MARGATE – After 43 years in ministry with 32 years leading the flock here, Rev. David A. Flemming will retire as head minister of the Margate Community Church effective Oct. 1. The congregation is planning a special dinner in his honor Sunday at Linwood Country Club.
“It’s really sad to see Rev. Fleming leave,” Senior Deacon and church moderator George Kyle said. “He has been the leader of our church and church family for over three decades. Over that amount of time you develop special lifetime relationships. Rev. Fleming has dedicated his life to our church and blessed so many of us in so many wonderful ways.”
During his time in Margate, the congregation has grown and waned as members leave the community or pass away, but Flemming said the current makeup of the church, although slightly smaller than when he first arrived, has changed from a local to a regional congregation, attracting membership from other beachfront and off-shore communities and as far away as Egg Harbor City.
Flemming, 68, said his time in Margate was rewarding.
“I had a good time here. I enjoyed the people and shared the passages in their lives,” he said in his chambers at the stately brick church located in the prestigious Parkway area. “I’ve been around long enough to marry the children I baptized. That’s special stuff when you can do that with multiple families.”
Flemming served as associate minister for nine years and was asked to serve as pastor after Rev. Dr. Terry Johnson died in 1995.
“When I first arrived, we saw a surge in young people from within the community. I was brought on to offer educational programs on Sunday mornings for children of all ages,” he said.
The church also has a half-day nursery school program for about 25 children.
Under his leadership, the congregation has ministered to eight communities around the country struggling after natural disasters. Church members made four week-long trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, went to Texas after Hurricane Ike, Alabama after a tornado and most recently to Florida after the hurricanes that struck last year.
After Hurricane Sandy, the congregation found itself on the receiving end of traveling ministries. It hosted groups from other churches around the country to help hurricane-ravaged homes in Atlantic County. College students from Virginia and Ohio slept upstairs on air mattresses and the congregation provided the meals. Like the Margate Community Church congregation did so many times before, workers labored 9 to 5 helping hurricane victims with their recovery efforts and came back exhausted at the end of the day.
“We knew how to host them because we were on the receiving end of missions so many times,” he said. “We got very proficient at it…We’ll probably go to the Carolinas in six to eight months.”
Flemming said the church’s philosophy is to “put faith into action.”
The interfaith congregation, with associations in the American Baptist and United Church of Christ movements, has been involved with the area’s large Jewish population, including inviting Rabbi Gordon Geller of Shirat Hayam of Ventnor to preach to the congregation each year, working with Geller to get a Holocaust monument built on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, being a founding member of the Stockton University Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, and collaborating with Seashore Gardens, Shalom House, Margate Terrace and the AIDS Alliance.
“That type of cooperation is the mark of this church,” he said. “We have gone where we think we need to go in the spirit of love. We honor Christ’s mandate ‘love your neighbor’ and when the need presents itself, we respond.”
During his tenure, the building, which has a steel beam structure, has remained unchanged, except for the replacement of the steeple, which blew off in 70-mile-per-hour winds during the freak derecho storm of 2012. The new steeple, which was erected in 2014, is made of fiberglass that will last for years and not have to be painted, he said.
Now, it’s time for Flemming to back away and allow the church to evolve.
An interim pastor has been hired and will take the helm on Nov. 1 while church leadership takes the time to search for its eighth permanent minister in the church’s 89-year history.
A Pulpit Committee consisting of trustees and deacons will work to find a new minister, but in the meantime, Rev. Victoria Ney, who has a summer home in Atlantic City and was the church’s organist in the 1980s, will lead the church. As an interim, Ney will not be eligible to be selected as permanent minister.
“Her roots here go back to before me,” Flemming said.
Born and raised in New York state, Cleveland and Detroit, Flemming is a graduate of Albion College of Michigan and Boston University School of Theology. He minstered to two Congregational Churches in Michigan, before coming to Margate in 1986.
He plans to stay in Atlantic County but will relocate to Galloway Township with his wife Sharon, to be near their two grown daughters and their families, which include five grandchildren.
Moving from Margate is what’s best for the church, he said.
“They need to allow whoever comes in to be themselves,” he said.
Flemming said he would enjoy retirement by traveling and spending more time with his grandchildren, as well as taking in a little golf whenever possible.
He said he is grateful to be able to say thank you and goodbye at the event on Sunday.
“It’s time for all of us to go through our endings and new beginnings,” he said.
Kyle said the congregation wishes him well in his “golden years.”
“He will forever remain a cherished friend,” Kyle said.