By Cathy Lee Phillips
Stephen Long needed a job. He had a heart filled with music and a fresh Reinhardt College diploma, but he stepped out of his cap and gown and into an economic crisis. He actually had a contract as a band teacher in Roswell. But the dream job vanished when he was one of approximately 800 elementary band teachers terminated by Fulton County in an effort to save money.
During his Reinhardt years, Stephen performed in various programs and was a member of the Collegiate Music Educators National Conference and elected as the first honorary student member of the National Band Association.
Obviously multi-talented, Stephen is also multi-Methodist. He is the product of a United Methodist parsonage (his father, Rev. Nathaniel Long, currently serves Senoia United Methodist Church in the North Georgia Conference) and is a second generation PK, or preacher’s kid (Grandfather Richard Long was a member of the North Georgia Conference until retirement). Throw in a few miscellaneous relatives (Rudy Baker and Mike Cash, among them), and Stephen’s family is just eat with up Methodism. The family middle name for men is even Asbury, for goodness sake!
So it seems natural that the United Methodist Church would be instrumental in Stephen’s post-graduation life.
He interviewed in a few Georgia schools but never walked away with a firm contract. The outlook was dreary until a Reinhardt connection learned of a position perfect for the young graduate. Stephen had never heard of Long Beach, Miss., a town near Gulfport that was brutally battered by Katrina and her ruthless storm surge. Yet one call to Long Beach Middle School launched a whirlwind of events that swirled faster than the winds that blew Katrina ashore. The school wanted to interview Stephen as a potential band director – immediately!
Thursday – Stephen received permission to leave Band Camp where he was teaching. He jumped into the car with his dad and they raced toward Mississippi, arriving around 3:30 a.m.
Friday – After an 8 a.m. interview, Stephen was offered a job on the spot. The committee needed an answer by 8 a.m. the following Monday to receive approval from the Board of Education. Amid the excitement, Stephen’s phone rang. A school in Forsyth County, Georgia, wanted an interview but could not arrange it before 8 a.m. Monday when Long Beach Middle School required an answer.
Saturday – Father and son returned to Georgia, debating whether Stephen should take the sure thing in Mississippi or interview at home in Georgia, an interview that still might not result in a job offer. As they neared the Georgia border, Stephen decided to accept the offer in Long Beach. After all, a job in the hand is better than . . . maybe no job at all.
Sunday – Knowing his son was moving to a town he knew nothing about, Nathaniel’s Daddy personality took over. Before church that morning, Nathaniel found websites for the Mississippi Conference and Long Beach United Methodist Church. He located the name of Rev. Rod Rishel, Senior Pastor at Long Beach UMC and sent him an email that began with, “You have no clue who I am, but . . .” He went on to explain why his son was moving to Long Beach. Did the their church have a real estate agent, apartment manager, or anyone willing to help with this relocation? Rev. Rod Rishel returned the call as soon as the Long Beach UMC postlude ended.
Monday – Stephen accepted the job with the Long Beach School System!
Tuesday – He traveled back to Mississippi to sign his contract, tour the school, and explore the town.
Wednesday – Stephen meets Rev. Rob Rishel, and rents an apartment that afternoon.
Thursday – Returning to Georgia, Stephen packs and
Friday – Moves to Long Beach, Mississippi, and
Saturday – Unpacks!
Sunday – You better believe Stephen was part of the congregation at Long Beach UMC where he visited with Rod Rishel and met other members of his new community,
Monday – Stephen began work as Band Director at Long Beach Middle School and Assistant Band Director at Long Beach High School.
“When I first met Rod, there was an immediate connection!” Stephen reflects. “He knew we were both called to be who and where we are. He extended his hand and made the transition so much easier.”
How does Stephen feel about leaving home and traveling to a place he knew nothing about?
“When God told Abraham to go to a new place, Abraham went without asking questions. The Bible asks, ‘Whom Shall I Send?’ When God placed this job in my path, I said, ‘Send Me!’ I came and I love my job.
Nathaniel observes, “I am proud of the connectional system of the United Methodist Church. This time it was everything we dreamed it would be, from the technology to the individuals. Rod is no longer an unknown name at the end of a website. He is someone who reached out to our son.”
Stephen is now active at Long Beach United Methodist Church, playing in the church orchestra and is a member of a new praise band that is fast becoming part of the church and community.
And so the connection goes . . .
© 2011, Cathy Lee Phillips
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