SEABROOK - When Bill Beddie steps down to retire from the pulpit at Trinity United Church at the end of the month, what he'll miss the most isn't preaching in the historic and graceful 175-year-old meeting house, or the sight of its spire beautifully illuminated against the night sky.
"The people. What I'll miss the most is the people of Seabrook," Beddie said. "I fell in love with the folks here.
"They say it as they see it, and they wear their hearts on their sleeves. And they've allowed me to be woven into the fabric of their community."
The feeling is mutual, according to many at Trinity United Church, who have come to know the Rev. Dr. William Beddie simply as "Pastor Bill" since he came out of retirement for the second time to lead the congregation three years ago.
According to church clerk Sandy Brown, if she had to pick one word to describe Beddie it would be "approachable."
"People know they can come to him about anything," Brown said. "They appreciate that."
Beddie will preach his last sermon as pastor at Sunday service on June 30, with a potluck dinner to follow cooked for him by the very people he's come to treasure. It's that personal touch that means so much to him, and the potluck dinner won't be the first time he's enjoyed goodies made for him."Oh, it happens all the time," Beddie said last week, putting out a batch of cookies left for him by a parishioner.
At 73 years old, Beddie is making his third attempt to retire to his Newfields home with his wife of 24 years, Cynthia. First on the calendar is a trip with her to Italy, then golf and time with family and friends.
"For the next six months, we're going to go to different churches to reconnect with friends," Beddie said. "I'm just going to see where God takes me."
He could take him back to Trinity United Church occasionally, for Beddie's already told church officials that he'd be willing to help out on Sundays until the congregation finds its next pastor. Perhaps that's because he found so much joy in ministering in Seabrook, where the people welcomed him unconditionally.
At times, he said, pastors can be restrained from really being themselves because a congregation may have preconceived notions of the way ministers should act. But that never happened in Seabrook, Beddie said, which was something he found liberating.
"I have a very casual sense of humor and, at some places I've been, they haven't appreciated that so I had to repress it, or they haven't liked my choice of contemporary music," Beddie said. "That never happened in Seabrook. I love to laugh. I love to sing. And in Seabrook, they let me be me."
Beddie can appreciate having to hold back how he really feels, for he realized his religious calling late in life, when he was in his 40s, already a father and married to his first and late wife, Loretta. It was at a Sunday service when both he and she heard God calling him to pastoral ministry.
At the time, the Beddies had two teenagers and he was running a metal manufacturing company in Epping, N.H. But with the blessing of his late wife, he set out on the new course. Still working in Epping, he set out to earn his bachelor's degree at Franklin Pierce College, which he got in 1988, while also working towards his master's in divinity at Boston University, received in 1989.
After that, his doctorate in philosophy and theology came from International Seminar in Plymouth, Florida.
"We sold our home to pay for my education," Beddie said. "I got my first church when I was 45, and I was still working at my other job."
His first attempt to retire came in 2005 when he left People's United Methodist Church in South Portland, Maine. But about a year later, he got the call again and took over as pastor at West Kennebunk United Methodist Church, retiring for the second time about a year later.
"During that retirement I said, 'no, is a good biblical word and I'm going to start using it,' because I always said yes to everyone," Beddie said. "Then after a few years someone told me that saying no is not glorifying God, for I'd gotten used to saying 'no' too often."
So in 2010, when a call came to fill in at Seabrook's Trinity United Church while the congregation was between pastors, Beddie said "Yes."