Pastor Dennis Derr is retiring from full-time ministry but not from serving God and others.
Derr, who has been a Methodist minister for 38 years, came to the Hollidaysburg area four years ago to serve as senior pastor at the 1,300-member First United Methodist Church.
He will preach his last sermon there on June 8.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) The Rev. Dennis Derr is retiring after 38 years of serving Methodist churches. He will preach his last sermon at First United Methodist Church of Hollidaysburg in two weeks.
He and his wife, Diane, will be moving to Harbeson, Del., not too far from Rehoboth Beach. And although they enjoy the ocean, Derr's retirement plans include more than relaxation.
"The calling is irrevocable," Derr said about the ministry. "I will still be involved in church work."
He plans to focus on music, write and host trips in the Holy Land. Above all, he wants to spend time with family. The Derrs are the parents of two daughters and a son and have five grandchildren.
Their new home is expected to be filled with love, laughter and music.
Having never lost a love for rock 'n' roll, Derr has dedicated a room to his passion with his guitars lining the walls.
"Music was my god," Derr said of his teen and early adult years.
He played in bands and booked shows for entertainers. He said he was even offered a job by the Willard Alexander Agency in New York but turned down the lucrative position.
He remembers telling Alexander, "I am going to make my life count for something. I'm going to be a teacher."
After graduating from Bloomsburg State College in 1974, he taught history in his hometown of Montoursville for a year before finally attending seminary.
"God called me into ministry, and I was trying everything not to [be a minister], he said.
His life had been transformed at a concert during the 1969-70 holiday season. Derr, a senior in high school at the time, went to hear Phil Keaggy and his band Glass Harp perform at Williamsburg Community College.
He said the musicians, dressed in black jeans and turtlenecks, stepped onto an unlit stage. From out of that darkness, "I heard this fantastic guitar rip."
Keaggy hit the vocals, and a single light illuminated a gold cross around his neck. As Keaggy played his guitar, beams of light flashed from the cross.
"They sang "Do Lord, Oh Do Lord, Do Remember Me," Derr said. "It changed my life. I got saved at that rock 'n' roll concert."
And although his destiny was the pulpit, Derr said he questioned it during his early 20s. But he kept getting indicators that God wanted him in full-time service.
He remembers going to a drug store to get photos developed from a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Santana concert he had attended in Atlantic City.
He said when he returned to his Volkswagen, a tract titled "Does God Matter in Your Personal Life?" was tucked under his windshield wiper.
When he got his photos, the first one in his packet showed a church, half unpainted, half whitewashed. It was a photo he had not taken.
He paid attention to those nudges and through the years, Derr has pastored at six different assignments. Whether he was in Turkey Valley, Belleville, Jersey Shore, East Prospect, Danville or Hollidaysburg, the people in his congregation came first. He said he has turned down some opportunities because he has a pastor's heart.
Among them was the chance to earn a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at no cost to him if he would teach at a major seminary, to write an exposition on the book of Mark for a Bible commentary and to be a host and give lectures in the Holy Land.
While those offers are gone, Derr hopes to recoup some of his dreams.
A frequent traveler to the Holy Land, he and Diane will take a trip there with people from the area in November. He hopes to be able to serve as a host/lecturer in Israel occasionally in the future.
He also wants to write books, maybe one on his legacy, and to record some of his songs with help from a musician friend.
Most of all, he is looking forward to spending more time with family. His children, who live in Georgetown, Del., Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., will be in close enough proximity to make family get-togethers more feasible.
"I long to have my kids around me, just like God wants his children to be around him," Derr said.
"Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with God through his son, Jesus Christ," he said.
As he leaves First United Methodist, Derr said he has watched the church develop a more outward focus in the past few years.
He said it has established a church in the Congo and adopted one in Sierre Leone.
"I worked with a great staff and it's a wonderful ministry," Derr said of First United Methodist Church and believes the congregation will welcome its new senior pastor.
"I felt a lot of love when I came here," he said.