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Old Wye Church's pastor retires after 36 years

WYE MILLS — The grounds of Old Wye Church are immaculate. Not a flake of old paint, a missed weed whipper corner or a rusty hinge on the 300-year-old doors to the 1721 church. The Rev. Charlie Osberger runs a tight ship. This California boy who, after graduating from USC, came to the Eastern Shore is clearly beloved by his congregation. From wheelchair users to the high-fiving tweens, he evokes smiles in all.

He has been at this one church for 36 years and gave his last sermon on May 1. Imagine the stream of funerals, first communions, baptisms, weddings and casseroles he has presided over. To add to this labor of love, he does 8 a.m. sermons at St. Luke’s Chapel in Queenstown, the second historic church in Wye Parish.

Several people mentioned his Kerygma course of Bible study as a highlight of being with Osberger. Kerygma is Greek for proclamation and is an intensive journey through reading the Bible.

“He introduced the Kerygma course, which is a series studies of the Bible from different perspectives. He ran that course for about a decade up until last Monday,” said Jim Campbell, parishioner.

“For me, his legacy is the Kerygma studies, but also St. Luke’s really was not in great shape when he came along. He revived it. He got involved with the fire department and got people through that,” said worship leader Rick Culotta.

“I have grown to love him since I have gotten to know him. In the time I have known him, he has been a gracious, kind and Godly man,” said Gerri, a choir member who didn’t want to give her last name.

“My favorite part of working with him is that he is very flexible. He is always a joy to work with and always open to new ideas. He is leaving the parish in very good condition both financially and as far as the grounds,” said James Goodman, who had his son baptized by Osberger. His son Jesse is a strapping young man in a white robe.

Jay Marchand, treasurer, said, “Getting a new person to replace is very much like getting a new college president, which I have been through that a few times. It is the same kind of extended process. It is a very long process that you are trying to do very carefully. We have 100 families in two locations — St. Luke’s and Old Wye.”

David Coffelt had a miracle story. When his daughter was getting married in September, they ran out of champagne.

“The guests drank all the champagne. Rev. Charlie heard about this and he said, ‘We have got you covered on this.’ They brought over a bottle of champagne that his wife had brought back from France as a memento of her time there. And they shared it with us on the wedding day so that my daughter Mary was able to have her wedding toast. It was similar to Christ turning water into wine. I was unprepared and he came through.”

“He has been very good at inspiring people to appreciate not just the religious part of the church but also the physical part. The actual church. And that is due to his encouraging people to see what a treasure we have here and preserve it,’ said Mary Campbell, a member of the altar guild.

Acolyte Edward Radcliffe said, “There was a wedding that he went to. He sang ‘Fools Rush In’ by Elvis Presley. From what I know, he probably did a pretty good Elvis.”

Old Wye Church has little wooden compartments that the faithful get into. There is swinging door that nestles in each family in its own space. The small spaces feel like a fine old wooden boat.

Osberger introduced his last sermon as a service is “for the ending of a pastoral relationship and leave-taking from a congregation.” We all finish things, but how many times do we really get to say good bye and be blessed in the process? He reached for a modern parable of time.

“You are to love and serve the people among whom you work. You are to preach declaring God’s forgiveness. Pronounce God’s blessings. I came to serve among you in 1986. I was just a little over 32 years old. What an amazing act of faith. It was a particularly quiet day in heaven, the angels said, ‘I have an idea. Why don’t we take this guy from west of the Pacific Coast Highway dropping him over here to the east of the Chesapeake Bay and let’s see what happens,’” Osberger said. He is a natural storyteller, mixing humor with wisdom.

He included jokes and stories in his sermon.

“Jesus was indeed the good shepherd. My African pastor, Pastor Benson, said ‘How do you know a good shepherd? Because the good shepherd smells like the sheep.’”

At the end of his sermon, Osberger came to baseball. From 1955 to 1977, Brooks Robinson was the third baseman for the Orioles. Who could ever fill that void? Four years later who came along? August 1981, Cal Ripken makes his debut at third. Long tenures must have some one who is willing to sacrifice and play through pain. Play for a team that is needful and knowing that the team will be champions.

“It has been wonderful privilege all these 36 years to play third base,” Osberger said bittersweetly.

As tears welled up towards the end, he asked for somebody to save the pastor from the pastor. They gently laughed with him.

A special long white tent was set up for burgers and chicken catered by Adam’s Ribs, so people could roll right out of church and into fellowship.

Osberger greeted and said goodbye to every member of his for congregation as they headed down the ramp and toward the food.