Reverend HC Varnadore may have walked into the doors of the First Christian Church of Paris as an interim pastor 21 years ago, but he is leaving as a friend, mentor, confidant and a pillar of the community who will be greatly missed by many.
Varnadore had a call to ministry from a very early age but never saw himself as a pastor leading a church. After graduating from the U of A Varnadore went straight into the Air Force.
“One Sunday afternoon I was applying to the Air Force Academy, and I went out back to an old Oak Tree. I remember getting down on my knees and telling God I needed some guidance.”
Varnadore said that there are times in your life that you just know.
“I can’t say that I heard a voice, but God spoke to my heart that afternoon and let me know that there would be opportunities to minister in a flight suit that I would never have in a pulpit somewhere.”
Varnadore said that it felt a weight had been lifted from him and he spent 28 years in the Air Force, ten years in the active air force and three combat tours in Vietnam.
“I was flying F1-11’s in Europe when I got a call from the Air Guard Unit in Ft. Smith asking if I would be interested in coming back to Ft. Smith and serving as an F-4 instructor. My oldest daughter was in three different schools her first year and we felt it would be a good time to come home.”
After retiring from the Air Force, Varnadore started taking ministerial classes through his denomination and worked for the Make A Wish Foundation of Western Arkansas.
“At this point, I still did not see myself pastoring a church, it just wasn’t on my bucket list.”
When the previous pastor of First Christian Church became ill and had to retire abruptly, Varnadore was asked to step into the pastor role while the church searched for a permanent replacement.
“I came down, spoke with the board and felt it was the right thing to do,” said Varnadore.
“The deal was it would be no longer than six months.”
Varnadore said that he and Sylvia fell in love with Paris and the people and as a result ended up spending 21 years pastoring.
“I finished up my seminary classes and was ordained in the church.”
Varnadore was the only pastor who was ever ordained in the church and that it has been a wonderful experience and blessing to his family.
Varnadore said that one Sunday he preached a sermon over scripture in Matthew that says, ‘For I was hungry, and you fed me,’ and an elder of the church came to him and said if they truly meant what the scripture was saying then the church should do something about it.
“I told him he was exactly right, so we put a program together and we have been feeding people for ten years and have touched a lot of lives as a result of that.”
Varnadore said that many people have come to the meal program that does not have a home church and even though they won’t come on Sunday mornings he has become their pastor.
“I have married them, buried them and prayed with them over the years, almost like a second congregation and most often they are the ones who need the ministry more,” said Varnadore.
Varnadore said that the program has grown so large over the past ten years that they now have five teams from the community that help make the program run and was recently named Humanitarian Award for 2018 by the Paris Area Chamber of Commerce for his service and devotion to the community.
Varnadore said that he felt like God was telling him it was time to move on and allow someone new to come in and pastor.
“I would be tickled pink to stay till the end. I love the folks, I love the community, but after 20 years you get set in your ways and sometimes you just need new blood to continue seeing results.”
Varnadore sad it is sad to walk away from everyone but for the new pastor to be the new pastor he has to pull away.
“I still plan to stay in touch,” said Varnadore.
Varnadore said that his plans now are working on several projects that he didn’t have time to do before including looking into some development work. Varnadore has also accepted a board position with the Retired Military Association.
“Sylvia and I have a bucket list of things we haven’t done including traveling and we see Costa Rica in the near future and a late summer cruise to Alaska, but no matter where I go I will always tell the story of serving this community with pride.”
There will be a public reception to honor HC and Sylvia on March 24, from 2-4 p.m. at the First Christian Church. The community is welcome to attend.