Westminster welcomes new minister
By ALEX ONKEN
Special to The Natchez Democrat
NATCHEZ — Wayne Chaplin, Westminster Presbyterian Church’s new minister, was welcomed to Natchez with a good “pounding.”
He and his wife discovered, after being away from their new Natchez house for a bit, that their real estate agent had let in members of the church, who then proceeded to clean the house and stock their cabinets with common household items, such as aluminum foil, paper towels and namely, a “pound” of sugar.
“They cleaned my house from top to bottom, scrubbed every toilet. When I had told them that no one had ever done this before, someone just told me, ‘Well, you’re in the South, now.’ It was really neat.”
Chaplin, who has 25 years behind the pulpit, has a knack for growing and nurturing church congregations. Coming to Westminster Presbyterian’s small-town congregation of less than 40 members, he is finishing up his goodbyes to his church in Lawton, Okla., with roughly 250 members.
“It’s new for me. A church this size, everything’s real personal so you get to know everybody. Churches that I’ve been in before, you were lucky to know everyone’s names. Now, it’s like a small family. It’ll be a learning experience for me.”
As a young man growing up in New Jersey, Chaplin led a normal life in a non-religious family. As the oldest of four, he had and still has a love of music. Equipped with his guitar, he was performing in local rock concerts and battle of the band contests since he was in the seventh grade. It wasn’t until his mid-20s that his life changed.
“I was born into a wealthy family, and I had everything I wanted, but I still felt empty inside, and I was surrounded by people who felt the same way.
“One day out of curiosity — not for a spiritual reason, just to be cool, — I picked up an old Bible we had and decided to read the book of Revelation. I thought it would be like Nostradamus, but it wasn’t. So instead, I decided to start at the book of Matthew.”
Over the next few months, Chaplin began having dreams of Jesus Christ while reading through the New Testament. Finally, he came to the conclusion that he would gain more by attending church.
Although he thought he would be turned away due to his rock-music appearance, he was welcomed with open arms at an Assemblies of God church. Surrounded by an older congregation, he soon brought in a younger crowd of people.
“After doing that for a while, I ended up being heavily involved with that church. I felt God calling me into ministry. I was scared of the whole thing, but I had my minister encourage me.”
After spending a year at an Assemblies of God Bible college, he changed denominations to Episcopalian Church and then finally the Presbyterian Church after finding something with theological ideas that matched his own.
Since finishing up his studies and then attending graduate school at Princeton, he has served at churches in New Hampshire, Florida and recently Oklahoma.
After escaping the winters in New Hampshire from pressure from his wife, he traded snowstorms for hurricanes, including a direct hit from Hurricane Charlie.
Then in Oklahoma, he was 50 minutes from 2013 Moore tornado.
Now in Natchez, hopefully out of harm’s way, he plans to bring his love of music to Westminster Presbyterian and to open their doors to new members and the entire city.
“We’ll be taking baby steps with the church because you can’t just snap your fingers and make all these things happen. In time, we’ll hopefully have smaller groups assembling and younger people in the church. During worship, I’ll be introducing a guitar and playing songs of the ’70s and ’80s. Then, we’ll start on the small study groups because that’s what really works. People coming together and talking about religion.”
His goal for the church in his own words: “(The goal) is for people to think that Westminster Presbyterian is a church that cares about each other and the people of this city.
“A lot of times churches revolve on the church. You only have the same people and everyone starts to get too old to do certain things. My job is to figure out what to do to reach the people of the city and make it relevant for everyone.”
Aside from listening to music, Chaplin enjoys exercising and taking walks and is still in awe of all Natchez’s natural beauty. As a self-proclaimed foodie, he is very excited to start trying the local restaurants in the area.
The father of two currently shares his home with his wife and his dog, Thomas. His son and daughter are in New Hampshire.
As Chaplin sits back in a chair, he reflects on his life’s work.
“Being a minister is the greatest thing in the world, when you really feel that God is using you to touch other people and change lives. It’s the best things I’ve ever done.”