dinners, the prayer breakfasts and other events.
"If you can't laugh, you've got a problem," he said.
McGaffin said he will miss the fellowship of the people but is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Sandy; sons: Daniel and wife, Suzanne, of Hollidaysburg, and David and wife, Becky, and his grandchildren, Noah, 7, and Isaac, 4, of Germantown, Md.
"We're going to be sad on Sunday," Aboud said.
But for McGaffin, she said it is an exciting transition to a new part of life. She said as she thinks about him leaving the church, the verse from Matthew 25 that says: "Well done, good and faithful servant" comes to mind.
"That's appropriate for him," she said