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Joel League, as he puts it, has his fingerprints on just about everything that has ever involved Living Waters Church.
He was there from the beginning – preaching to his congregation in Floral Hall at the Shelby County Fairgrounds when the church was just beginning in 1981.
He recalled cold days and nights with his fellow church members in the gym of the old Henry Clay Elementary School in Clay Village, which at the time served as the church’s sanctuary.
He recalls the triumph of purchasing and dedicating the first building that would become a part of Living Waters in 1982, at the church’s current home of Frankfort Road.
And he was irreplaceable two years later in the founding of Living Waters Christian school, now the largely independent Cornerstone Christian Academy.
Now, after more than 32 years of church leadership and community involvement, League is stepping down as pastor of the church he built from the ground up.
“It’s harder than I thought it was going to be, to say goodbye,” League said. “I thought I would just, you know, say, ‘Here it is,’ and somehow be emotionally prepared. But I’m not.”
The decision, he said, came years ago.
“I felt like a few years ago it was time for some new fresh leadership, not that we were stale or anything, but getting on up there in age,” League, 66, said.
Since then it simply has been a matter of waiting for the right moment.
“I didn’t want to be too early with the announcement and leave the church twisting in the wind,” League said.
That moment is a week from Sunday, on June 30, when League officially will step down as pastor and hand the reins of Living Waters Church over to Stephen Riley, his son-in-law. League was quick to point out he had no involvement in choosing his successor. The church’s board members selected and contacted Riley because of his past with the church and the community.
Riley served the church for 12 years, from 1988 to 2000, as Living Waters’ youth pastor and education director, before moving his family to preach in Pennsylvania. Now as he moves his family back to Kentucky, Riley has some big shoes that may seem impossible to fill.
“I’m not going to even try and fill his shoes,” said Riley, a father of four who is married to League’s daughter Delissa. “He’s an accomplished leader and well loved. I’m going to try and walk in my own shoes because I know I couldn’t fill his. He has been a mentor for me all these years… and remained a mentor of mine even after I left.”
Reactions to the news have been about what you would expect, League said, although he said he expects the emotions to come out Saturday night, when a retirement bash is being held at the church at 6:30.
“It’s what you would expect, some grief, some wondering what it will be like….I’m the only pastor some of them [church members] have known,” League said.
The transition will be somewhat easier Riley said, because many in the church and community still have a connection with him and his family.
“The people there already have an idea of what I’m like and my passions for ministry,” he said. “Of course, people do change, and I’ve changed some and of course I’ve grown a whole lot…but I think that is going to help the people know what to expect.”
League said he hopes to stay busy and that he would continue to serve the Lord through a mission close to his heart – Israel.
Since 1995, Living Waters has been heavily involved in mission trips to Israel. League wrote a book, Deliverance from Another Place, in 2010, which describes Living Waters’ relationship with the country.
“My future is being more involved in travel, to fulfill this ministry,” League said. “I hope to be relatively busy.”
Starting July 7, when League and his wife, Carol, make their way down U.S. 60 to Living Waters every Sunday morning for services, he will, for the first time, be joining the congregation in the pews.
“I’ve never just sat in a congregation.…It will be a new experience,” League said. “I will need just about as much grace to sit as I had to preach.”