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A community pastor

Christmas is synonymous with giving. The value of the gift does not matter; it is the thought of giving that counts. It is a time when we show our love to others and to give of ourselves and help others. Pastor Paul exemplifies this gift not only during the holiday season, but throughout the entire year, and not only within the walls of his church, but throughout the community. Many people may not know Pastor Paul’s last name, but they know he is a pastoral friend even if they have never been in the Willmar Assembly of God Church where Pastor H. Paul McCullough has served as the associate pastor for over 20 years. In addition to his various ministry team duties, including leading or assisting with worship services, wedding, funerals, pastoral counseling, writing and sending out devotionals, and Bible studies, Pastor Paul extends himself as a pastoral friend to the community. Many people would say that he is a pastor to the city of Willmar and beyond. Known as “the man in black,” Pastor Paul is visible throughout the community. He can be seen at many community functions or sitting at the Subway in Wal-Mart or in the lunch area at Target waiting to greet shoppers. It’s a sign that Pastor Paul is “open for ministry.” “I was sitting in Wal-Mart recently and a little girl walked by with her parents, waved at me and said, ‘Hi Pastor Paul!’ I have no idea who she was, but I waved back and it reminded me that you have to hold on to the true calling.” That true calling to his outreach ministry began when he was pastor at an Assembly of God church in West Bloomfield, Mich. He had a vision of creating a community liaison ministry for a church. He sent his proposal to Assembly of God churches throughout the United States.  Pastor Dean Gross, who was then the minister for the Willmar Assembly of God, liked the proposal and spoke to Pastor Paul about it at church meeting they attended in Indianapolis. “He handed me a job description,” Pastor Paul remembers. “I was looking for what they (Willmar) were looking for. I could finally be the type of minister I had dreamed of being!” Since that time, Pastor Paul has been working to achieve his mission, working with the ministry team headed by the current senior pastor, Keith Kerstetter. But the mission is not only in the Willmar Assembly of God Church, which attracts 1,000 worshippers nearly every Sunday, but also to the thousands of other people who live in the Willmar area. “I am fortunate to have a church who wants what I had once dreamed about,” he said with a large smile. “I guess you could call me a glorified sales rep!” The church teams up with the Salvation Army in helping people in need. He remembered the single mother who needed a car and came to Pastor Paul for help. He visited with the woman and told her that he would call her if he heard of a car that’s available. “A few months later, a man called who said he had a minivan and asked if I knew of anyone who needed a car, so I called the woman who still did not have one. The van needed a new starter, and with the help of the Salvation Army, the car was fixed and the mother and her children were very happy to receive it.” The man in black shared another story about a generous man who came to him last Christmas with five $20 gift cards. “He asked me to distribute them to people who were in need,” recalled Pastor Paul, “but things like that don’t just happen at Christmas, it happens any time of the year.” In September, a young father was killed in a head-on collision near Clara City.  The father of an eight-month old son worked at Wal-Mart where Pastor Paul first met him during his outreach ministry. “I became a pastoral friend to him and his wife over a year ago. I let them know I was praying for them during her pregnancy and would greet them often while sitting at Subway in Wal-Mart. When this tragedy happened, the wife and family turned to me and our church for help. We recently celebrated his life together at our church with over 100 Wal-Mart employees and 400 attendees present. Wal-Mart was very gracious to supply the light lunch for everyone at the close of the celebration. We actually partnered with the funeral home because of the size, Wal-Mart for supplying the food and our church facility to host the occasion. This is another example of what ‘reaching out to our community with the love of God’ is all about.” Pastor Paul received a specialized ecclesiastical endorsement for pastoral care chaplaincy in 2009 from the Assembly of God Church. “I can use that tool even after I retire,” Pastor Paul believes, “and I can continue to do outreach here in Willmar as this is where I want to be.” He already serves in the capacity of chaplain as he’s contracted with the Railroad Chaplains of America to serve the local Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway, answering to calls within a six-hour drive from Willmar. “When there is a fatality, I have gone as far as LaCrosse, Wisc., and Thief River Falls,” he said. Last spring he was called to console a young man who had been under the influence of alcohol and lost a leg and an arm after crawling under a train.    