The incoming pastor of the Morristown United Methodist Church will have one big tutu to fill.
Fifty yards of red crinoline, to be exact, according to the Rev. Neill Tolboom, who will preach his last sermon as pastor on Sunday, June 15, 2014.
Pastor Neill is heading to a pair of small churches south of Trenton, to shorten the work commute for his wife Debbie and live closer to their son, a teacher in Monroe Township.
“There’s a certain joy in laughing at yourself, and making other people laugh,” said the minister, who has danced in a tutu, tricycled around the historic Morristown Green in a clown suit, preached with blue hair and made a wintry plunge into a kiddie pool of ice water, all to settle bets with the youth group at the Morristown church.
Church softball always was a serious matter, however. On many nights, he was virtually the only player to show up.
“He marches to his own drummer,” said longtime congregation member Ellie Coutts. “He’s very creative. We loved what he did. He was so much fun.”
Neill Tolboom hails from a line of rugged individualists.
His grandfather was a Catholic priest. (For awhile, anyway.) His dad was a fur trapper in the Canadian tundra. Growing up in Winnipeg, Neill played hockey–goalie, naturally–and developed an inexplicable passion for curling.
He ventured to New York as a computer specialist for TD Bank…until God recruited him, as he tells it.
Ministry felt natural. Even when he worked for the bank, he said, colleagues came to him with their personal crises.
Tutus aside, Pastor Neill said his strength is helping people through bleak times. He is pleased that his well-to-do Morristown church includes among its 500 members a growing number of men from the Market Street Mission.
The Pastor’s finest hour, almost certainly, was the 2012 memorial service for a Morristown High School freshman who committed suicide.
A devastated community was raw with pain and anger over suspected bullying of the teen. The Pastor deftly walked a fine line, exuding calm while acknowledging the emotions of mourners who packed the church.
“You have to be present, and look after their physical needs,” he said. “You’re not going to bring anybody back from the dead. That’s God’s business. But you’re going to be a consistent voice.
“When there is a need, you’re going to stand next to them. Let them fall apart. You’re not going to be judgmental. You’re only going to give advice if asked. But you’re going to be present, to show that God is present. And there has to be a willingness to go to hell with them.”
And upon returning, Pastor Neill said, it’s imperative for sanity’s sake “to dump your bucket,” to privately vent and unwind. On that sad day, he played some video games, lost himself in his stamp collection, and dumped his bucket on Debbie.
His wife can handle it. She teaches mortuary science at Mercer County Community College and aspires to become a funeral director.
Pastor Neill, 60, is close to earning a Ph.D. in business, and he will teach management skills to seminarians when not tending his twin flocks at Wesley United Methodist Church and Heading United Methodist Church, at an old stage coach stop near Columbus, NJ.
But his ultimate goal is to launch a counseling service with his wife. “Marry & Bury” is how he has described their respective avocations; it would make for a snappy shingle.
The new pastor, the Rev. Brandon Cho, is coming from a Blairstown church. Pastor Neill described his friend as superior at growing the membership.
He will find a compassionate clergy community in Morristown, and a congregation with strong music- and youth programs and members who “share everything except the same opinion,” Pastor Neill said with a mischievous smile.
Sunday’s farewell service may test the Pastor’s unflappable demeanor one last time.
“He was just like the rest of us, but he knew a lot more than we did!” said church member Denise Schmidt, praising Pastor Neill for his energy, financial savvy, humanity and activism.
“We were lucky to have him come, and the church is better off for having him here,” she said.
In a symbolic passing-of-the-mantle ceremony, the youth group will remove Pastor Neill’s church robe on Sunday.
Methodist teaching is less equivocal about who gets the tutu.