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New path in life: Becoming a pastor

SoVaNow.com / November 21, 2018
Leigh Felton believed he was dying.

The recently appointed pastor at Boydton United Methodist Church lay in a critical care operating room at Lynchburg General, dealing with a very serious heart issue.

On Dec. 27, Felton was receiving stints for heart failure. There’s an artery known as ‘the widow maker.” As doctors started to put the second stint in, the artery ruptured.

The cardiologist apologized. Felton recalled it does not take someone with a medical degree to understand, if your widow maker artery has ruptured, “you’re probably going to die.” “They were rushing around, trying to stop the bleeding. They couldn’t. I said a prayer to God, and told Him, ‘I certainly wasn’t expecting to go home today.’ Felton told God he had a few loose ends to tie up. But he prayed, “Not my will, but yours.” Then, a sense of calm rushed over Felton — “Like none I’d ever had before.” He was wheeled out for open-heart surgery; his wife Cindy came in and told him she loved him. Felton figured that was the final time he would see her on the earth.

“I woke up many hours later, a little bit disappointed. I could have been in glory land. But the fact that I survived. I knew God had something for me to do,” said Felton.

In April, Felton was looking for a door to open, and the United Methodist district superintendent, Bob Parks, learned that Felton was liquidating his 100-year-old family business, Boston Lumber. An opportunity for a small church came open. Felton was very surprised to get the call to pursue this church ministry.

Felton, a former businessman and community leader in the South Boston/Halifax County area, assumed his new position July 1. Felton lives in Buffalo Junction with his wife.

Attendance is respectable, with estimates of the flock between 25 and 35 persons.

“Love it. Love the people, love the facility,” said Felton.

“People want to do something. We’re getting some things done,” he added.

Felton’s aim is to meet the spiritual needs of the church members. He’s not caught up in the mega-building concept of more bricks and mortar, or ever-expanding capital needs.

Even though he’s a Methodist pastor, Felton is also not tied down over excessive denominational issues.

“Christians are believers. I believe the number one problem with ‘the church’ today is we don’t know God well enough, and we don’t know ourselves. As a new pastor, and as someone just getting started in the church, my goal is to help us to know God better, and to know ourselves better,” said Felton.

Felton believes in the fall, that all human race is mired in sin. He strongly refutes the popular notion of individuals being good enough — or collecting good works — as a way to reach heaven.

“We only get to Heaven because of what Christ did on the cross for us,” he said.

If persons gain a true understanding of themselves, and realize they have sin in their lives, “then we have the realization that we need a Savior.

“Once someone grasps their human nature, then they realize the need for a Savior. There is only one way to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ, who died for us while we were yet sinners. He said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Me.” He is the only way to heaven, and we must repent (change our mind) and trust Him and Him alone for our salvation,” said Felton.

Felton has developed a passion for Discipleship: Bible study, prayer, meditating on God’s word, and fasting. Through these disciplines, we get to know God better, and we begin to understand more about ourselves.

“Once we have that relationship, we begin to know God. The worst thing that’s going to happen to us, is we think we’re good enough to get into heaven. We go before the judgment seat, and Christ says, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you,’” said the pastor.

Felton’s goal — bolstered by the Holy Spirit — is to know God better and cultivate the assurance of salvation and a Christian life.

This has not been the smoothest personal walk for Felton.

It’s been a speed bump, with some wrong roads taken. God disciplined him and brought him back.

He believes the Lord has been gracious with his life. He previously was very involved with planting Faith Community Church in South Boston. Now, he’s part of a new seed, and growth in Boydton.

Felton, now 70, is currently enrolled as a candidate to become a licensed local pastor. He should finish all the requirements by June.

“My mission is not to build a gigantic church,” he said.

God builds churches, and as the pastor, learning the role of shepherd, is to help his flock grow spiritually. Felton will not be one of those church leaders continually obsessed about the numbers involved.

He plans Biblically driven sermons, while staying away from philosophy.

Felton aims to help people develop a personal relationship with God.

Felton also knows he’s got some personal spiritual growth ahead, while spending extensive time in prayer and Bible study.

“I’ve got to grow — we can’t just stay stagnant,” he said.

The aim is “staying close enough to God that he can use me, that I grow and can know him better.”

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