PATOKA — Rev. Ken Armitage's 13-year path back to the pulpit took him to work in retail, construction and other business.
Sort of a boot camp, if you will, for pastoring people where you find them — serving others with good humor and patience and understanding.
The new Patoka United Methodist Church pastor received his assignment June 1, succeeding Jeff Pinney. "I was wonderfully disappointed," he said, smiling. "Patoka is much more than we anticipated, in a good way," he said of the historic little church.
The church is certainly historic, dedicated the morning of the day President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
Little? Well...attendance averages 100, in a town with a population of less than 750, which means PUMC is a pretty robust little church. There's an army of Methodists peeling apples every summer at the church's family life center creating the apple butter that is sold to fund church outreach.
And the family life center, that's an example of the church's outreach, too, notes parish board member Buddy Rodgers. Members serve 700 to 800 meals to the public, organize and stage a free garage sale for families, provide free produce for the community, and other services.
Rev. Armitage coming to Patoka for a try-out sermon at a time when the church was looking for a pastor was "unique coincidence, or probably Providence," said Rodgers. "Everyone fell in love with him" when Armitage agreed to a trial period with the church, he said.
But back to that beginning....
Armitage and wife Lynne celebrate 40 years of marriage, four grown children and six grandchildren.
The Evansville native was 30 when he began working toward ordination. He earned a degree from the University of Evansville and moved to North Carolina where he entered seminary at Duke Divinity School — Duke University. The family moved back to Indiana, living in Richmond while Armitage attended United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
He was just a step away from full-time ministry. And then he stepped away.
The next 13 years were spent working in retail, working at Menard's, as a project manager in construction, working for Cook Medical in Bloomington — and raising children. Even during that time, he said he found that people would seem to naturally want to talk with him about their lives. "The reminder was always there."
Gradually, all their children moved back toward Evansville, so Armitage and his wife decided to make the move, too. "I kept feeling that little bit of a push or pull..." he said, and once in Evansville, he became active at Simpson United Methodist Church in Evansville. Making the next step to ordination was met with the comments, "Wow, I wondered what took you so long," he smiled.
Armitage served in the ministry part time, for a time at Hazleton and in the area before the Patoka congregation offered his first full-time pastoral position to him.
"We've been wonderfully welcomed by the folks," he said. "I have some thoughts, ideas, not big plans, but thinking about what the congregation and I can accomplish," he said. The main goal, said Armitage, is "simply to love people in the name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ. They're already doing amazing things."
Rodgers said the church has a good base and the new pastor has great rapport with youth and families in the church.
"The last few Sundays I have been discovering more and more how wonderful is the depth of these folks," said Armitage.
The congregation hosts a welcome cook-out meet-and-greet for Armitage following their July 22 morning services at 104 Mill Street.
Patoka United Methodist Church service hours are 9:15 a.m. Sunday worship and 10:30 a.m. Sunday School. Bible study is on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.