In it for the long haul


First Posted: 11/10/2014

LIMA — Virgil Clingerman became the Sunday school superintendent at his church, Trinity Wesleyan Church, in 1951 when he was 23. Sixty-three years later, he is still at it.

“I’ve always been interested in people,” he said. “The previous superintendent encouraged me to take it over, and the people wanted me to take it over. So here I still am.”

Clingerman, whose wife, Dora, died three years ago, explained that the position of Sunday school superintendent is voted upon by the congregation every year. Clingerman’s job, according to the Rev. Eric Allen, head pastor at Trinity Wesleyan Church, is to keep track of all the Sunday school materials and the attendance.

“Virgil is an unbelievable bookkeeper,” Allen said. “He has everything organized from the time he took over in 1951. He can go back 25 years and tell you the temperature and number of people who attended that day. Of course, that’s what he did at his job at Lima Register Co. He was a bookkeeper there, too.”

When Clingerman first started as Sunday school superintendent, even though his duties were basically the same as they are today, he had more information to track. At one time, Trinity Wesleyan Church had a Sunday school class for every age group — and that necessitated Clingerman holding regular meetings. Now, Clingerman supervises six Sunday school teachers. While he still orders curriculum for some of the teachers, he said many of the younger teachers like to select their own materials now.

There are also fewer people with an average of 50 to 60 that attend weekly. “In 1975,” Clingerman said, “we had a top attendance in Sunday school of 420. That was on Easter Sunday.”

Throughout the years, Clingerman also started and oversaw quite a few different programs, including a birthday offering and a contest for perfect attendance, which have since been discontinued.

At one time, the church also had four buses that went out to pick up people for Sunday school, often competing with each other to see who would have the most people, but Clingerman said that has all changed. “We went to vans,” he explained. “We have two vans that go out now.”

Clingerman said he was very fortunate over the years to have people who would go out on Saturday morning to make contacts so the bus ministry could thrive. He is also grateful for the Sunday school teachers who have served faithfully.

One of those teachers, Grace Woolley who teaches the kindergarten through second grade, is just as thankful for Clingerman’s faithfulness.

“Virgil has done outstanding service for our church and our people of the church,” she said. “He is a true witness for the Lord at every opportunity. He is loved by everyone who knows him. He is just a great fellow.”

The one thing Clingerman still does a lot of is visiting.

“I enjoy visiting people,” he said. “A lot of people are prohibited from coming, especially the older people, so I try to get out and visit them as much as I can.”

Allen, who has been at the church for 12 years, said Clingerman has always been focused on people.

“Virgil loves people,” he said. “This is a guy who loves to make calls on people and get people to come to church.”

Being in ministry for such a long time, Clingerman has seen a lot of changes in the church.

“The biggest change is that it is difficult to get individuals to work,” he said. “We don’t have the volunteers like we used to, but it’s a busier time for people with all the sports programs and school programs and so forth.”

At 86, Clingerman has considered retiring from his position as Sunday school superintendent, but he does not have any immediate plans to do so as he does not have anyone to take his place.

“The church right now doesn’t have the personnel,” he said. “I’ve been helping out as much as possible. I’m thankful the Lord has given me good health so I can continue.”

Allen shared that Clingerman indeed helps out wherever he can.

“When I first got here, so maybe 11 years ago,” he said, “we had a big snowfall, and I had come in to shovel the parking lot and sidewalks. I went into my office to work for an hour or so, and when I came out, half the parking lot was cleared. Virgil had come and shoveled it all by hand, and he was probably 75 at the time. That’s just the kind of guy Virgil is.”

As for Clingerman, he has a simple legacy he hopes to leave behind.

“I want everyone to know,” he said, “the Lord Jesus Christ loves each one of us, and He wants us to extend that love to others. That’s what my desire is.”