When Pastor Dewey Huffstutler first laid eyes on the Land O’ Lakes Church of God, he wasn’t terribly impressed.
At that time, the church building consisted of four trailers that had been pushed together, under a roof of plywood, joined together by tar.
The parsonage was a single-wide trailer.
Huffstutler and his wife, Jennie, had visited the church to consider a future there, and as Huffstutler drove home to Brooksville, he recalls telling God: “I deserve better.”
After all, he’d already devoted much of his life to Jesus.
He grew up in the Church of God in Dade City.
“I sang with my family, gospel music. I started at the age of 14,” Huffstutler said.
He and his wife married in 1963 and moved shortly after to Brooksville.
“We just weren’t happy going to church over there because we loved Dade City.
“We drove back and forth (to Dade City) for many years, but then finally started back to church again in Brooksville, so our kids could bring friends to church with them, if they wanted to,” he said.
He recalls praying for spiritual direction, while attending church in Brooksville.
“There was a spot in the church, where I would go stand and pray, and I would beat my head on the Wall of God: ‘I will do what you want me to do. I will go where you want me to go,’” he said.
Then, there was a pastoral change at the Brooksville church.
“The second week the pastor was there, he came up to me and said, ‘God’s told me to tell you something. God told me to tell you that it’s not too late to get in the ministry,’’” the pastor said.
Huffstutler was 46 at the time.
That conversation prompted him to go through the process of becoming a minister, which later led to that first visit to the Land O’ Lakes Church of God in 1992.
“I had known for a long time that there was a calling on my life,” said Huffstutler, whose official title is ordained bishop, in the Church of God.
Throughout his life, he’d served in various roles, as a teacher, in bus ministry, as music director and Sunday school.
When he became pastor at the Land O’ Lakes Church of God in 1992, it was the first time he led a church.
He never left, that is until his recent retirement on April 30.
“There was never a dull moment,” Huffstutler said.
“People say, “All that a pastor does … is preach Sunday and Wednesday night. That’s all they have to do,’” he said.
But he offered this reality check: “You’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Just this month, I think I’ve only had two, maybe three days off.”
Being available to listen, to help
The role of a pastor involves praying over the sick, consoling people in grief, assisting with funeral plans and helping those who are troubled, or in trouble, to find a way forward.
“There’s something going on all of the time. It takes a lot of patience, understanding, hard work,” Huffstutler said.
“Sometimes you get a call, people don’t know what to do with their children.
“You get talking with them. You hear all of the dysfunctions of the family and you’re supposed to put it back together. All you can do is lead them, but putting it together is up to them.
“You spend hours on the telephone, or in my office counseling them, and praying with them. “Then, you see a change,” he said.
There may come a Sunday when the family walks in and it’s obvious the couple is rededicating their lives to the Lord and to their children, he said.
The problems remain, but they’re working on them, he added.
Pastors help people experiencing sorrow.
He recalls helping a young minister who had recently lost his father.
He cited passage after passage from the Bible, offering spiritual comfort.
The young minister asked: “How can you do that?’
“I said, ‘What do you mean?
He said: “(Remember) All those scriptures.”
I said; “You’ve got to study. You’ve got to read the word. The Bible will tell you that the Holy Spirit will bring to your remembrance what you have studied, but you’ve got to study it first.”
Huffstutler also recalls the request of a mother for him to remain in a hospital room with her, as the life-support machines keeping her 22-year-old daughter alive were unplugged.
“She wanted me in the room. Just me and her. I was there.
“Now, because of that, we have several families in the church today.
“I did the funeral here in the church. People got to know us, got to see the church,” he said.
Over the years, he’s frequently presided over funerals at his church, for people who were not members.
He recalls another minister saying that he wouldn’t do that.
Huffstutler responded: “That’s my mission field. I get to go into people’s homes — that don’t come to my church. And I get to tell them about Jesus. And then, I get to do a service for their family member or friend … And I get to tell a whole bunch of people about Him (Jesus).”
In one case, a funeral for a non-church member attracted busloads — bringing hundreds of people to his church.
Following Jesus’ example
The pastor also recalls making an out-of-town trip to help a young man to deal with criminal charges that were pending against him.
Ultimately, the charges were dropped — giving the young man a clean record and fresh start.
He said some questioned why he would do that.
“The way I look at it, Jesus didn’t cull the people that he helped and dealt with and blessed. If I am going to be like him, I’ve got to help others,” Huffstutler said.
Over the years, the pastor estimates he’s been involved in a total of about 500 funerals, weddings, baptisms and other special services.
When it comes to baptisms, he’s pretty much seen it all.
“When people come to know the Lord, we baptize them in water.
“I have been to ponds, where you watch for alligators. I’ve been to people’s houses and baptized people in swimming pools. I’ve been to other churches that allowed us to use their baptismal pool,” he said.
For the past 15 years or so, he’s used a portable baptistry that can be moved into the sanctuary. It allows the pastor to stand beside it, while dunking the person who’s being baptized.
While helping others through difficulties, Huffstutler said he’s faced his share, as well.
“The most challenging time for me, personally, was the changes I had to make when my wife passed away,” the pastor said.
She was his wife, his confidant and closest friend.
She would accompany him to visit people, and was a source of emotional support, he said.
She died in 2017.
“Since then, the load has been totally on my shoulders,” he said.
As he prepares for retirement, the pastor said he plans to spend a lot more time fishing,
He’s excited to introduce church members to the new pastor, Rick Fowler, who will offer his first service at the church on May 7.
“Rick and (his wife) Wanice grew up in the Church of God, in Dade City,” Huffstutler said.
“I was his Sunday School teacher when he was 8 years old.”
Published May 03, 2023