Pastor's Comments

Pastors Comments


By Robert M. Chapman, II
Spiritual Leader

As a CEO, she's never had it easy. Once a single mom for ten years, a career witnessing constant change, working with a multitude of diverse personalities, countless meetings and minutes, charge conference reports, EVC systems, hymn numbers, bulletins, pew pencils, paperclips, and copy machines, her executive strategy has been marked in one word "flexibility." "You have to be flexible," she proclaims as if delivering a sermon. Having served as the administrative assistant at Chestnut for almost 33 years under the direction of 11 appointed pastors and associate pastors, flexibility remains her keystone toward service, faithfulness and success.

Somewhere on a map of Virginia, her parents John and Frances Roberts, came from "little dinky "places known as Shipman and Norwood. They eventually landed in Newport News, where Diane their second daughter, was born on Jan. 9, 1954 in the old downtown Riverside Hospital (RLS: Old Buxton?). How often have we heard the phrase from Isaiah 11:6; "And a little child shall lead them. "Diane was a youth when she led both of her CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) parents to church when she was young, about 12 or 13 years old. Her best friend who was active in the youth group at Temple Baptist church off Harpersville Road, near the former Morrison church, was the key influence of her eventually being "dunked!" It was the Baptist means of grace which claimed her, in that little sanctuary which remains standing. Back in the day when believers went to church on Sunday evenings, she remembers taking a $1 bill to church. It was a small offering, as youth group leaders would return with the manna of McDonald bags containing burgers, fries and drinks for under a buck. Indeed, this was a long time ago, when McDonald's held papal stature as being the cathedral of burger joints. The burger chain mascot was Little Speedee, who was more popular than the Pope, eventually being replaced by that clown, Ronald McDonald.

Diane graduated from Warwick High School, however in her junior year, thanks to "busing," she was moved to the rival Ferguson High School, where she took vocational training courses, a sure ticket to get out of school early. Despite the Ferguson completion, her diploma proclaims Warwick. For 10 years Diane worked at the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority beginning at 34th and Marshall Court. Her boss, Mr. Earl Allen, a retired military veteran and a spirited gentleman, was a tireless advocate on behalf of the former United Methodist Children's Home. Diane remembers him coming into work every morning singing the tune of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." When he wasn't singing, he was taking notes of Diane's work ethic and skills in accounting, making sure she remained with the agency, moving her from one location to another in the big city, to places such as Hilton and Hidenwood. Her career took a shift when she began working part-time from 9 a.m. to noon at Christ United Methodist Church, rounding out the day from 1-5 p.m. certifying the qualifications of individuals who were seeking section eight housing. Like a church mouse scurrying from one task to another, her most demanding job was being a single mom to a young son, while living in an apartment. Her nurturing love and care for Chris along with her determination, influenced him in the direction toward higher education, earning his bachelors and master's degree at The College of William & Mary. Now a father of her two wonderful grandchildren, these water babies are now "speedee" swimmers. Chris and his wife Brandy live in Yorktown, which makes Diane a happy camper.

Diane's Top Ten Favorites
Holiday: Christmas
Hymn: "Be Thou My Vision"
Movie: "The Lion King"
Books: The Bible
Sport: Baseball
Artist: Barry Manilow
Food: Linda White's Chicken Salad
Dessert: Banana Pudding
Hobby: Crafts
Leisure Time Activity: "Spending time with my grandchildren."

Thankfully for the Chestnut faithful, Diane landed under the tree on Sep. 6, 1986. "Top Gun " and "Out of Africa" were drawing people to the movies, as other significant historical events caught our attention, such as Chernobyl, the debut of the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Phantom of the Opera and the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Ronald Reagan was our president. The Reverend Randall Blankenship was the pastor (l984-1988) and our good friend, the late Woody Glasscock, happened to be the chairperson of the staff-parish relations committee. As all things eventually come full circle, Woody and her former boss Mr. Allen, were acquaintances with each other through the Hampton Roads Exchange Club, probably helping seal the deal for Diane's arrival. At the time, Chris was only five years old. Forever true in his love for everyone at Chestnut, Woody kept a nurturing and caring eye on Diane, following Chris' development and accomplishments like any proud grandpa. As the world has changed over these 33 years, during her tenure, Diane can cite three significant changes in congregational life: 1. The addition of the Fellowship Hall in 1990; 2. The implementation of the contemporary praise and worship service, soon to celebrate 20 years; 3. The introduction of the guardian angel program. These wonderful lay persons are Diane's "heroes," as for over three years they have been holding down the desk in the front office, welcoming guests, answering telephone calls, and passing along messages to the food pantry. Diane oversees their schedules and training, with flexibility of course.

There were other significant changes in her life. Dick Barnes, a long-time faithful "Chestnutter" from the Chestnut Avenue location, asked Diane to marry him. The late Bernice Gibbons earned the scriptural title of being the visionary prophet, inviting them over to her house for the "matchmaking meal. "Diane and Dick knew what was on her scroll, as they were the only ones in her home for the dinner. They were married on May 27, 1995 by The Reverend Rudy Tucker (1993-2001) and Rita Staul. Diane decided to come over to the other side of salvation, when their daughter Jeanne was baptized on Father's Day. On that day, Diane became a member of Chestnut, as Dick and her pledged to nurture and raise Jeanne into the faith, within the order of Methodism. Jeanne went on to attend Virginia Wesleyan University, and with her beautiful voice, sang with the Wesleyan Singers until her graduation last year as an education major. She currently sings with the Virginia Chorale. Holding firm to a congregational mission statement of "Rooted in Faith, Reaching Out in Love, "Diane has experienced covenantal relationships and wonderful friendships with many beloved and faithful congregants who are no longer with us. They include her "best buddy, "Calvin Ryder. Also, there was "the quiet one" Al Curtis and "the loud one" Lee Verhine, (Pat Belote's father,) Velma White and of course, Majorie White, mother of Joe White and Mary Hurst. A great cook, Majorie was like a grandmother to both of her children. Today, Diane's "biggest joy" is faithfully giving care to her mom, who is now 93 years old, the long-living "Queen " of the facility where she now lives. Her continual care, provided by her beloved daughter Diane, is very important at this stage of her life. When Diane arrived at Chestnut she did not know how to turn on the Tandy computer from Radio Shack, a black-screened mechanism with an ugly blinking green curser. It was a time of IBM Selectric typewriters and mimeograph machines which had a way of baptizing workers in ink. Who could ever imagine the arrival of cell phones, email, Power Point and projectors, each bringing a learning curve and a call for patience and flexibility. The church sent her to Thomas Nelson community college for a six-week beginning computer class. And through it all, akin to the spirit of Jesus watching over his disciples, Diane has been adaptable and flexible despite much "change," a curse word in many churches.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline makes it very clear, the pastor under episcopal appointment of the bishop is designated as the chief "administrative officer" or CEO of the church and congregational life. However, as many pastors will testify, their faithful hard-working administrative assistants are the real CEOs. These longstanding souls must be adaptable to constant change. They are like captains who are skilled in guiding the direction of the ship or engineers who can see the big picture. At the same time, they are always starting over, adjusting to pastors who come and go like the tide. Chestnut has been blessed, having a faithful and flexible CEO in Diane Barnes, who after all these years, finally has a new chair behind her desk.