Pastor reflects on fond memories on his final day as pastor at First Presbyterian Church

Monday, March 1, 2010
Rev. Paul Kabo, Jr. walks past his parishioners after giving his last sermon at First Presbyterian Church Sunday, February 28, 2010. Kabo is retiring after ten years of service to the church. (LAURA SIMON)

At a dinner to honor the 175th anniversary of First Presbyterian Church and the retirement of the Rev. Paul Kabo Jr. on Sunday, the pastor said keeping up with the sacrifices his congregation has been willing to make has taken all he could give himself.

During his 10 years at the church, Kabo said he has witnessed the call of God on his congregation to give their time, energy, creativity and money.

When Kabo came to Cape Girardeau in 2000 from Louisville, Ky., he said he discovered he needed to lead the congregation of 250 people in the renovation of the church building, estimated to cost $1 million.

By 2005, the renovation was completed, and now, Kabo said, the mortgage is burned.

When planning for the renovation began, a large fundraising firm was hired to help figure out how to get the money needed, and estimated the church could raise only around $750,000 for upgrades. Kabo said he was told he needed to address the congregation in reducing the amount of renovations. Instead, enough money was raised by the congregation within a year to cover the total cost, at $1.5 million.

"The short answer to how we did it is by the grace of God," he said. "God moves us. The complex answer is how we did it is the amount of work people did for this congregation, and who worked and talked to each other and said we need to get this done, we need to make a sacrifice. Church is not dues like a club, it's a sacrifice of time and we don't have enough, it's a sacrifice of money and we never have enough, a sacrifice of creativity to get this thing going."

Improvements to the building aren't the only changes Kabo has seen in his time at the church.

Since 2000, the number of church members has not grown, but Kabo said he has seen a transformation in the age demographic of the congregation. Most members were older age when Kabo began his ministry. In recent years, however, programs at the church, including Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) have promoted the membership of young families.

During Sunday's service, a new director of Christian education and youth was announced, along with the welcoming of another young couple. Kabo said it has been a common story in the past few years, and programs such as MOPS have caused a number of people to begin joining the congregation.

With a new generation come babies who need baptism. Kabo said those baptism experiences have captured some of his fondest memories as pastor.

Other memories serve more of a civic purpose. Some of his favorites include the reciting of dedication prayers for the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, and the John L. Oliver Parkway, as well as partaking in the formation of the Downtown Council of Churches.

Still other memories are more personal.

"I had the opportunity to baptize a fellow who was blind, and his guide dog was there," Kabo said. "I threw some water on the dog because that was his eyes. That was a precious moment."

After his retirement, Kabo plans to remain visible in the community as president of the FISH food pantry, and he plans to volunteer with Love, INC. He will also continue with the ministry in other areas, having been recently elected to the Presbyterian Church Committee on Ministry.

"I will be visiting a variety of churches in this area and the state of Missouri," he said. "One of the duties I will have is to be serving churches that are without a pastor."

Earlier this month, a church in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., lost its pastor and the Presbytery made Kabo the moderator, where he will convene elder meetings to assure they are held in order. Kabo said he will likely also serve as an interim pastor in the future.

Don and Sue McNeely, two longtime members of First Presbyterian, attended Sunday's services, which would also be their last after many years of membership. The couple is moving to North Carolina to live closer to their children.

McNeely, who has attended since 1928 when he was a child, said through all the time he has been at the church there has been a tremendous change and tremendous improvement in all facets of worship.

Sue McNeely said she hated to see Kabo leaving the church, although she and her husband are also going.

"Things have just blossomed so much since Paul came along, not only in the church but also in the community," she said.

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