The first thing the Rev. Bob Fox learned about Billings when he arrived in 1981 was the variability of the weather.
“When we came here on the plane in May, there was snow on the sides of the runway and then it got hot and then it rained,” Fox said, sitting in his office at Parkhill Assembly of God. “And that was all in a day and a half.”
“We” is Fox and his wife, Donna, who moved to Billings 33 years ago so Fox could take over as pastor at the West End church. In their time in Billings, the couple has seen more than changes in the weather.
“We have dedicated babies of people that we dedicated as babies,” Fox said, looking back on his tenure. “You don’t often have the opportunity to do that as a pastor.”
They’ve also shared life with members of the congregation, Donna Fox said.
“Over the years we’ve seen a lot of births and deaths, and gone through a lot of things with people as a church family,” she said. “One of the wonderful things of being in a church this long is you share a lot with them.”
And now Fox is saying goodbye, retiring after 45 total years of ministry. A special service, at 10:15 a.m. on May 18, will honor his time at Parkhill.
On Wednesday morning, Fox and his wife stood inside his office, packing books into a cardboard box that sat on his desk.
“A few weeks ago there wasn’t room to put another book in the shelf,” he said, motioning to the four dark-brown ceiling-high shelves behind him. “I took several boxes to the last ministers’ retreat to give to young ministers, and I think they took most of them.”
Fox, 65, met his wife when both were students at Northwest College (now Northwest University) in Seattle. They got married in 1969 and worked as youth pastors before Fox took his first pastorate in Darrington, Wash., where he served for five years.
He next was hired as district youth director for the Assemblies of God churches in the Northwest District, which encompasses about 350 churches in Washington and northern Idaho.
And then, in 1981, he was invited by the Parkhill congregation to be their pastor. He was elected to serve an unlimited term, with a vote of confidence held every three years.
With an unlimited term, “you could come for life if things went well,” Fox said.
Donna Fox pointed out that she and her husband have been here for more than half their lives.
Looking back, Fox said the best part of Parkhill is its amazing people, including the lay leaders who have helped oversee the work of the church. That includes the seven people elected to serve on the church board.
“Last night was the last one of about 350 board meetings,” he said. “And last Sunday was my last message of about 1,500 messages.”
Fox’s sermon was titled “And Finally,” taken from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul gave the people three charges, which Fox passed on to his congregation, to aim for perfection, be of one mind and keep the peace.
He has enjoyed watching children at Parkhill grow into teens and then into young adults, moving on successfully in life.
“I think right now we have six of our recent grads that are in Bible colleges or training for some kind of ministry,” Fox said. “And the church has a scholarship program where we help those kids.”
Fox also sees as one of the church’s strengths its willingness to support more than 30 missionary families, most in other countries but some on college campuses in Montana. The church also gives money to a number of local ministries.
Fox is also pleased the church has active groups for its youth, its men and women and the senior members.
He has grappled with a few issues during his tenure.
“The biggest challenge is trying to keep the congregation biblically oriented in a changing culture in America, in a post-Christian kind of world.” Fox said. “And of course it impacts the younger more than the older members of the congregation.”
As for what he’ll miss, Fox said he started a tradition many years ago, when the church was smaller, of writing birthday and anniversary cards for members. Even now, with the number of people above 300, he still does it as a way to stay close to others.
A candidate for pastor will preach Sunday at Parkhill. On May 18, Fox’s last day at the church, his son, the Rev. Brad Fox, a pastor in Nixa, Mo., will preach the sermon.
As for where Fox will next turn his attention, he and his wife have built a cabin on the middle fork of the Flathead River, near Hungry Horse, where the denomination owns a Bible camp and conference center. They will spend summers there, helping maintain the campgrounds, and Fox will indulge in his passion for fly fishing.
They’ll also travel and visit their four sons and their families, including six grandchildren. Fox also thinks he’ll do a little writing.
“I might do some outdoor writing,” he said. “I’m not sure about theological.”
For now, Fox is packing boxes and doing other last-minute things before saying good bye.
“A lot of people have asked the question ‘Are you sad or excited to be leaving?’ ” he said. “I’m not sad because I feel it’s just the right time for us and just the right time for the church and the church is moving on to success.”