by Lisa Tome
Rev. Jim Jones wasn't in town long before restaurant owner Jim Gibney made up his mind about the new pastor.
"He didn't talk like a minister. He came into the restaurant and we had a 15-20 minute conversation. That's when I said 'you'll never make it in Rising Sun'. His whole life, he reminded me of that," said Gibney.
Rev. Jones died February 1 at the age of 67, leaving behind his wife, Rebecca, and sons Drew and Blake. And a community of people mourning the loss of the beloved former pastor from Janes United Methodist Church.
Gibney, 85, would become close friends with Rev. Jones. Jones was a frequent diner in Gibney's restaurant, Sue's and also held informal "office hours" there. Jones would pour coffee for customers and told people to "come back soon" so often that many thought Jones, not Gibney, was the proprietor.
Jones served in the ministry for 35 years, 28 of those at Janes UMC. He retired in 2012 due to health issues. He suffered a heart attack in 2009, recovered, and then later was diagnosed with a condition that impacted his speaking.
He has also served as a Chaplain with the Maryland State Police, on the Board for the Department of Social Services, on the Town of Rising Sun Ethics Commission, and as a state representative for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He prayed to open the legislative session in Annapolis and served as a delegate to the Methodist conference. He missed very few, if any, town parades, Carol Sings, and Sunfests.
Jones talked about his life in a 2012 interview.
When Jones was attending seminary, one of his professors gave him a piece of advice that he applied to his life daily.
"He said 'if you love your people, they'll let you make a lot of mistakes in the pulpit'," he said.
"I love people. I love all kinds of people. I've never put myself in a higher stand than anyone else. I like all people," he said. "This is what's so wonderful about being a pastor. You just look at the people. I consider myself one of the luckiest persons to be here."
During his tenure, he officiated at nearly 700 weddings, more than 550 recorded baptisms, and nearly 830 funerals.
"He was one of the most influential figures in my entire life. I met him 35 years ago. He told me I had a lot of worth and he turned my life around," said Brian Killough. "He was there at every high point and low point in my life for over 30 years. He was there for the birth of my children, the death of my daughter. He baptized my children. He was everywhere."
Killough lost his daughter, Jacki in a school bus accident. Killough said that Jacki thought Rev. Jones was God. "One day she said 'I like the tie God is wearing today'," laughed Killough.
Cindy Fitzpatrick is principal at Rising Sun Elementary School and a member of Janes UMC. She was also a friend of Rev. Jones. The day he died, she mourned. "I feel the same today as I did the Sunday Jim stood in front of the church and announced he had to retire - extremely sad. He was one of a kind and meant different things to so many people. He now has that beautiful smile back," said Fitzpatrick.
Dawn Deckman has led the youth at Janes UMC for years.
Her husband, Mark, ran the church's audio visual system. The Deckmans were close to Jones and spent countless hours with him.
"Rev. Jim has had a profound impact on the entire Deckman family. We were not a church family prior to going to Janes and as such were typically intimidated by preachers. The day we met him, we knew he was a very special man and soon became more than our Pastor but also a family friend. He was a no-knock visitor to our home...We were blessed to have our children grow up knowing him as the pastor and the man...We believe God put Jim on this earth as an example of how to love others. To that end, we respond Job well done, sir," said Mark Deckman.
Cecil County Sheriff Scott Adams said Rev. Jones also touched his life. "I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Reverend Jim Jones. My family and I attended Janes for several years under the spiritual leadership of Reverend Jones. I have heard it said many times that Jim never met a stranger and I couldn't agree more. He was such a positive and encouraging mentor for the entire Rising Sun community. The history book of Rising Sun certainly wouldn't be complete without a chapter about him. I'm sure Jim is hearing these words that we all hope to hear one day - Well done, good and faithful servant. He will be missed," said Sheriff Adams.
"He touched a lot of people's lives," said Gibney.