Nearing retirement, Ritter reflects on 42 years of ministry

David Burke

5/21/2019

Even after he announced his retirement, the Rev. Bill Ritter had second thoughts.

“I wrestled with it,” the Blue River District superintendent said about concluding 42 years of ministry. “This has been my life, this is all I’ve ever been is a pastor. To think of myself as not being an active pastor was not my nature.”

The Rev. Bill Ritter shares a laugh with the Rev. Nancy Tomlinson, his successor as Blue Valley and Elkhorn district superintendent, before the Orders & Fellowship gathering at Church of the Resurrection in January. Photo by David Burke
Ritter has been Blue River District superintendent since 2014, and last year added a portion of the Elkhorn Valley District, as well as serving as dean of the conference cabinet.

“He has been very helpful to create a Great Plains Conference culture and to lead the cabinet with projects and organization,” Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said of Ritter. “As a cabinet dean, Bill brings a lot of experience as an effective, large-church pastor. He has a lot of credibility with a lot of other large-church pastors. He’s creative, he’s passionate. He’s Christ-centered.”

Bishop Saenz said he also admires Ritter’s leadership, especially serving as a mentor for new DSs.

“In the time I’ve been here, he’s been the go-to person when someone is wondering about polity or best practices,” the bishop said. “He’s just a wealth of information and experience and proven ministry effectiveness.”

Ritter’s legacy comes not from sitting behind a desk, but behind the handlebars of a 10-speed.

He is the co-founder of Nebraska United Methodist Bike Ride for Hunger, better known as NUMB.

“That’s the thing that’s brought me the most pride and satisfaction,” he said.

Ritter and a friend, Greg Bakewell of Omaha, “were freezing to death in a hog barn,” seeking shelter during a 37-degree rain.
Rev. Bill Ritter pumps up his bike tires before the Bishop's Bicycle Challenge in Wichita in 2016. Photo by David Burke
“We thought we were gonna die,” Ritter said. “We thought there had to be a better way to run a bike run.”

After a conference board of global ministries presentation about hunger projects, Ritter was inspired.

“Nobody knows about our hunger projects because we have no money for it,” Ritter heard in the presentation.

“I thought we could have a bike ride, charge people to see Nebraska, and donate to hunger,” Ritter recalled.

By the time the 24th NUMB ride – June 22-26, through Chadron, Crawford, Alliance and Rushville – is completed, the ride will have raised $1 million.
“I had no idea when I started that one day we’d be taking 150 people a year and raising a million dollars,” Ritter said.

Ritter also counts building projects while he was a pastor in Shickley, Elkhorn Hills and Columbus as other highlights in his ministry. He also served Omaha St. Paul UMC before becoming a district superintendent.

He said he always dreamed of becoming a pastor of a small-town church like the one he grew up in in Pleasanton, Nebraska, a central Nebraska town that had about 200 people when he was growing up, and 350 now.

“My entire career has been in large churches,” he said.

But Ritter was not raised in the faith. The son of a Christian Scientist mother and a gas-station owner father who worked Sundays, he remembers questioning God as young as 4 years old, when his cousin died. The questions built at age 10, with President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Rev. Bill Ritter plays guitar during a Connecting Council meeting. Photo by Todd Seifert
“I had a lot of questions about life, purpose, death,” he said. “I went to the local Evangelical United Brethren Church, where my grandparents went, and I found in worship maybe not the answers, but a peace. I began to search for the answers of why we’re here.”

By the time he got to college, he felt the call to become a pastor.

Ritter and his wife, Debbie, recently purchased a house in Millard, Nebraska, where the parents of three and the grandparents of five will plan out their future.

“I hope to do lot of biking,” he said. “I’m addicted to bicycling.

“And I’m hoping to find a church that wants a musician,” said the pastor who’s performed guitar and trumpet in public, and banjo, electric bass and flugelhorn in private. “I love to do music.”
 
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.
 
 


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