With today’s advanced health care and the expectancy of longer active life spans, many retirees are reinventing themselves, often starting second or third careers in unexpected fields. Reverend Robert Deeds is one who looked for something to fill his retirement days and came up with a totally different role. On a whim, he dropped off his resume at the personnel office of Silver Dollar City, a theme park near Branson, Missouri, dedicated to preserving Ozark hill culture and crafts.
“I figured that was the end of that,” the dignified, white-haired Deeds once stated in an interview. ”What could a preacher do in a theme park?”
However, Silver Dollar City’s staff sized him up as the perfect gunslinger, strapped a six-shooter on him, and put him to work in their gun shop. For several days, Deeds wrestled with his inexperience as a rough, tough gun-totin’ character, but a gnawing voice from within urged “Do it!”
“I thought I’d have fun with the role for a year, and then return to some kind of evangelistic music ministry, something my former northern Missouri congregation expected,” Deeds said. “But unbeknownst to me, the Lord was leading me to a ministry at the park’s old, historic log Wilderness Church.”
Although his preaching ended up spanning the ‘90’s decades—both 1890 and 1990—getting back to a minister’s life took a circuitous route. After a year in the gun shop, the personnel staff at Silver Dollar City, a park themed around an 1890’s mining village, outfitted him with a black leather vest and a shiny star denoting his authority as the City Marshall. Imagine his former Methodist flock’s surprise when different ones visited the park and discovered their previous pastor, a gun belt buckled to his waist, commanding law and order over a rowdy bunch of hillbilly street characters.
Deeds recalled visiting preachers leading worship services in the Wilderness Church when he left his gunman’s role and became the City Marshall. “The church is like a museum, depicting worship in 1890,” he said. “I volunteered to lead the singing. One thing led to another until I switched from my weekday Marshall’s role to become the weekend circuit-riding preacher.”
On Sundays, he served as pastor of the little log church with an early morning service for employees, and two later services for guests. Although he always encouraged visitors to seek a church in their hometowns, he remembers many people who considered the Silver Dollar City congregation as their church family. Like pastors in any congregation, Deeds officiated at weddings, baptisms, and dedications.
In 1995, a new Marshall took over Deeds’ badge, giving him more freedom to roam the park’s streets, making himself available to listen to people who simply needed to talk to a Village Parson. He set aside a particular time in the park’s events for marriage vow renewal, and many guests made a spontaneous decision to participate in the solemn ceremony.
In his former life as a pastor, Deeds described himself as a rebel. “I wasn’t radical, but I always wore my hair long, even when it was black,” he said with a laugh. “I always believed in worshipping with music, spontaneity, and warm fellowship. During my years as the Parson at Silver Dollar City, all of that happened, not because of me, but because the Lord was—and is–surely in that place.”
Robert Deeds took a second retirement from his roles at Silver Dollar City in 2009 after serving as both Marshall and Parson for 25 years. His first career as a Methodist minister stretched over 30 years. Deeds still returns on occasion to Wilderness Church at Silver Dollar City and delivers a sermon to the congregation of employees and guests. However with an accumulated 55 years in service, he deserves hours in his easy chair, gazing out a large window on the Ozark Mountains around Branson, Missouri. He could have chosen that role when he completed his first retirement, but like many retirees today, he determined to reinvent himself—and added two and a half decades of meaningful experiences to his life.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com