TALENT — After 41 years, Pastor Elliott Lovelace is nearing his final sermon at Talent Bible Chapel, a fellowship he's nurtured since its beginning.
Lovelace, 88, will retire and move to Kingman, Ariz., with his wife, Mary, after they sell their house to be closer to a daughter. He expects to deliver sermons into September.
"I'm a Bible teacher as well as an evangelist," said Lovelace. "We always went somewhere where a fellowship was needed."
Bible Chapels are a loosely organized fellowship of about 20 churches from Phoenix, Ariz., to Saskatchewan, Canada. Talent is the third chapel that Lovelace organized over a 60-plus-year career.
In 1971, Lovelace was invited to meet with a Talent Bible study group that gathered at Rick's Market, now Tark's Market, but in 1972 the group needed to move when the market expanded.
When the Baptist Church relocated to Highway 99 and its 1871 building, at 303 E. Main St., became available, the chapel purchased it in 1973, Lovelace said.
The future of the congregation will be up to its members, said Lovelace.
"I used to give four sermons per week, but now I'm down to one," said Lovelace.
"I just don't have the energy to keep up."
The congregation has about 20 members, although there have been as many as 50 at times, he noted.
"A lot of people have died. We are a fluid society, and a lot of people have moved away," said Lovelace.
Older people predominate in the congregation, said Nancy Michaelis, who has attended the church since 1990.
No decisions about the church's future have been made yet, she said.
"We are hoping that someone will come in and take over the church and that it will be someone who is a Bible teacher," said Michaelis.
Church member Trish Fraser said Lovelace epitomizes a man of God.
"I just see him as a real pillar to the community and a real icon for the Christian faith," said Fraser.
"He's done a lot for everybody who is down and out and helped them get back on their feet," said Michaelis. "He is a very good man."
An Army Air Corps machinist who served in England during World War II, Lovelace began working with an evangelical preacher when he returned from the war. He was an associate pastor in Phoenix, Ariz., before going on to lead new congregations in Burley, Idaho, and Rockglen, Saskatchewan.
Lovelace also has been a radio preacher, a vacation Bible school teacher and a touring evangelist, and at one time he drove what was called a "Godmobile," a car with scriptures written on it.
To supplement his income, Lovelace worked for 19 years as a school bus driver for the Phoenix-Talent School District. He drove school buses for 11 years in other communities and also worked as a bookkeeper.
"Because I would go to new and pioneering ministries, I needed to get a job," said Lovelace. "I didn't mind working."
The pastor, who has presided over countless weddings and funerals, said a couple of services stand out.
"When my daughter died, we had her memorial service here," said Lovelace.
Another time a student from Southern Oregon State College brought three girls with her, and all three accepted the Lord at that service, he said.
The pastor said he loves the Rogue Valley and admitted the idea of moving has been "traumatic" at times.
"It's been a wonderful tour of duty for me," said Lovelace. "It's time for me to pull in my horns a bit."
But he doesn't plan to stop entirely. He anticipates starting a Bible study group or some form of ministry in Kingman.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.