More than 800 members of St. Andrew United Methodist Church, family and friends joined together for a special evening celebration of the ministry of Reverend Charles Stokes on Sept. 27, which included his final sermon and worship service as associate pastor, a dinner, and special tribute. He and his wife Louise, long-time McKinney residents, celebrated his retirement after 53 years in the ministry: 26 at St. Andrew United Methodist Church as associate pastor and eight at Highland Park United Methodist Church as well as previous years in Lubbock and in their home state of Mississippi. Born in Kosciusko, Miss., Rev. Stokes received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi, and studied at the United States Army School of Business and the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga.
A special letter from Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church was presented to Rev. Stokes recognizing him for his service which has led to St. Andrew United Methodist Church becoming one of the top 100 largest churches in United Methodism. Rev. Stokes began his ministry at St. Andrew when the church was just beginning and was meeting at Shepton High School in Plano. He has seen the church through all three phases of its building campaigns with the final phase being the completion of the sanctuary, where he preached his last sermon as associate pastor Saturday evening.
John and Sally Hamilton, now of Ft. Myers, Florida, traveled to Texas to participate in the celebration. Hamilton led every building committee at St. Andrew and developed a strong relationship with Rev. Stokes, whom he said taught him so much and possesses such a special ability to bring people together.
“Whenever we were discussing or debating the details of what was needed for the various building phases, we would ultimately turn to Charles for his wisdom in the final decision-making,” added Hamilton. “He knew everything about this building and what might be best and had the vision and the respect of the group.”
Since 2001, Rev. Stokes has led St. Andrew’s Saturday night service, where he found his true calling.
“Charles was a joyful and dedicated pastor for a worshiping congregation, giving a lifetime of service we can never pay back,” said Diane Walker, a church member who has assisted with the Saturday night service from the beginning. “He has baptized, married and buried them. His daughter was the first to be married at St. Andrew. He has loved and cared for four generations of my family, and he has been a shepherd to this congregation, transforming them into a close church family. His footsteps are on everything at this church, and now he is retiring.”
Walker presented Rev. Stokes with two special gifts. First unveiled was a painting of a shepherd and his flock, recognizing him as living his life as a shepherd. “You made it possible for us as your flock to grow and prosper,” added Walker as she read the inscription on the art. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they will follow me, John 10:27.”
The next gift she presented was a large, overflowing book of special letters from the congregation about the many ways he touched their lives. The evening was filled with music and humor with Minister of Music and Worship Chris Crook serving as master of ceremonies, also recognizing Louise Stokes who served as accompanist to Rev. Stokes for many years. Members of the Saturday night leadership team also made some presentations to Rev. Stokes. Dave Rader announced that an endowment fund has been set up in Rev. Stokes’ honor to help youth who want to go into the ministry, and Z Marshall, on behalf of the congregation, presented the Stokeses with a travel voucher to use for upcoming trips during their golden years.
In an emotional tribute, Senior Pastor Robert Hasley talked of their longtime friendship, beginning in service together at Highland Park United Methodist Church and then together starting St. Andrew United Methodist Church.
“When Charles came to me, he told me ‘you are not talking me out of retirement this time,’” said Rev. Hasley. “When Charles prays is it like the Lord is present. He is a great listener, encourager, and inspirer, and we are all going to miss him tremendously.”
Rev. Hasley told the story of the time when they were discussing what to name St. Andrew. He had suggested Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in a planning meeting but no one in the group commented or seemed to embrace that idea. Troubled by the fact that he thought he must have misunderstood what he thought God had told him, he stated he now knew why he had heard that idea.
“God was telling me he was sending me a good shepherd,” continued Hasley. “Because of you, Charles, we are better people with a stronger faith and love of the Lord. On behalf of St. Andrew United Methodist Church, we are presenting you the title Good Shepherd Emeritus, and you will be listed on this church’s staff until the end of time.”
Reverend Stokes closed out the evening, “I’m speechless. Thirty-three years ago when I came to Highland Park Methodist, I met a young man on staff, and we have been partners in the ministry ever since. When he called me one day to ask me to lunch I just thought he was being nice. But he told me he had already talked to the bishop about my coming out to Plano. It was the best decision I could have ever asked God for.”
As his final sermon that evening was titled “I Thank My God Upon Every Remembrance of You,” he praised the congregation and staff with joy, emotion, humor and great appreciation for so many wonderful years.
Story submitted by Elizabeth Lenart