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(Enlarge) The Rev. Richard McCullough greets his son, Benjamin Poole-McCullough after leading his last Sunday worship service at Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church in Eldersburg. McCullough, who has served as pastor to the congregation since 1992, is retiring. (Staff photo by Eli Meir Kaplan)

Some say the best measure of a life well lived is leaving the world a better place than you found it.

Even though the Rev. Richard McCullough, 66, is retiring after 16 years as pastor at Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church, in Eldersburg, he's not yet ready to take the full measure of his own life.

But many long-time church members agree that McCullough is leaving Wesley Freedom a better church than it was when he came in 1992.

Since the Hagerstown native and former chaplain of American University in Washington, D.C., arrived, the church has expanded not just in the size of its congregation and its physical structure, but also in much more meaningful ways, such as the scope of its youth services, the widening of its outreach and creation of contemporary worship services.

"The young people started that," he says of the youth-oriented services, which tend to be more spontaneous and less ritualized than traditional services. The services often include state-of-the-art multimedia presentations and gospel rock music.

"The young people came to us and said, 'We'd love to worship, but we came to your service and it seems dead,' " McCullough recalled last week. "So we asked them, 'Well, then, how could we make the service more alive for you?' "

McCullough tends to shrug it all off when personal praise is heaped too heavily on him.

"I'll only take some credit for growing the church," said McCullough, who insists that predecessors laid much of the groundwork for the changes he ushered in. "I just happened to come to this community at a time when it was growing most rapidly.

"But one of the things that most people in the church would say was my most important contribution was carrying out the mission of having a great sense of ministry outside the church," he said.

"That sense of mission came out of my years in campus ministry," added McCullough, who is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. "So when I came here, to Wesley Freedom, I had a focus that was already rooted in the mission of outreach."

Prior to coming to Wesley Freedom, McCullough also served six years as campus minister at then-Frostburg State College (now Frostburg University) and returned in 1988 for a four-year stint as the campus's senior pastor.

Today, he and his wife, Jill Poole, live in Sykesville. The two have four adult children.

As a token of gratitude and affection, Wesley Freedom church members commemorated McCullough's departure with a billboard-size display of photos, text and newspaper articles that depict a detailed timeline of the pastor's decades of spiritual commitment and community service.

The milestones in Wesley Freedom's two-century-long history that occurred under McCullough's leadership are included in the display -- an expansion of youth services, addition of a full-time youth pastor and an ambitious capital building project that funded new classroom space and a spacious, new community life center.

Prominent are photos and documents describing the work trips McCullough has organized since the early 1990s. These disaster relief efforts helped victims of poverty, hurricanes and other disasters in Mississippi, South Carolina, Central America and elsewhere.

Now that he's entering semi-retirement, McCullough and his wife plan to remain in the Sykesville area. He intends to keep busy with community-based mission work and ministering for local hospices.

"I think it all goes back to the community housing work I did long ago as part of my outreach ministry at American University in Washington, D.C., said the clergyman. He recalled that he came of age during the Civil Rights movement and participated in events such as Martin Luther King's Resurrection City project, and also helped deliver relief supplies to Washington neighborhoods devastated by riots following King's assassination.

"I was always seeking not only to be compassionate and caring," he said, "but also to seek equity for people who were suffering."


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