SAVANNAH — An estimated 500 members and visitors turned out at First Baptist Church of Savannah to honor retiring pastor Richard “Dick” Lionberger on Feb. 28. The congregation worshipped during both the morning service and afternoon celebration of Dick and Linda Lionberger’s 22 years of service to the northwest Missouri congregation, with speakers repeatedly referencing the couple’s faithfulness.
Members and guests formed a long line to enjoy a covered dish lunch in the fellowship hall, and many used the opportunity to share personal greetings with the pastor and his wife.
An intended book of letters and photographs commemorating Lionberger’s pastorate grew to five volumes that were presented in the afternoon service with the promise that the contents would evoke “a lot of tears and a lot of laughs.”
Morning speaker Jim Hill, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, referenced the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11 during the morning sermon and underscored the Lionbergers’ faithful service to the church, community and larger Baptist family.
During the past 22 years, the pastor baptized 532 people, many of whom he led to faith in Christ personally, Hill noted. In addition, Lionberger presided over 510 funerals and 263 weddings during his tenure.
“We’re here today because Dick and Linda have given their best to God,” Hill said.
Deacon chair Tim Kelley presented Lionberger with an engraved plaque in the morning service, noting his pastor’s faithfulness to Scripture in his preaching, his compassion for members, his heart for all of God’s children — especially the kids — and his desire to help others in their spiritual life.
Kelley cited Matthew 25:21 and said the words of the master in the parable of the talents, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” could also be applied to the pastor.
St. Joseph Baptist Association director of missions Clyde Elder, who brought a charge to the congregation, said Lionberger “has remained steadfast and faithful in all things.”
“God is going to lead you to a new pastor,” Elder reminded the congregation. “Honor the Lord for what He is doing in this church and what He is going to do in the future.”
In the afternoon service, Ted Coats, chairman of the pastor search committee that had recommended Lionberger, noted that the congregation had given generously toward a retirement gift — the extension of health insurance for the couple through the end of the year.
Member Jim Riley read a poem titled “Time to Retire,” reflecting on Lionberger’s life and ministry.
Hill presented the pastor a framed commendation from BGCM, noting he served as the convention’s first president. Lionberger also received presentations from the local American Legion and a commendation from the Civil Air Patrol for his work as a chaplain. He also served as a chaplain for the Air National Guard in nearby St. Joseph.
In addition to a letter of congratulations from Stephen Jones, president of The Baptist Home, on whose board the pastor has served, Lionberger received a couple of gag gifts, including a warped tennis racquet he used to deal with a problem of bats in the attic at the church’s previous location.
The church choir, various other groups and soloists brought special music in both the morning worship service and afternoon celebration.
The afternoon program ended with a “time of sharing” by members and friends in attendance.
Lionberger was licensed to preach by Savannah Avenue Baptist Church in 1972, and was ordained in 1974 by Fredrick Avenue Baptist Church, St. Joseph.
He served as assistant pastor of First Baptist Church, St. Joseph, 1976-79. He served as pastor of Eureka Valley Baptist Church, St. Joseph; First Baptist Church, Stanberry; and First Baptist Church, Salem, before he was called in 1988 to Savannah First.
He has served on the board of Grand Oaks Camp and the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board.
The local newspaper, the Savannah Reporter, named Lionberger its “Person of the Year” in 2006.