By Matthew Oates

When the final amen was shouted at this year's South Indiana Annual Conference, it marked an end of an era in the life of Robert and Cynthia Sharp.

Robert will retire July 1, most recently from his appointment as Conference Council on Ministries director.

He takes pride in being the youngest ordained deacon in the Mississippi Conference at age 21 in 1963. But after 47 years of ministry, he's ready to take a full year off and see what forms of ministry he'll do next.

"I've driven 35,000 miles a year since 1994. It'll be fun not to travel for a while."

The Sharps will stay in Bloomington, but will use it as home base when they go visit their six grandchildren - Maegan and Hannah, 9, in Indianapolis; Rebecca, 10, and Allen, 7, in Houston; and Madeline, 5, and Bobby, 2, in Charlotte.

Sharp is grateful to all the conference staff, district and church staffs he has worked with throughout the years. "There's a collective spirit of cooperation I've seen," said Sharp describing the work of Gary Schaar, Sharon White, Bob Walters, Sandy Harlan, Jennifer Gallagher and other conference staff and officials.

"The partnership between finance and programming has been growing. It has been a concern, but it has become strong."

He knows that Cynthia has been making a "to do" list for him, which includes painting and yard work, but he is also looking forward to working on his MG and three Triumphs. "I haven't had time to pick up my wrenches," said Sharp.

Looking back throughout his ministry, he is thankful for "the opportunity to serve the conference and leadership. I never expected it."

One of the highlights of his career has been the clergy fellowship. "I can never, never repay them," he said, telling of the time Rushville District clergy camped out at Methodist Hospital to pray over the premature births of his two granddaughters. Fifty surgeries and nine years later, they are fine.

Sharp's career started off in Mississippi, but later moved to Indiana at the invitation of the Rev. Jimmy Keith and the Rev. David Lawson. Appointed to Bluegrass UMC in the Evansville District, he's never looked back.

Additional reflections include thoughts on racial/ethnic minority participation and joys of ministry.

"I am pleased at the progress we have made at racial inclusiveness in Indiana and across the South. There's still a lot to be done," said Sharp.

"The thing I enjoyed most was baptizing babies - it's sheer celebration. A new life and an opportunity to welcome a child into the life of the church." He believes he's baptized about 400 babies.

In addition to completing Cynthia's task list, he is looking forward to worshipping in Bloomington area churches and participating in social action witness programs.

"I'd like to protest more for justice issues."

He has passed along tidbits of wisdom to conference staff, and Jim Bushfield, the incoming CCOM director. He continually believes the church is headed in the right direction.

Dishing out advice to those coming in - Sharp feels a connection to this class - he reminds the new ordinands to remember the joyful times, the baptisms, the weddings, the confirmations, the affirmations and don't worry about the criticisms. "Everyone gets criticized. You can't let the complaints dominate your life," he said. "This really is an outstanding class . the future looks bright."

Matthew Oates serves as a correspondent for Indiana Area Communications and a member of Trinity UMC in Lafayette, Ind.