Answering the call
Retirement, according to one dictionary definition, means the action of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work. Apparently Reverend Robert Bailey did not get that memo.
To be clear, he did retire in 2005. Well, at least he no longer served as the installed pastor of a congregation. But since his retirement he has served as an interim or vacancy pastor for eight different congregations.
“I think it is important to be interested in things, to have a variety of things to be interested in,” Bailey mentions. “Don’t be a couch potato.”
Bailey states it is important to be involved and active in things you like.
“I’ve always loved being a pastor, I’m as happy as a lark,” Bailey comments.
He does take time for some hobbies. Bailey enjoys reading and he also has a model train track set up in his basement.
“I also want to stay active by mowing the lawn,” Bailey shares.
Bailey grew up on a farm near Chamberlain, South Dakota. He was the oldest of four children and has two brothers and a sister. One of his brothers is still involved with the farm.
He graduated from Chamberlain High School and continued his education at the University of South Dakota where he earned two bachelor degrees. One degree was in musical education and the other was in classical languages, Greek and Latin.
He gained his third bachelors degree at Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, and added a master’s degree at Fort Wayne Seminary in Indiana. Both of those degrees were in exegesis, which is the interpretation of the Greek text of the Bible.
It was during a four-year stint as a music theory instructor at the Naval School of Music in Washington D.C., when he met his future wife, Donna. She was singing in the church choir. The year was 1960.
“I was playing piano accompanying the church choir,” Bailey says. “I memorized the pieces so I could feast my eyes on her a little more.”
They got married two years later in Trinity Lutheran Church, Washington, D.C.
Bailey became an ordained minister in 1969. His first call was as a missionary at large in Carlisle, Iowa, near Des Moines. Next he took on the role of an associate pastor in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
He then moved north in 1980 to become pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Spring Lake Park, Minnesota. In addition to his pastoral duties, he also served as the secretary for the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).
His next call came in 1985 and took him to Iowa City, Iowa, where he served Our Redeemer Lutheran Church until 1992. He then accepted his final call to Rapid City, South Dakota, and was the pastor at Peace Lutheran until his retirement in 2005.
However, serving his local parishes was not the only thing keeping Bailey occupied. He was also a Chaplin in the Navy
Reserve from 1980-1992. During this time he would serve two-week stints at various naval hospitals.
One such stint had him serving at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, at a time when someone well known in the political world was there for treatment.
“While I was there (Bethesda), Barbara Bush had surgery on her hip,” Bailey explains. “Since I was a reserve, they appointed me to go and have devotions with them at the hospital.”
The “them” to whom Bailey refers included Mrs. Bush and former president George H. W. Bush.
“They were very gracious people,” Bailey remarks.
When retirement came in 2005 the Baileys settled down about 515 miles to the east of Rapid City.
“We moved to Albert Lea so we could be closer to our kids and grandkids.” Bailey comments. “We like to travel and visit our family.”
The Baileys have four children and seven grandchildren.
When asked about his retirement life, Bailey replies, “Well, I have the reputation of being the Interstate 90 vacancy pastor.”
He served his first vacancy after retirement at Blessed Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Sturgis, South Dakota, for one year. The next congregation he served was Zion Lutheran in Albert Lea which was also for one year.
During the next four years Bailey spent a lot of time in Faribault County. He served as vacancy pastor for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church of Blue Earth for two years followed by two years at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Winnebago.
Staying with the I-90 theme, he served one year at Holy Cross Lutheran in Austin as a mentor and vacancy pastor. His next stop was for three years at St. John’s Lutheran, also in Austin. St. John’s is the church where Bailey and his wife are members.
He returned to Winnebago during October of 2018 and is one of three vacancy pastors currently serving the congregation of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior. Pastor Bailey preaches most Sundays but takes off one Sunday each month so he can a play string bass with the praise team at St. John’s.
Steve Schonrock, the chairman of the church in Winnebago, says, “His (Bailey’s) energy level is second to none, he has been awesome for our congregation.”
Music has certainly played an important part in Baily’s life. In addition to the string bass and piano he also plays the accordion and organ.
Bailey tells of an incident that occurred during his time as a student at the seminary in Springfield.
“I was one of several organists at the seminary and one of my fellow students challenged me to play “Three Blind Mice” as a postlude after a chapel service,” Bailey explains. “I thought about it and decided to take him up on it.”
Bailey tells how he began playing the melody very slowly in the lower register while embellishing the song with the upper register.
“There was one professor who caught it, the director of the choir,” Bailey laughs. “He looked over his glasses and said ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk,’ right after another professor ahead of him in line had said, ‘That was a wonderful postlude.'”
So will he ever retire from being a vacancy pastor?
“I think so, probably when I have to use a walker,” Bailey says. “I don’t know, health-wise, we will have to see what happens.”