Howard Courtney, the longtime lead pastor at Innisfil Community Church, has officially retired after 43 years of service.
Local dignitaries, community members and parishioners gathered Sunday at the church on Innisfil Beach Road to commemorate his last day of service. Some of those in attendance included South Simcoe Police Deputy Police Chief John Van Dyke, Coun. Kenneth Fowler, Rotary Club of Innisfil members, Eastern Ontario New District superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada Jason Luscombe, as well as Courtney's children, grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Courtney and his wife, Beulah, were driven to the service in a limousine and escorted by an RCMP officer. As dozens of balloons fell from the ceiling to celebrate Courtney, he thanked the congregation and welcomed the new lead pastor, Steve Bradley, to the role.
"What an awesome, wonderful, eventful day and service as we passed the baton of leadership to lead pastor-elect, Steve Bradley," Courtney said. "Hallelujah! The future is secure and bright for Innisfil Community Church."
Courtney's son, Caleb, who was recently ordained in August, spoke to the congregation about his dad's work and relationship with the church.
"What an honour it is to gather together with the people of God this morning," he said. "Dad, I'm just so happy that you've had an impact on the people you've served, including me."
Parishionsher Marlene Myers spoke about the service Courtney has provided over the years and how much it meant to her.
"How lucky and blessed am I? Tell me, who has had a youth pastor and continues to your pastor in your early 60s, who trains you to show you how to serve with love and compassion. ... Who inspires you to walk deeper, higher and stronger," she said.
A video of recorded messages from congregation members played on the video screen.
Courtney has been a well-known face in the community over the years, volunteering his time and assisting those in need. This past fall, he received the Order of the Red Cross for his volunteer work.
Courtney, who first volunteered with the Red Cross when he was in elementary school in Orangeville, has served in many different capacities, earning recognition that has included a certificate of merit, 50-year Milestone Award, Service and Distinguished Service awards.
In high school, he chaired Sickroom Equipment and Loan Services. He has been an emergency services instructor, disaster chairman of the branch council and, most recently, an emergency response team supervisor with the Simcoe County branch, helping to organize the response to emergencies that have included the 1985 Barrie tornado, and the pandemic planning that followed the initial SARS outbreak in 2001.
He and Beulah have helped establish many of the programs and events at the Innisfil Community Church, including the running of the The Clothing Depot, a place for those in need to acquire clothing and accessories, for free.
Pastor Steve Bradley will be taking over Courtney's role at the church.
"Pastor Steve and Jenny, we are so, so, so delighted that you have made yourself available to the church to serve the Lord in this area of mission field," said Courtney. "I am over the moon, filled with joy in the election of the new lead pastor, Steve Bradley. He grew up in Innisfil and has a heart for this town.
"The church board, the congregation and the community have been so kind in showing their love to both Beulah and me," Courtney added in an interview with a local reporter. "So many kind words spoken. We feel so honoured to have served Innisfil Community Church and this area for these past 43 years."
As for what comes next for Courtney, he isn't sure yet.
"I am not sad, I don't feel lost; I just feel excited for the future. ... We are just going to walk through it with faith and trust... (and) we are confident this is the right thing to do at this moment and we are rejoicing.
"There is much life yet to be lived and we will try to maximize our years to continue to make this world a better place," he added.
To view the service from Sunday, visit the Innisfil Community Church Facebook post by clicking here.