Harlem is losing one of its better-known residents -- the Rev. Roger Vest.
Vest, who has served as the pastor of Harlem United Methodist Church for six years through the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, is being transferred to a church in Chatsworth, Ga., at the end of the month.
Colleagues on the Columbia County Community Connection Collaborative Board, on which he served for five years, thanked Vest and said goodbye at a meeting Tuesday at Security Federal Bank in Evans.
"We wanted to say thank you for all the work you've done for us," Community Connection Executive Director Julie Miller said through tears. "I know we never could have accomplished what we have accomplished without you there."
Miller described her first encounter with Vest at a daunting Department of Children and Family Services meeting in 2003. The meeting about forming a summer feeding program was overwhelming because of the heavy regulations that govern such programs.
"Then Roger spoke up," Miller said. "He was like, 'Well, we can do this,' and 'We can do that.' All of a sudden there was a positive energy in the room. I thought, 'Wow! Someone who has a positive viewpoint.' I thought this is somebody I need to get to know. So I went and talked to him. By the end of the conversation, he was to be the board chair."
Vest served as board chairman and was involved in many Community Connections, city of Harlem and church projects, including the Harlem Economic Development and Industry Foundation, through which the summer feeding program was created.
Vest said he has tried to live with a willing attitude and a belief that the efforts of one person can make a difference.
"I have found that the power of (what) one person can do if they are willing to step up," Vest said. "There are always plenty of people who can't or won't and surprisingly few who are. It makes a difference, particularly in a small community. You can make an impact. You can do things.
"If you are willing to take the chance, good things happen."
Vest's can-do attitude has made him difficult to refuse when seeking volunteers for his many outreach ministries and projects.
"That is so true," said Phyllis Roland, the facility manager for the Columbia County Health Department and Community Connections board member. "That's what makes you a good leader."
The board presented Vest with a plaque and framed calligraphy print of his favorite Bible verse.
Vest, his wife, Bonnie, and two children -- Grady, 14, and Mary Frances, 11 -- will move into their new Chatsworth home by the end of the month. Vest's last Sunday as pastor at Harlem United Methodist is June 22, and the movers arrive June 25, he said. Tom Drake, from Jackson, Ga., will succeed Vest.
Harlem has been Vest's longest assignment, and his family has grown comfortable. But he'll take a piece of Harlem and Columbia County with him when he leaves
"It has been a blessing," said Vest, who next will serve Chatsworth First United Methodist Church. "It really has."
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