He’s on call for the Kandiyohi County Sherriff’s Department. When a deputy was shot several years ago, Pastor Paul was one of the first people called and he told the deputy’s wife of the shooting. In addition to law enforcement and the railroad, Pastor Paul is chaplain for the Willmar Fire Department and at the KRA Speedway during the summer. “It’s all about being a pastor where pastors aren’t usually found,” he said. As a teen growing up in Wichita, Kan., the young McCullough spent a lot of time bowling at the local alley. He joined his first bowling team in the sixth grade. At 17 years of age, he bowled a sanctioned 742 and 735 series and won $2,000 in tournaments. He rolled an 816 series at the age of 18, the highest sanctioned series in the history of Kansas at that time. After high school graduation he enrolled at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo., but continued bowling. In 1967, he joined the Professional Bowlers Association, and with no sponsor, participated in three tournaments on the West Coast that summer. Loving the sport, he thought of being a pro bowler and working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. By the age of 21, he had rolled ten 700 series and was offered a sponsorship by a businessman to go on the pro tour, but declined the offer. He told the Springfield newspaper, “God has called me into the ministry and through these experiences I gained while bowling, God has taught me how to cope with people and their problems.” After he received a BA degree in Bible studies, Pastor Paul was licensed to preach in 1970 and became a youth pastor in Akron, Ohio.  He and his wife, Francesca, were married the same year. “I’ve been married for 40 years to my best friend,” he said with a smile. They have two grown children – son, Joseph, and daughter, Maria. In 1974 he was ordained as a minister of the Assemblies of God. He then became pastor of a church in Wooster, Ohio, and then moved back to Springfield, where he was an associate pastor. In 1980, he accepted a call as senior pastor for Christian Trinity Church in East Detroit, Mich. Four years later another call was received from Home Missions Church in West Bloomfield, Mich. where he helped to start a new Assembly of God church. For the first six months, the small congregation met in a conference room of a library, but there was no separate area for Sunday School. Since other churches met at the same time, Pastor Paul negotiated a six-month lease with the Temple Kol-Ami, a Jewish church. Both congregations were a bit nervous about the agreement, but Pastor Paul said he respects the Jewish faith and would not try to convert Temple Kol-Ami’s members to Christianity or to debate the two religions. “I believe God took care of that,” he said. “I wasn’t there to have a showdown between Christianity and Judaism.” The agreement worked well. The Jewish sanctuary was similar to an auditorium with no religious symbols except for the Torah that was in a cabinet. The First Assembly of God members brought their own songbooks and sound system with them for worship and they were removed following the service. “I look at a building to be just a building; the people are the church,” Pastor Paul noted. The Jewish synagogue was very conducive to our purpose. I had a pulpit and that’s what I needed.” In a published news story in West Bloomfield regarding the unusual agreement, Pastor Paul referred to the prophecies in the Book of Revelations and that he believes the Jewish people and the Christians will accept the same Messiah in the end. Both are waiting for Him. Christians believe that He has come and He will come again. While in West Bloomfield, Pastor Paul began to outline his community liaison ministry plan which Pastor Dean Gross wanted to have in Willmar, a community that has become Pastor Paul’s longest ministerial home in his 40 years as a minister. “Willmar was a great choice and a good community to invest myself in,” he said with no regrets. Whether he is preaching within the walls of the church, serving as a chaplain during an emergency, doing community outreach on Mondays when he greets and visits with employees at various businesses in Willmar, or sipping on a soft drink at Wal-Mart or Target, Pastor Paul says he works hard at building bridges. “I treat everyone like family as we should love one another,” he said with his arms opened wide and then chuckled, “Or at least you can love them as much as the in-laws!” He added he likes to be around people. You can see him at Frieda’s, the local coffee shop, where he’ll be visiting with people as he helps to clean tables or wash dishes. “I’ve even gone to the grocery store and pretended I’m shopping just to see and talk to people. I may meet a member of the church or someone who has greeted and talked to me at Wal-Mart, Target or the Kandi Mall. I remember faces and have spoken to many widows, single moms and other people who need to be consoled. A smile, a handshake or a hug means so much!” He remembers one woman shopper was offended by his warm greeting as he sat in the Target lunch area.  “I said hello to her and wished her a good day, but she was offended by my comment and told me so. I felt bad and apologized to her and I also told the store manager in case she complained. So while she was offended and thought I might be a stalker, a week later another woman told me that I look like Jesus!” Pastor Paul’s ministry within his church and the community is all about planting seeds. He shared the story of a young man who fatally stabbed his fiancé in a nearby town several years ago and then stabbed himself in an attempted suicide. Pastor Paul visited him in the hospital and after the young man was sentenced, the visits now continue at the prison, an outreach that has continued for 14 years. “I’ve followed him to three different prisons. He’s not a Christian yet, but it’s all about planting seeds.” And there are many more seeds to plant. The work is never-ending. Pastor Paul McCullough has been blessed with the gift of giving and caring throughout the years, not just during the holiday season. His mission continues . . .

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