Fifty years ago, Norm Phillips got a call telling him to become a pastor.
“I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I got His call,” Phillips recalled with a bit of humor. “My first question was, ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing, God?’”
Phillips, who is soon to turn 87, is the pastor at Advent Christian Church in Chetek. A service and open house was held on Sunday, Oct. 27, in honor of his 50 years serving the church. Many—including his adult children, grandchildren and countless friends—attended the service, led by his family and Dr. Bill Norwood, the regional superintendent of the church. The open house held in the afternoon.
Today, he feels the same calling as he did all those years ago, with no signs of stopping. “Fifty years and I’m not ready to quit yet, so we’re just going on,” he said in a phone interview on Monday, Oct. 28. “There’s no question in my mind. My wife of 52 years, we labored for all those years and it’s been an excellent experience.”
Phillips and his wife, Karen, married in 1959. She passed away in 2011.
He recalled that he and his wife both felt the call to faith and confirmed it for one another.
“Yes, this is what God is calling us to do,” Phillips recounted, noting he left his family’s successful business to become a pastor.
Phillips graduated from Bible College at Mt. Senario, in Ladysmith, then attended seminary Southern Indiana, where he earned a doctorate in Biblical studies. Later, he earned a masters degree in counseling from University of Wisconsin-Stout.
A new pastor, his first posting was in Watertown in 1969. In 1976, he came to Chetek, serving the Chetek congregation for nine years. After that, he served three congregations in North Florida, one church in West Virginia, and then returned to Chetek in 1997. He has been here ever since.
Phillips noted he turned 65 in Chetek. Rather than retiring, he figured he’d keep serving the area’s small congregation. When Karen suffered a heart attack, Chetek was the best place for her to be and the area was good for her health, he said.
The Chetek community is blessed with fellowship of its clergy that is bound by prayer, Phillips said. “We have a unity and fellowship that you won’t find anywhere else,” he said. “There isn’t competition. They work together for the benefit of fellowship.”
The Advent Christian Church, is the first truly American Christian denomination, Phillips noted.
Throughout the years, Phillips estimated he has baptized more than 200 people. “I’ve baptized people in all congregations,” he said. He baptized 17 young adults during the Jesus People movement in the 1970s while serving in Watertown.
He’s also presided over more than 200 funerals, even for people not belonging to his church.
“As pastors, we step up and do these things for the family,” he said.
Phillips noted he’s married fewer couples, but that is partly by design. Before he weds a couple, they must go though extensive marriage counseling with him, he said. There have been occasions when a couple has decided they don’t want to get married, but he feels okay with that. Marriage is a choice to live with someone the rest of your life, “And that why it is important that they make the right decision,” he said.
He estimated that he’s counseled over two thousand people during his 50 years, helping them through all sorts of struggles and strife. It is rewarding, but exhausting work, he noted.
“You’ve got to break through the communication—beyond the vocal level—and really get a feeling of what is going on with people,” he explained.
Right now, as long as he is healthy and able, he will continue to serve the congregation and community of Chetek. He doesn’t know how long that will be, but he cherishes the honor that the church and community has shown him this past week.
“I really appreciate the congregation. The church just went all out,” Phillips said.