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Pastor returns to Ironton church

By Billy Bruce

For The Tribune


His opening and closing phrase said everything his ministry is prepared to bring to Ironton.

“I hope you dance.”

Judging by the excitement this man’s presence created among the Central Christian Church congegation this past Sunday, they are more than willing to do so.

Phil LeMaster, former pastor of CCC from 1977 – 1989, is back in town and poised to lead the church once again.

Excuse him for bringing a little bit of Nashville along for the ride.

Utilizing Lee Ann Womack’s hit song, “I Hope You Dance,” as a platform, LeMaster dug into the Scriptural side of happiness…which he said creates an inner peace, literally and metaphorically causing joyful souls to dance and reach out to others.

Along the way, he had his congregation swaying to future possibilities with a powerful Memorial Day ceremony about faith, integrity, and the importance of having a dream.

LeMaster, 63, travelled with his wife, Teresa, to Ironton from Franklin, Tenn., where he has served in various capacities as a minister since 2006, to preach a trial sermon and be voted on by the CCC congregation. Prior to serving in Franklin, he spent 17 years in Grayson, Ky, as a minister, while also earning his doctorate in educational psychology.

“Glory, Glory Hallelujah” seemed a most appropriate opening hymn, particularly when considering the events that led to LeMaster standing behind the pulpit of the church he ministered more than two decades ago.

To Eric Williams, chairman of the CCC minister search committee, God is most definitely marching on.

“We interviewed a few men and just felt that they weren’t right for us at the time,” Williams said of the exhaustive year-long search for a lead pastor. He and others on the committe noted on several occasions that they would love to find someone like Phil LeMaster.

In February, the committee decided to take a break and pray for God to provide. “We just felt like we needed to put our heads down and depend on the Lord,” Williams said in the church auditorium, gesturing toward LeMaster and laughing as he recalled how everything played out. “We basically had nothing to do with this.”

Soon after the committee began praying, LeMaster began feeling the desire to lead from the pulpit. “I was working with small groups (at church) and didn’t have much of a chance to preach,” he said. “I started missing it.”

He and Teresa had been praying and had come to the conclusion that it was time for them to make a move. So, in February, unaware of the fervent prayers of the committe leaders and their desire to find a man such as him as their leader, he contacted a CCC leader and asked if they needed a preacher.

LeMaster noted that he and Teresa considered several other churches before deciding to come back to Ironton. “We had a few more options, but we just waited on the Lord,” he said. “About a month ago, we felt like this is the one the Lord was leading us to.”

“We’ve never worked with a church that treated us better than this church did,” he added.

On May 13, Williams had the pleasure of announcing to the CCC congregation that LeMaster would be preaching his trial sermon two weeks later. Immediately following Williams’ announcement, a collective gasp of joyful astonishment filled the sanctuary. Lifelong members of the church openly wept. Following the service, people clustered in groups that stretched from the main entrance to the rear parking lot, still in shock from the news.

Before Phil LeMaster even made it back to Ohio, these folks were dancing, which was evidenced by their unanimous decision to call him their lead minister.

He plans to take over his new role on Sunday, July 1.