Now retiring, pastor cites 'vitality' of his church

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In 1954, at the age of 14, Warren Marble was in no mood to leave Vermont. He had friends and what really made it special was he could drive. At the time, Vermont residents could get their license at 14. But his father, Lloyd, had been named pastor of the First Congregational Church of Warwick and the family moved to Oakland Beach.

It was a life-changing year in more than one way.

1954 was the year of Hurricane Carol that inundated vast sections of the beach. The church was just high enough to escape the storm surge. It was also the year that Warren met his future wife, also named Carol. However, it would take them both being married and having children with other people before they married one another 31 years ago.

“The acceptance I got here made a big difference in my life,” Marble said following Sunday’s service.

Marble has also made a big difference in the lives of so many here. On Sunday the son of a preacher who became integrally involved in the church and, in his words, was called to be pastor in 1999, retired. He gave his farewell sermon, although no doubt he will continue to attend services and church events.

“He was everything to the church,” said member Debbie Puckett, “the carpenter and the plumber.”

Marble laughed. He confessed to being the keeper of the toilet plunger.

For Puckett the music holds special meaning. Before taking on the role as pastor, Marble ran a business servicing church organs. He was the church organist and is especially proud to have started the church bell choir. Initially, he said, church members hoped to raise enough money to purchase two octaves. However, the support was so terrific that they bought three. The bell choir is a favorite at the Easter morning service First Congregational and St. Rita’s Church hold on the beach.

Puckett remembers knowing when she wasn’t hitting the right notes from Marble’s shaking head. But then he also had a way of overlooking her when she had a solo. Puckett solved the omission by printing up thumbnail pictures of herself that she affixed to the score. Marble listened to her account, the two of them sharing another laugh.

Puckett also remembers when the church was faced with finding a new pastor. A committee was formed and a search mounted. To Puckett, the perfect person was already there. The committee also came to the realization and they called on Marble.

Perhaps his childhood experience with the church was an influence as many of the church’s members are children. The church is the sponsor of Cub Scout Pack 383 and the meeting place for a couple of Girl Scout troops.

“This church has welcomed kids from day one,” said Marble. “It has a vitality about it that is essential.”

In his final sermon, Pastor Marble delivered a combination of remembrances and, as he put it, “what we can do and what we need to do.”

And what does the church need to do?

“Obviously, we need to find a new pastor and get the right one,” he said.

On a bigger scale, Marble believes the church needs to let people know what is happening in church. “People should know who we are and why we are interested to come and meet us,” he said.

He is disheartened by how face-to-face communication, and even shopping, has been replaced by cell phone, texting and online purchasing. That surely wasn’t the case following Sunday’s service, where people gathered in the church basement hall. There was plenty of food and drinks. Kids ran between tables and people came over to chat with their retired pastor. One of them was Florence Legge, who at 101 is the oldest member of the church. She wouldn’t have missed the retirement party for anything. Legge has been a member of the church for as long as Marble has been there.

“They have a wonderful group of people,” she said of the church.

Leonard Gillette will serve as interim pastor as a search is conducted. For as long as his health will allow, Pastor Marble promises to be a guiding force.

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