…if you choose to accept it.”

The director of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) says these words just moments before the tape disintegrates at the beginning of those old episodes of Mission Impossible. Mr. Phelps never seems to turn down the director – he simply proceeds to guide his team through a quagmire of dangerous challenges, attempting to overcome a series of obstacles with courage and perseverance.

Well, I happen to have had the privilege of working with the best imaginable Mr. Phelps – and his name actually is Phelps – Chester Phelps. He has not been part of some fictional mission on the television or movie screen: the Mr. Phelps of River Road Church has answered the call to a REAL mission. Here are only a few examples:

Every year, as we approach the performance of the Children’s Choir musical, I wonder how we are going to create a convincing set on the stage of the Fellowship Hall. And every year, Mr. Phelps “chose to accept” the mission (with his IMF team: his wife, Margaret, and their children and grandchildren). There were visits to the lumber/hardware store, the arrival of 2 by 4’s, and the skilled use of measuring tape, hammer, and saw.

When the River Roaders, a group of retired and semi-retired members of our church, might have fallen to the wayside, Chester took on the mission of organizing lunches, trips, lectures, and other events to keep the group together. They are now called “The Comma Club” – taking a pause (like the comma in grammar) to recharge periodically. (Of course, the comma does precede the word “Baptist” around here, too.)

A recurring motive (and mission) in Chester’s life at River Road has been interim Youth Ministry – at least twice! Aside from the regular organization of youth meetings, Sunday School, and various events, Chester organized something very special and meaningful during the past season. It started about a year ago when he told us that as a main regular weekly activity of our Youth Group he was going to do – – – – music. At that point, it seemed to be a somewhat nebulous vision. Gradually, with the help of several youth and youth parents (and the Endowment), Chester set up a rehearsal and performance space in the youth area. Nobody was entirely sure what kind of music we were going to have. There might have been a few Sunday evenings when they weren’t sure what kind of music was going to be rehearsed and performed by a trumpet and a tuba! But the resulting music that took place during reception on the stage of the Fellowship Hall last June was a poignant demonstration of the tremendous unity that Chester fostered among the youth at River Road during those many months.

One of the great joys of Chester’s two interim ministries has been his presence at our weekly staff meetings. Nothing could be quite as inspiring as a full dose of Chester as he lays out his plans or as he reviews the outcome of one of those impossible missions. I suppose the most recent example would be the Mission Tour to Farmington, Maine. Maybe some of you who went on the tour will take a moment to comment below on what you and others gained as a result of Chester’s vision and hard work.

Thank you, “Mr. Phelps” for choosing to “accept the mission” time and time again. Thank you for a lifetime devoted to doing the Lord’s work.