Vicar in downtown church celebrating the work of Rev. Allen Fisher | local news
As Rev. Allen Fisher walked to the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg on Sunday morning, he was a little surprised by what he saw in the front row.
Sitting there were other pastors and representatives from five downtown churches and community groups that Fisher has worked with over the years. After the initial astonishment, he managed to tease her about who tends to her herds, as Sunday mornings are usually an important time in their line of business.
“That’s quite an expression, really,” Fisher said of the effort it took for Brothers and Sisters of the Cloth to be in his church. “I didn’t know they were coming and I couldn’t believe it.”
Fisher is retiring at the end of August after 41 years of service – 27 of them at the church on the corner of Princess Anne and George streets. When he asked to keep his final Sunday, Aug. 28, as normal as possible, parishioners and parishioners organized tributes and recognitions ahead of his final sermon, including Sunday’s surprise and a Thursday celebration at the Fredericksburg Expo Center attended by nearly 300 people participated.
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“It was overwhelming in a different way, a different kind of thing, lots of kind words from people I respect and have worked with for many years,” he said. “It’s very humbling. Really it is.”
Those who praised him said he deserved the honors.
“He was a prophetic voice among the Fredericksburg pastors in helping them ground the churches in their mission, and I speak about the nature and mission of the church in general,” said Rev. Larry Haun of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church . “He always kept us centered on God in whatever he was doing, and that was really good.”
Haun organized the participation of other inner-city pastors, a group he said includes leaders from Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations. The pastors meet regularly to “eat and pray and are good friends,” said Haun, who expected more representatives on Sunday but said some could not find replacement speakers.
The city of Fredericksburg passed a proclamation in Fisher’s honor, and the parchment paper was mounted on a marbled plaque and displayed on the church steps Sunday. It laid out how the pastor, who graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary, ministered to those within the walls of his church and beyond.
When he and other pastors downtown saw that the needs of the homeless were not being met, they founded Micah Ecumenical Ministries. Fisher was one of the first to “use the word ‘neighbor’ to describe our people,” said Micah Executive Servant Leader Meghann Cotter.
“He has often reminded us that our work is about ‘Thy kingdom come,'” she said, quoting a passage from the Lord’s Prayer.
Fisher helped found the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region, an agency that manages more than 170 funds that distribute more than $2 million in charitable funds to Fredericksburg and surrounding counties each year. He has served on the board of directors of Mary Washington Healthcare and as trustee of endowments at both Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital for more than 20 years.
He also served on the board of the Fredericksburg Personal Counseling Service and led the board of the Department of Society Services to ensure children, the disabled, the elderly and the poor receive the mental, financial, medical and family services they need, the proclamation said the city .
In other words, Fisher did exactly what he asked his community to do. At the Sunday service, Marjolijn Bijlefeld, who serves as the session’s secretary, the highest lay position in the Episcopal Church, read from a resolution passed by the Church.
She repeated words he said in a 2014 sermon when he told the audience that Jesus commanded them to go to neighbors and neighborhoods, to the hidden places and back alleys, to the homes of the rich and poor, and not only to spread the word of their gospel, but to live it.
“Speak up where it’s needed,” Bijlefeld said when quoting Fisher. “Jesus authorized us to go. Go get dirty and take nothing but love.”
Many of those present experienced this first-hand. Rev. Joseph Hensley said Fisher welcomed him with open arms both as a colleague and as a friend when he came to St. George’s Episcopal Church more than seven years ago.
“He’s a team player, he wants to be part of the wider community and bring people together,” Hensley said. “And as a fellow pastor, I really respect his scholarship and the perspective he brings to his preaching. I was blessed to hear him preach a few times.”
Fisher also has the ability to focus on a person’s needs exactly when help is needed, said Bill Nix, a Presbyterian Church elder. He recalled nearly 20 years ago when he and his family were visiting downtown Fredericksburg in search of a home to buy. Fisher didn’t know them from Adam, but as they entered the church grounds, he asked how he could help.
Nix told them they were having trouble finding a home for sale, Fisher offered to pray with them and encouraged them to return if they moved to the area. The next day, Nix said he saw a “House For Sale” sign in the front yard of a house he and his wife bought.
When the mermaids returned a few months later, Fisher not only recalled meeting them, but also remembered the names of the four family members. “He’s got a weird memory,” Nix said.
On his first Sunday at the Presbyterian Church, Fisher stood at the gate and greeted everyone by name, said Mary Ann Casey, who is part of the “Quarantine Quartet,” a scaled-down version of the choir that was performing during COVID-19. Fisher had obtained the previous year’s church directory and matched names with faces – without ever having seen faces in person.
“He’s an incredible mind, an incredible intellect, always available to anyone,” she said.
As difficult as church members said it was to separate, Casey said they were thrilled that Fisher and his wife Chris, who recently retired from Prince William County schools, are getting some well-deserved time to relax .
“We’re thrilled they’re reaching this stage of life,” Casey said. “They deserve every minute of retirement and the joy of being with their grandchildren.”
The Fishers have four children and three grandchildren, with a fourth on the way. They plan to travel, visit two of their children who live in Turkey and Israel, spend some time in the mountains of West Virginia, and then settle into their retirement home in New Bern, North Carolina. Fisher estimates he won’t be sitting idle for long — the need is so great — but he’s looking forward to a few Sundays when he’s just quiet.
He wanted the people of his church and the wider Fredericksburg community to know that he would miss them dearly.
“I’ve been telling people that because I couldn’t expend the energy to fall in love as much as I have here and with this place and this community and my colleagues on duty and the staff, I would never be able to take a full-time call again with whom I have served here in common,” he said. “It’s just extraordinary. It will always be a special place for us.”