Minister Emphasizes Need To Live to the Fullest, Maintain Peace
This article by Ben Jorgensen appeared recently in “The Clearwater Progress.” It is reprinted with permission.
After living most of his life in big cities, Curtis Heffelfinger is relishing his new pastorate responsibilities at Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in Stites.
Heffelfinger, 66, isn’t a newbie to the area having previously bought a Wall Creek property in 1999 and moving there with his first wife Nancy. However, they returned to the Orlando area soon after for what they anticipated would be a year to help their children’s families before returning to paradise.
After becoming involved with Orlando Grace Church, Heffelfinger ended up becoming their pastor when the church leadership imploded in conflict. “All the pastors resigned. They turned to me being an interim pastor.” The concept of interim turned into 15 years while Idaho’s verdant valleys and backyard visits of elk were put on hold for a bit.
During his time in Florida, Heffelfinger learned well the value of peace and the preciousness of opportunity. In 2005, Heffelfinger developed a cancerous lesion on his tongue, eventually resulting in removal of about a third of the tongue. His treatment of chemo and radiation would surface health ramifications years later. “My oncologist said your odds are 50-50 for survival, at best,” he said.
Based on the prognosis, the couple felt he would likely be gone first. “Here I am Sunday in and Sunday out preaching the gospel and proclaiming eternal life and that dying is gain.” He said if God is not done with him then he wants to live the message of 1 Cor. 15:50-58, “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
Then out of the blue, Nancy developed ovarian cancer and after an 18-month battle, died in 2016 after 41+ years of marriage. Losses seemed to come in waves. Their first born son died in 2014 at age 35 followed in 2015 with the disintegration of Curtis’ jaw caused by his earlier cancer treatments.
His mandible fractured as a result of the radiation and he lost all his teeth on that side of his jaw. The fix involved a titanium implant the length of the side of his face, a bone graft from his hip used for a new jaw, and implants for teeth. The treatment left that part of his face numb.
Coupled with the reduction of his tongue, it requires a dedicated effort to articulate speech.
The losses have not gotten him down, though, because he is encouraged by the goodness God has provided. He said he has been blessed with a second dynamo wife, Jan, who although she always lived in the Orlando area, was willing to move to Stites—population 228—to see what awaited them. “It’s such an answer to prayer that she is so happy here,” he said.
Their arrival at Stites was also an answer to the prayers of a group of about 30 core church goers. The two-and-a-half-year-old Trinity Reformed Baptist Church had been earnestly praying for a pastor. “They were kinda holding on by their fingernails,” said Heffelfinger, noting “if the Lord wasn’t going to send somebody they were going to close the doors.”
He noted that the church’s confession of faith is the same as Orlando Grace where he pastored. “What are the odds? Fifteen minutes from my property is a church with similar convictions, commitments, desires, in other words, it’s a match made in heaven.”
After a period of six months Heffelfinger was installed on Palm Sunday as a paid part-time pastor. His first full service occurred this past Sunday. “We’re so happy to be here,” he said. “This is a new season for us. We’re happy to have a church that has embraced us. I’m thankful I can preach the gospel.”
The part-time status gives Heffelfinger the chance to pursue his interest in religious writing. Based on his more than 30 years in the pastoral ministry, he penned the book, The Peace Making Church: 8 Biblical Keys to Resolve Conflict and Preserve Unity, describing the need for people to strive for peaceful interactions. The book may be found on Amazon.com.
“I write all the time on how you can guard the peace of your church, how you can support your pastors and elders and leaders and keep your people from melting down in conflict. It’s such a terrible witness when we turn on each other,” he said. He also writes a regular blog. He strives to encourage people to own the message of Matt. 5:9 about the blessedness of peacemakers.
His passion for God’s message is fueled to some degree by his brush with death. “Cancer changes your life significantly,” he said. “You see the brevity of life and the gift that it is, that no day is guaranteed. You want to make the most of the opportunities the Lord gives you day in and day out. I think the first way it changed me, I really believe, is what I preach.”
Heffelfinger intends to use whatever remaining time he has “to live to the fullest for the Lord and for His people and for the region now that I am in.” He wants Trinity to be mission minded in the Clearwater Valley, noting that it tends to be a natural inclination for people, regardless of where they live, to turn inward.
Citing the message of Matthew 5 to let one’s light shine with good works, Heffelfinger says he is contemplating how local churches can together serve people and make a difference in their lives.
“What needs are there? How are we to be on mission in good works and wise words of encouragement, counsel, sharing our stories and God’s love in Jesus Christ? It’s not just about proselyting. It’s about genuinely loving, caring, and serving, and loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Trinity Reformed Baptist Church holds service every Sunday at 10 a.m. followed by a fellowship meal. It is located in a community center at 4313 Highway 13. Heffelfinger may be reached at (321) 947-8171.