Twenty-two years of ministries and accomplishments carried out with God's help and glory.

That's how members of Clen-Moore Presbyterian Church described the tenure of their pastor, the Rev. Dr. Vel Vais.

Vais, 65, officially retired from the ministry Sunday when he presided over his last service and preached his final sermon. Approximately 350 people attended the service and the dinner celebration that followed.

It was a bittersweet time for Vais and his flock. Most people, including Vais and his wife, Cheryl, teetered between laughter and tears, as they reminisced about the last 22 years. Clen-Moore has seen various changes under Vais, including, the expansion of services, the renovation of the church, the formation of a youth puppet ministry, as well as the establishment of an endowment, scholarship and mission funds.

Rob Fullwood was on the search committee that chose Vais in 1983. He and several others mulled over 50 to 60 resumes, separately and as a committee. Throughout the entire 10-month process, Fullwood said, he and the others kept coming back to Vais.

"We knew from the very first time we looked at Vel's dossier that he was the man," Fullwood said. "We just felt that God was leading us to him. And Vel always said that he felt God was leading him to us. He has proven to be a great role model and a great mentor.

"This is not an easy thing for this congregation. We are going to really miss Vel. We can't replace someone like Vel, who has been here for 22 years. And the next person coming in is going to have big shoes to fill. Having said that, though, this is still a celebration. We are happy for Vel and Cheryl."

Vais looked back fondly on his two decades at Clen-Moore.

"Throughout this whole process I have received many cards and letters from people who have said that they have been truly blessed of God (while I served at Clen-Moore)," he said, his slight Irish brogue apparent only briefly. "I was just an instrument, just one of His servants, but I thank God that he has allowed me to touch so many people."

The Vaises have only one definite plan for their retirement -- traveling. The couple has three children -- Jim in Florida, Diane in Arizona and Lonnie Hostetler in Iowa -- who they plan on spending time with. Vais also has two brothers who live in Ontario, Canada, whom he will visit frequently as well.

"I do want to serve the Lord in a very low-scale way, preferably with a small congregation," Vais said. "Because He has blessed me with fairly good health I want to continue my ministry. But Cheryl and I also want to spend time with our children, grandchildren and loved ones throughout this country and outside the country.

"This is truly a blessing from God and we are so thankful we can come to this point in our lives. What He has in store for us we don't know. All we know is that He holds the future and I am very thankful about that."

Guest speakers and ministers will assume the Sunday worship duties at Clen-Moore over the next three months. In March, an interim pastor will take over leadership duties until a permanent pastor can be chosen, sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

"Things will be very different here without Vel," said Denise Biasucci, one of church's secretaries. "We are just going to have play every week and every month by ear for a while.

"But Vel Vais will be missed. This is a big change and the congregation is going to have to adjust. But if you love your church you just will keep going."

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