“Don’t take yourself too seriously, take your work very seriously.”
That’s how Phil Spencer’s would sum up his approach to being a reverend of St. Stephen’s United Church in Qualicum Beach – a position he is retiring from after 27 years.
He’s been in the community since 1993 after applying for the position — one he wasn’t particularly planning on getting. Spencer says it’s a story the whole congregation knows, one they all laugh at now.
“I applied to have an interview because I’d never interviewed for a ministry position, so I thought, ‘let’s see what an interview would be like,’ and so I applied here,” he said. “Then, I still remember, I phoned my wife from a phone box, it was that long ago… she said, ‘how did it go’… I said, ‘they’re a lovely bunch, but I don’t think it’s for us.”
However, when the phone call offering the position came two weeks later – Spencer said there were no second thoughts.
“I ended up saying yes, I’m still wondering what happened in those two weeks,” he said.
Before becoming a reverend, Spencer worked for 11 years as a nurse, an experience that he says informed some of the ways he approached his time in the church.
“I only left nursing because I felt a call to do ministry… I loved the work, still miss it… the teamwork is really enjoyable,” he said. “For me, that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed about doing ministry – is teamwork.”
For Spencer, it’s teamwork that is the real highlight of his time at St. Stephen’s, over any personal or specific memory. He said he’s not a “lone ranger kind of guy,” but rather one who finds value in working with others to make things happen.
He said he didn’t start the position with a specific vision of what he wanted the church to look like, but that over time he congregation helped him realize that the main goal was to make St. Stephen’s a place that represented the community; one that made everyone feel welcome.
“One of the challenges in this community is with youth-related stuff…so we would see people grow up and then they would disappear,” he said.
He said a turning point for him and the church, in terms of youth involvement, was when the youth minister took a group to Mexico to build houses.
“They came back and everybody was transformed who had went on the trip, including my own daughter,” he said. “It was just life-changing, and we started doing those every year and it shifted something in the congregation. I know folks always had an outward look, very interested in what was going on in the community, they wanted to try to fill spaces, this just upped it.”
He said it was the catalyst for more action within the church, including the community meal.
“That grew out of the energy released by the mission trip to Mexico,” he said. “I’m really proud of that, but it’s not something that I did.”
Spencer said he’s happy to leave the reverend position in the hands of Diane Collery. In terms of what his retirement will look like, he said he’s not completely sure. He does know it will involve being part of the community in some new ways – something he’s looking forward to having the opportunity to do.
“I’ve purposely kept it open… one of the things I will the most is preaching regularly and it’s not simply preaching on Sunday’s, it’s the whole process of putting a message together,” he said. “I want to do some things that have some effect beyond me, I want to retire and call some of my own shots, but I also like the discipline of community involvement.”
I only left nursing because I felt a call to do ministry…I loved the work, still miss it…the teamwork is really enjoyable
For me, that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed about doing ministry – is teamwork