by Lisa Tome
About 45 years ago, Mike Caldwell was an acolyte, Sunday school student, and page turner for the organist at Tome United Methodist Church in Port Deposit.
Earlier in the summer, Caldwell, 54, known by his parishioners as "Pastor Mike" returned to the church as its minister.
"In March I got a call from the church superintendent, Rev. Derrick Porter, who asked me if I wanted the church. I said yes. This is the church where I was an acolyte and went to Sunday school," Caldwell said. "I've come back. This is my childhood church."
Caldwell's road back to Tome UMC is a winding one. After growing up in that church, he stopped attending church as a teen.
Upon marrying his wife, Beverly, 31 years ago, he began attending Perryville UMC. At that time, he was working as a master electrician and for the Town of Perryville's public works department.
His life has also been greatly impacted by health problems.
He's had four pancreas transplants due to trauma-induced pancreatitis. He also has a donor kidney courtesy of his oldest daughter, Jennifer.
"Somebody had to die for me to get that pancreas. I got three matches and now it's four. It kind of made me realize there was some reason God was keeping me around," he said.
About a decade ago, he got more involved in the church, He began working as a lay leader and lay speaker at Perryville United Methodist. He signed on for a ministerial candidacy program and is working to meet the requirements. He is continuing his education and seminary work. "My health is good and life's good. The ministry changes you more and more all the time," he said. He said he enjoys running into people from his past who don't know he has become minister.
Pastor Mike's life took another turn 22 months ago when he was named pastor at Asbury United Methodist near Perryville. Since taking over at Asbury, attendance has tripled.
The church, which did not have a Sunday school, has started one.
He said that when he was asked to take on leadership of a second church, he did not hesitate nor take time to think about it, which surprised church officials. "It's been good. We have a lot of room to grow. I'd like to start a youth program and a Sunday school," he said.
His Sunday mornings are busier now. He turns out at Asbury for 9 a.m. services and fellowship. He's at Tome for Bible study and worship by 10:45 a.m. The service starts at 11:30 and he wraps up an hour later.
He'd very much like to see more people at both churches.
"I think somewhere along the line we've lost a generation of church (attendees). People that are here today are the parents of people I grew up with. We've lost it. Where are our kids? Church isn't as popular as it was," said Pastor Mike. "Today, people miss church. Things would be better at home if there was the presence of God. People need to spend an hour a week thinking about where their lives are."
Pastor Mike is very focused on the community and is looking for ways that the churches can serve the community. He'll continue church partnerships he forged while at Asbury. Tome UMC members will now join congregations from Asbury, Perryville, and Principio for special services for Thanksgiving and Ash Wednesday. Recently, Tome hosted an outdoor gospel concert. Pastor Mike said he is working on planning other activities to get people to Tome.
With Tome UMC, which was built in the 1870s, comes an additional responsibility, the church property across the street, Nest Hall. At that site there is a free lunch and clothing distribution from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. the third Saturday of each month. "All are welcome to come to that. That's an outreach of the church," he said.
Both churches are "come as you are" meaning that no formal dress is required. "We're just good old people in this area. There is no need to put on airs when everybody knows everybody and knows who you are and where you came from. I haven't found a dress code in the Bible that God or Jesus had written down," he said.
"When you change your life, you do things better than you used to. You find happiness and you can have more peace," he added.
He and Beverly also have a daughter, Allison, and two grandchildren. They live in Perryville.